Afghanistan war: Marjah offensive is trial run for Kandahar push
The Marjah offensive, say US and Afghan officials, is a trial run for a major push into the city of Kandahar this summer. It could be the pivotal battle of the Afghanistan war against the Taliban.
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"The scale of what you will see in the Kandahar operation will be comparable to the scale you see in Helmand," said Costen. "We're still in the planning stages."Skip to next paragraph
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Some experts believe that the Kandahar offensive would need to be even bigger than the current operation in Helmand, because the Taliban is much more spread out in Kandahar and more integrated into the community. Without the big concentration of fighters in one spot, as in Marjah, the operation will have to be targeted over a much bigger area. Fighting is likely across much of the province and into militant hideouts in the neighboring province of Uruzgan.
"Kandahar (operation) is imminent," said Khalid Pashtoon, a member of parliament for Kandahar. "If they (ISAF) don't come to Kandahar, all the operations mean nothing. The Taliban are so proud of being from Kandahar. Once you demoralize them there, then automatically the Taliban will be compelled to reconcile."
Kandahar, a different offensive?
Unlike Marjah, which was almost entirely in the hands of the Taliban, the situation in Kandahar is much more contested, with both government and insurgents present. Kandahar city is ostensibly in government hands, but the Taliban run a campaign of assassination and intimidation there and periodically stage attacks.
"We're not going to see a Marjah-style operation in Kandahar because it's much more ambiguous. Kandahar city in particular is complex. I get the sense that (ISAF) commanders aren't really sure what they should do there," said Carl Forsberg, an analyst at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War who specializes in Kandahar.
Forsberg said that NATO chose not to give precedence to Kandahar over Helmand, perhaps because of Helmand's dominant role in the drug trade.
In districts around the city, a particularly violent group of young Taliban commanders terrorize locals, including the 23-year shadow district governor of Zhari, Mullah Esmat, also known as Mullah Zerghai, and the 22-year-old-year shadow district police chief of Zhari, Mullah Gul Mohammad.
"The younger generation (of Taliban) are very ruthless people," said Hajji Mohammad Khan, a tribal elder from Zhari district. "The Americans don't recognize them. They just stand there when the Americans pass."
The Marjah operation, now in its second week, claimed its thirteenth ISAF casualty on Sunday. The main points of the town are under the control of NATO and Afghan troops. ISAF said Sunday that there was "determined resistance" in some areas and the operation would take at least 30 days to complete. On Saturday, President Karzai warned that NATO must do more to protect civilians there.
(David Goldstein contributed to this story from Washington.)