Kandahar, a Battlefield Even Before U.S. Offensive

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* By Carlotta Gall New York Times *

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — American forces have begun operations to push back Taliban insurgents in this most important southern province, the birthplace and spiritual home of the Taliban, and a full-scale offensive is expected in coming weeks.

Army Specialist Cade Kitchens searched a farmer in Kandahar Province, whose residents feel under threat from both sides. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

But the Taliban have already turned this city into a battlefield as they prepare for the operation, which American officials hope will be decisive in breaking the insurgency’s grip on southern Afghanistan.

When American forces all arrive, they will encounter challenges larger than any other in Afghanistan. Taliban suicide bombings and assassinations have left this city virtually paralyzed by fear. The insurgents boldly walk the streets, visit shops and even press people into keeping guns and other supplies in their houses for them in preparation for urban warfare, residents say.

The government, corrupt and ineffective, lacks almost any popular support. Anyone connected to the government lives in fear of assassination. Its few officials sit barricaded behind high blast walls. Services are scant. Security, people say, is at its worst since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001.

“They are focusing on the city,” said Hajji Agha Lalai, a provincial councilor and former head of the peace and reconciliation commission in Kandahar, who has extensive contacts with the Taliban. “The Taliban want to show themselves to the world, to show, ‘We are here,’ ” he said.

The intensifying Taliban campaign is a measure of the importance the insurgency places on Kandahar, where the bulk of the 30,000 additional American forces arriving this year are being deployed. That is a sign of its value to the Americans, too.

Read more at The New York Times

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