MUSA QALA, Afghanistan - U.S. Marines and British civilian advisers are waging two wars in the hilly northern half of Helmand province: They're fighting the Taliban, and they're quarreling with each other.
The Americans contend that the British forces they replaced this spring were too complacent in dealing with the Taliban. The British maintain that the Americans are too aggressive and that they are compromising hard-fought security gains by pushing into irrelevant places and overextending themselves.
"They were here for four years," one Marine officer said about the British military. "What did they do?"
"They've been in Musa Qala for four months," a British civilian in Helmand said of the U.S. Marines. "The situation up there has gotten worse, not better."
The disputes here illuminate the tensions flaring as U.S. forces surge into parts of southern Afghanistan once secured by NATO allies. There are now about 20,000 U.S. troops in Helmand; the 10,000 British soldiers who once roamed over the province are now consolidating their operations in a handful of districts around the provincial capital. The new U.S. troops are intended to replace Dutch soldiers and relieve pressure on overburdened forces from Britain and Canada.
The more aggressive posture since the Marines arrived in Musa Qala in March, the Marine commander here, Lt. Col. Michael Manning, said, has doubled the area under Afghan government control.
But British diplomats and stabilization advisers, who still have lead responsibility for reconstruction and governance in the province, say the Marine expansionism has led to more insurgent activity in the town center.
"When the British were here, they didn't care about security in the bazaar. They would fight and leave," said merchant Sher Agha. "The Marines patrol all the time."
The top Marine commander in Helmand, Maj. Gen. Richard Mills, played down the tensions between his forces and British civilians. He said the changes that have occurred in Musa Qala would not have been possible without the British having "paid a large price in blood" in the district over the past three years.
Meanwhile, President Hamid Karzai said Saturday that he will soon name the members of a council tasked with pursuing peace talks with rebels willing to break with al-Qaida and recognize the government in Kabul.
Also yesterday, a U.S. service member was killed in a bombing in southern Afghanistan, U.S. officials said.