Two years before the scheduled departure of foreign forces from Afghanistan, the U.S.-led coalition is trying to shore-up security by blocking key Taliban supply lines.
In Marzak, Afghanistan, an isolated village along the border with Pakistan, coalition forces are hoping that a risky local police initiative will win over villagers and help weaken the insurgency.
U.S. and Afghan soldiers arrived in the village of Marzak in early January on a high-stakes mission to shape the conditions for the war's end. U.S. Army Captain Jim Perkins says Marzak is the only major settlement along an important Taliban supply line.
"Our goal is that the village of Marzak is secured and denied to the enemy," said Perkins.
Commanders say the key will be a new locally-recruited, part-time police force called the Afghan Local Police. The coalition would have to create the unit from scratch, overcoming the villagers' ambivalence and inexperience. Nawab Khan is a police trainer who says the recruits know little about war.
"They don't have any experience with weapons," said Khan. "Some of the guys haven't even seen weapons before."
The Marzak mission only began after months of negotiations with local elders. The turning point came in August, when the Taliban killed a local man they accused of spying for the coalition.
"During Ramadan they pulled him out of the mosque -- didn't allow him to finish his prayers -- and executed him right there in front of the mosque," Perkins recalled. "Not only was it a slap against their religion, not allowing him to finish his prayers, it also turned the tide against the Taliban for a lot of villagers."
Marzak's elders pledged 50 men as police recruits, half of what the coalition wanted.
But coalition troops had a more immediate problem: building an outpost in one of the world's most inaccessible regions.
None of Marzak's roads can support military vehicles, so coalition forces rely on aircraft to keep them supplied.
"Often times the weather can go red, which means we're not able to fly aircraft as much. So what we've done is built a deep stockpile that allows us to operate a month if we couldn't get resupplied," Perkins explained.
In mid-January the troops focused on training the first 50 local cops. They immediately ran into discipline problems.
"These guys have never been in any kind of government organization, and the government hasn't been here a very long time," noted Khan. "They don't know how government organizations work. We're having to teach them what discipline is and how to organize with the tribal elders."
A month into the mission, the first group of local police was ready for duty. But the coalition's last-ditch effort to secure Marzak had only begun.