By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
March 30, 2010 - U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan are laying the groundwork for their much-anticipated efforts to combat extremists in Kandahar, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said in a Pentagon news conference today.
Morrell said combat operations will begin in earnest in the coming weeks. But in the meantime, he said, troops are engaged in what military officials refer to as "shaping" operations in preparation for the upcoming offensive there.
"The truth is they have begun," Morrell said of shaping operations taking place in Kandahar, the spiritual center of the Taliban. "They have been months in the making."
A U.S. Stryker brigade combat team arrived in southern Afghanistan last summer, marking the beginning of operations there. The Stryker vehicles are used to secure routes in and out of Afghanistan's second-largest city, while other preparatory work, such as tribal engagements by U.S. special operations forces, are also under way.
Shuras – meetings of influential community leaders – are a critical component to shaping the eventual operation by gaining local support, Morrell said.
"So clearly, a lot of the preparatory work, the shaping operations that will be essential to ultimate success in Kandahar, are under way, and have been under way, frankly, for months now," he said.
Morrell wouldn't speculate on a timetable for major offensives to begin in Kandahar, but more forces will be dedicated to operations there in the weeks ahead, he said. More civilian support also will be required from NATO and the Afghan government to be successful there, he added.
"Ultimately, we need a more sizeable force to be successful there than we currently have in place," he said.
Coalition and Afghan security forces are building on successful operations in Helmand province to launch similar operations in Kandahar city and province. However, Morrell stressed that forces in Kandahar would constitute more of a "facilitating" role, because the city has "some semblance of government control, unlike Marja, which was mostly entirely in the hands of the Taliban.
"There may be some foundation on which to build," he said of operations in Kandahar and its government. "Therefore we would more in the role of facilitating additional government assets and support and security elements coming in, and that they could be more the providers of security and better government services."
Kandahar will be an important operation to establish security in the country. The operation alone will not decide the overall outcome in Afghanistan, but it's a necessary step to root out the Taliban, given the city's historical significance to the Taliban movement, Morrell said.
"[Kandahar] is the likely next stop on a 12-to-18-month-long campaign," he said. "It will clearly be a very important operation. We certainly hope it will be one that will break the back, to a large extent, of the Taliban who have called it home and who have used it as a sanctuary for some time."