NEW YORK - A report in a leading American newspaper about the plight of farmers in Marja is perhaps the clearest evidence yet that the holding phase of Februarys massive US-led invasion of the Taliban stronghold in Afghanistans Helmand Province is going poorly. Over 150 families have fled Marja in the last two weeks, The New York Times said, citing the Afghan Red Crescent Society in the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah. Marja residents arriving here last week, many looking bleak and shell-shocked, said civilians had been trapped by the fighting, running a gantlet of mines laid by insurgents and firefights around government and coalition positions, the report from Lashkar Gad said. The pervasive Taliban presence forbids them from having any contact with or taking assistance from the govt or coalition forces. People are leaving; you see 10 to 20 families each day on the road who are leaving Marja due to insecurity, a farmer, Abdul Rahman, was quoted as saying. Citing residents and officials, The Times said, The departure of the farmers is one of the most telling indications that Taliban fighters have found a way to resume their insurgency, 3 months after thousands of troops invaded this Taliban stronghold. in the opening foray of a campaign to take control of southern Afghanistan. Militants have been infiltrating back into the area and the prospect of months of more fighting is undermining public morale. As the coalition prepares for the next major offensive in the southern city of Kandahar, the uneasy standoff in Marja, where neither the American Marines nor the Taliban have gained the upper hand and clashes occur daily, provides a stark lesson in the challenges of eliminating a patient and deeply rooted insurgency. Combat operations in Marja ended at the end of February and the military declared the battle won, the dispatch said. But much of the local Taliban, including at least four mid-level commanders, never left, stashing their rifles and adopting the quiet farm life. A Taliban resurgence was not entirely unexpected, especially now as the poppy harvest ends, freeing men to fight, and as the weather warms up. But the military had seen Marja as a 'clear and hold operation in which the first part, clearing the district of militants, would be wrapped up fairly quickly. In fact, clearing has proved to be a more elusive goal.