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Want to know how the war in Afghanistan is going? Watch Kandahar.

Progress on firming up security in Afghanistan depends on how US and Afghan troops secure Kandahar province – the nucleus of Taliban resistance.

By David FrancisCorrespondent / October 21, 2010

Afghans waited Wednesday to seek compensation for a relative's death outside Camp Nathan Smith, an ISAF military base in Kandahar City, Afghanistan. Once a week, Afghans seek compensation from US or Canadian forces after suffering human or material damages due to military operations.

Rodrigo Abd/AP

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Kandahar City, Afghanistan

For the past decade, the Taliban has held firm control over the small farming village of Malajat, located on the green flatland along the eastern outskirts of Kandahar City. NATO forces and Afghan police refused to enter the area, knowing any attempt to clear the town of military threats would be met with fierce resistance.

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But last summer, as part of a United States and Afghan effort to firm up security in the Kandahar province – Afghanistan’s second largest province and the nucleus of Taliban resistance – a large contingent of coalition troops entered and removed improvised explosive devices in Malajat. Insurgents were killed or forced underground. As a result, children can be seen walking to and from school, where it was once unthinkable.

The Malajat offensive is part of a larger coalition effort to win control of Kandahar from the Taliban. Combat operations are ongoing in the Arghandab, Zhari, and Panjwai districts just outside of Kandahar City. Operations similar to the Malajat offensive are taking place to secure the city from insurgents. If the Kandahar offensive is successful, coalition forces will control the last and largest Taliban stronghold. If unsuccessful, the failure to win Kandahar could set back the faltering war effort.

Despite circumstantial evidence from Kandahar City and the surrounding battlefields, it is too early to tell whether the US strategy here is a success. Gen. Ben Hodges, the director of military operations for Regional Command South, says coalition forces control 90 percent of the Arghandab, and that fighting in Panjwaii and Zhari is progressing well. However, media access to the battlefields has been limited, and US officials have yet to reveal detailed assessments of the operations.

Past attempts to control Kandahar

In the past, attempts to control Kandahar City and its estimated 500,000 residents have been futile. The city has been a center of Taliban resistance since the beginning of the war. Violence and lawlessness have continually undermined NATO efforts here.

But according to General Hodges, efforts to control Kandahar City are now beginning to bear fruit. The security situation in and around Kandahar City has stabilized and the Taliban no longer dominates the city, he says.

“The security forces are providing a level of security that is allowing [life in Kandahar City] to take place,” Hodges says in an interview with the Monitor. “There is a presence of security that is a lot more prevalent and reassuring than at any time in the past."

Malajat offensive, security ring part of the surge philosophy

The Malajat situation is an example of the kind of process US and Afghan forces want to replicate throughout Kandahar City, according to Hodges and Gen. Jeffrey Bannister, who will replace Hodges next month.

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