MARJAH, Afghanistan — US special forces have a novel weapon in the fight to expel Taliban from a desolate and war-weary farming community in southern Afghanistan -- heavy metal music.
When insurgents open fire in Marjah, an armoured vehicle wired up to powerful speakers blasts out country, heavy metal and rock music so loudly it can be heard up to two kilometres (one mile) away.
The playlist has been hand-selected to annoy the Taliban, according to one US special forces officer.
"Taliban hate that music," said the sergeant involved in covert psychological operations, or "psy ops", in the area in Helmand province.
"Some locals complain but it's a way to push them to choose. It's motivating Marines as well," he added after one deafening round of several hours including tracks from The Offspring, Metallica and Thin Lizzy.
The officer said they also broadcast messages from the Afghan government, as well as threats to the Taliban -- there are no obscenities, "but we tell them they're gonna die", he smiled.
How effective the method is in sending the Taliban running for cover is difficult to tell, but local children certainly don't like it -- many of them cover their ears from the onslaught of loud bass guitars and drums.
Lieutenant Colonel Brian Christmas -- the commander of US Marines in northern Marjah -- said he was unaware of the musical psy ops.
"It's inappropriate," he told AFP, mindful that a major part of the counter-insurgency plan is focused on winning over Afghans from the insurgents.
"I'm going to ask this to stop right now."
Music or no music, two months after 15,000 US, Afghan and NATO troops launched in Marjah what was billed as the biggest offensive against the Taliban in nearly nine years of war, fear of the Taliban remains palpable among locals.
"Taliban go into homes everyday, harming residents, accusing us of being spies," said Salam, a young Afghan just freed from the hands of Taliban kidnappers by a contingent of US troops.
The 23-year-old, who lives with his parents, grows poppy, the crop made into heroin and shipped across the globe as part of Afghanistan's three-billion-dollar illicit drugs industry, which fuels the insurgency.
Salam said he had been kidnapped that very morning by three Taliban while traipsing to the fields and told he would be beheaded if he spied for the Americans.
Luckily for him, US Marines just happened to be passing and attacked the house where he was being held. Six Taliban managed to escape but the Americans found Salam, prostrate but unharmed.
Local governor Haji Zahir and US Marines say suspected Taliban beheaded a man in early March and that a tribal elder who had cooperated with the Americans was shot dead with three bullets to the chest.
According to copies given to AFP by Marines and tribal elders, the Taliban are also still handing out hand-written leaflets threatening to chop off residents' heads if they cooperate with foreign forces.
The United States' strategy is designed to weaken the Taliban and establish government rule, eventually allowing American troops to start leaving in mid-2011.
But US personnel admit that, while Afghans fear the Taliban, they don't exactly have faith in the foreign troops either.
"They don't help us for the moment, we've not been here long enough to establish trust," said Lieutenant Brandon White, a US Marines officer in northwestern Marjah.
Meanwhile the insurgency rages on. Nine homemade bombs -- the rebels' weapon of choice -- exploded in just one recent 24-hour period near where US troops have set up base, slightly wounding two soldiers.
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