Afghan war: 'Decisive phase' looms in Kandahar

US defence secy congratulates troops, talks of crucial operation

Afghan war: 'Decisive phase' looms in Kandahar

The Nato is sending thousands of extra troops to Kandahar over the next few months as part of plans to restore control over Kandahar, a central part of President Barack Obama’s strategy to reverse momentum in the 8-year-old war.

Thousands of Americans arrived in the area last year, bolstering a force of about 3,000 Canadians and taking heavy casualties. US commanders say much of the area remains in the hands of an increasingly potent Taliban insurgency. The operation to restore government control in Kandahar is the main military objective remaining in Obama’s strategy, which aims to turn the tide this year with 30,000 extra troops so that US forces can begin withdrawing from Afghanistan in mid-2011.

“You all have had a very tough tour,” Gates told troops with a Stryker brigade at Forward Operating Base Frontenac, about 48 km north of Kandahar city. Twenty-two troops have been killed and 62 wounded in the area since July last year.

“You came to an area that was totally controlled by the Taliban. You bled for it,” Gates said. “Here in the environs of Kandahar, you’re in an area that once again is going to be an important part of the decisive phase of this campaign. Once again, you will be the tip of the spear,” he said.

Gradual operation

General Stanley McChrystal, commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, has said the Kandahar operation will be gradual, without a single big assault like the one last month against the Taliban stronghold of Marjah in neighbouring Helmand province.

By the end of the traditional summer fighting season, US and Nato forces hope to have restored full government control over Kandahar and the agricultural districts around it.

Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Neumann said his forces were involved in preparing the area for the upcoming offensive and were working to keep roads open for trade in and out of the city. “I think we already are the tip of that spear,” Neumann said. “Meaning that operations in the Kandahar province are already setting the stage.”

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