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McChrystal Says Push to Take Kandahar Has Begun

Gen. Stanley McChrystal has long made clear that the next major offensive by NATO and Afghan forces in Afghanistan, following the reclamation of Marja in Helmand, will be Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban. With Marja barely in the “hold” phase, though, it came as a surprise in McChrystal’s briefing yesterday when the commanding general of NATO forces told reporters that “instead of putting a date certain on which there would be a climactic military operation, I tell you, that process has already begun.”

What he meant was that he’s seeding the bed with local leaders to enter the city, so that his forces enjoy maximum political legitimacy when they arrive. The push into Kandahar won’t look like Operation Moshtarek, he elaborated:

What you are going to see in the months ahead, without giving too much detail, is a number of activities to shape the political relationships in and around Kandahar. As you know, it’s a complex grouping of tribes and then other relationships that define how power is shared in Kandahar, and that’s traditional, although it has become a little bit damaged — and let me put it this way, it’s become very damaged and mutated in the last years.

So one of the things we’ll be doing in the shaping is working with political leaders to try to get an outcome that makes sense. That would then be supported by security operations, and that will, in some cases, be increased partnering inside the city with the Afghan National Police. We intend to put more forces in there to get a better presence and better support to their internal security.

But then in the environs — what we call the environs, the districts, the places like Zari, Panjwai, Arghandab, [inaudible], we are increasing our forces. We have already increased our forces somewhat, and we will continue to increase Afghan national security forces and coalition forces in the months ahead.

If you control the environs around Kandahar, you go a long way to controlling Kandahar. And so unlike a Marja operation, where there was a D-day and an H-hour for part of the operation, it is more likely that this will be a series of activities that target different parts of it to increase that security.

(Special bonus point for what you might call meta-Afghanistan obsessives: McChrystal’s comment about the “mutated” power structure in Kandahar appears to represent the first time McChrystal has tempered a picture of Afghanistan as a tribal society. There’s a heated meta-debate going on about whether such a sociological designation withstands critical scrutiny. Anyway.)

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