US operations already on in Kandahar

KANDAHAR; Operations to push the Taliban out of their iconic Afghan stronghold of Kandahar are underway and will steadily build in the months ahead, military officials said today.

The military and political efforts against the Taliban around Kandahar, Afghanistan’s third biggest city and the militia’s spiritual capital, are the next step in the US-led strategy to end a war now in its ninth year.

“We have been making preparation and plans concerning Operation Omaid,” said General Sher Mohammad Zazai, Afghan army commander in the country’s south.

“We’re still working on the plan,” he said, without giving further details.

Kandahar is the next target in major military operations to eradicate the Taliban from areas they have controlled, in many cases in tandem with drug cartels, over the years since their regime was overthrown in 2001.

The commander of US and NATO troops in Afghanistan, US General Stanley McChrystal, said the offensive had begun with initial military and political efforts, including operations to secure key roads and districts.

Speaking by teleconference to reporters in Washington, he said: “That process has already begun (and) will ramp up in the weeks and months ahead,” lasting “a significant time”.

Operation Omaid follows Operation Mushtarak, currently under way in neighbouring Helmand province, which appears to have largely pushed back the Taliban and given the government a chance to take control.

Mushtarak — “together” in Dari and Pashto — is the first operation in a 12-18-month campaign for which President Barack Obama is sending another 30,000 troops, with 10,000 from NATO, aimed at taking the fight to the Taliban.

The strategy comprises military, political and civilian approaches in four stages dubbed “shape, take, hold and build” and aims to ensure that once eradicated, the insurgent threat does not re-emerge.

Initial stages of the strategy aimed at speeding up the war’s end began in Kandahar province around November, a Western official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“The emphasis increased last November, and most of it is invisible because it is aimed at understanding the situation on the ground, the political landscape and the human terrain,” he said.

“We all understand how important and iconic Kandahar is for the Taliban — it was their first foothold.” Kandahar, the capital

of the eponymous province, is Afghanistan’s third biggest city after

Kabul and Herat.