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Afghanistan war: Battle for Kandahar as much political as military

The battle to regain control of Kandahar from the Taliban this summer will depend more on evolving political negotiations than on a decisive military campaign. In Afghanistan, war will be conducted differently than in Iraq, say NATO officials.

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The political push to strengthen the weak Afghan government in the area will come in conjunction with a beefed-up American military presence that aims to establish a stronghold in large parts of central Kandahar where no Afghan or coalition forces operate now.

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Kandahar is Taliban 'jewel'

"This is the jewel," the U.S. official said of central Kandahar. "If the Taliban lose effective control of the city — their ability to harass, intimidate and control the outcomes of what happens on the normal days of life in Kandahar — (then) they've lost."

In coming weeks, the American-led coalition will boost the international military force by nearly 45 percent in Kandahar by sending about 3,500 more fighters to the city of some 1 million people.

There already are about 11,000 Afghan police officers and soldiers there working alongside 8,000 members of the international coalition, military officials said.

Coalition forces in Kandahar have started to clamp down on the city by working to close Taliban supply lines and escape routes.

In recent months, coalition forces have arrested or killed about 70 mid- to high-level Taliban leaders in Kandahar, the U.S. official said.

While there's no "D-Day" for launching intensified military operations in Kandahar, the military officials said the goal was to get the upper hand before the month-long Muslim holiday of Ramadan began in mid-August.

What will Wali Karzai do?

One of the looming complications in Kandahar is the role played by Karzai's half-brother, an influential power broker in the city.

Ahmed Wali Karzai is respected and feared in Kandahar, where he plays a central role in southern Afghan politics and business. He's steadfastly rejected long-standing allegations that he's involved in southern Afghanistan's drug trade, and President Karzai repeatedly has challenged Western officials to produce proof to back up the claims.

"There are plenty of people in Kandahar who say, 'I owe everything to Ahmed Wali Karzai,' " the U.S. official said. "There's plenty of other people who say, 'If we just get rid of the guy, I could finally live the life I want to.' "

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[Editor's note: The original version of this story misspelled the name of the province.]