US forces have begun the initial phases of a political-military offensive in this Taliban bastion and hope to control the city and surrounding areas by late summer, according to senior military officials.
Officials have pressed local leaders and tribal elders over the past several weeks to begin holding shuras, or conferences, in Kandahar city and outlying districts, telling them that they must improve governance, address corruption and eject the Taliban. Otherwise, their areas will be the focus of expanding military operations scheduled to begin in June with the arrival of 10,000 new US troops, the officials have said.
Among those specifically warned by US military commanders is Ahmed Wali Karzai, the elected head of Kandahar’s provincial council. American officials have for years accused Karzai, the unquestioned power broker in the province and brother of President Hamid Karzai, of administering a corrupt regime and protecting narcotics traffickers. He was also accused of orchestrating voter fraud in August’s presidential election.
On a visit here on Tuesday, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called Kandahar the “centre of gravity” for US efforts in Afghanistan and compared the importance of the offensive to the 2007 “surge’ of US troops that helped turn the tide in the Iraq war.
In interviews, senior US military and civilian officials stressed the difference between the operations in Kandahar, an urban area that is the Taliban’s heartland, and operations in neighbouring Helmand province, where Marines have taken control of the Marja district and installed government officials appointed by the central government in Kabul.
Senior administration officials in Washington said overall transition to stability and vastly improved governance in Kandahar must be completed by December, when Obama has asked General Stanley A. McChrystal, the top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, for an overall review of how the new strategy he announced last fall is faring. The strategy calls for US military withdrawals to begin in July 2011.
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