March 17, 2010 / 5:28 PM / 9 years ago

Kandahar campaign already underway, general says

An F-16 fighter jet (R) flies next to Blackhawk helicopter in Kandahar province, southern Afghanistan March 17, 2010. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Preliminary U.S. efforts to gradually retake full control of the Taliban’s birthplace Kandahar are already underway, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan said on Wednesday, offering few details.

The campaign in Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city, is seen as a crucial test of President Barack Obama’s strategy to reverse Taliban momentum after more than eight years of war.

General Stanley McChrystal says he envisions gradual operations to deliver security and governance, as opposed to one big military assault. That has raised questions about how to identify the new campaign in Kandahar and its surroundings, where NATO already has thousands of forces.

“Kandahar is already being shaped,” McChrystal said, briefing reporters in Washington via teleconference, adding that efforts will “ramp up” in the coming weeks and months.

“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,” he said.

McChrystal said there would also be a “series of activities” to boost security, like more partnering with Afghan police inside Kandahar city and boosting troop levels in the surrounding areas.

“If you control the environs around Kandahar, you go a long way to controlling Kandahar,” he said.

McChrystal has not given a timeline for the operation but told reporters last week in Kabul that troops would be at full force for Kandahar operations by the early summer.

Kandahar served as the spiritual seat of power for reclusive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar before the militants were ousted from Afghanistan by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in 2001. Militants have since made substantial gains in the area.

Reporting by Phil Stewart, Adam Entous and Caren Bohan, editing by Vicki Allen

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