The adoration stems from his unfailing politeness (he greeted people in the traditional Pashtun way, holding their hands for several minutes as a series of welcomes and praises to God were delivered), his willingness to take risks (he often traveled around in a police pickup instead of in an American armored vehicle with a squad of Marines), and his command of Pashto, the language of southern Afghanistan (he conversed fluently, engaging in rapid-fire exchanges with gray-bearded elders).
Afghan officials and U.S. commanders credit Malkasian with playing a critical role in the transformation of Garmser from one of the country’s most violent, Taliban-infested districts to a place so quiet that some Marines wish they had more chances to fire their weapons.
He was dispatched to this farming community in southern Afghanistan to provide political advice to U.S. troops, mentor the fledgling Afghan government and supervise reconstruction projects, all of which military leaders deem essential to their efforts to stabilize the country. The rail-thin 36-year-old was uncommonly effective, in large part because he was willing to forge his own job description, even if it meant bucking the State Department’s rules.
Seeing his role more as a proconsul than adviser, he single-handedly cajoled influential tribal leaders and mullahs to return to the district, correctly betting that it would lead others to follow. He won the trust of skeptical residents through countless meetings and roadside conversations, persuading them to reject the insurgency and support their government. And he provided vital institutional memory in a mission that has generally forced Afghans to build fresh relationships with new waves of Americans each year.
He also shaped the Marine campaign here in a way no civilian has in other parts of the country. He served as a counselor to each of the battalion commanders, influencing decisions about when to use force, and helping them calibrate it with a political engagement strategy. He built such credibility with the Marines — the result of spending so much time in Garmser — that if he urged a different course of action, they almost always complied.
“We need a Carter Malkasian in every district of Afghanistan,” said Maj. Gen. Larry Nicholson, a former top Marine commander in Afghanistan.
“You can surge troops and equipment, but you can’t surge trust. That has to be earned — and that’s what Carter did,” Nicholson said. “He provided a continuum of trust that was essential in turning around Garmser.”