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U.S. and Afghan troops are stepping up the long-planned assault on Kandahar. The southern Afghan city and surrounding province of the same name, where the Taliban began in 1994 and which reportedly remains a center of the insurgency, has been a top U.S. priority for much of 2010, but saw back-sliding this summer. The assault, which began this weekend, targets the Panjwai district just outside of Kandahar city. It is part of a larger, long-term plan to weaken the area's strong Taliban presence and return some modicum of security to local residents. Here's what's planned, why it matters, and the challenges it faces.

  • Why The Stakes Are So High  The New York Times' Carlotta Gall calls this assault "the most critical part of the Kandahar operation, a movement progressing since August to push the Taliban out of the city and surrounding districts, and to cut infiltration routes. ... The districts have been largely under Taliban control for the past four years, and clearing and securing them is expected to change the entire balance of security in Kandahar Province. The operation comes on the heels of another largely successful operation by American and Afghan forces two weeks ago to clear Taliban from the district of Argandab north of the city of Kandahar."

  • U.S. Plan for Assault  Time's Jason Motlagh writes, "The current phase of operations is geared to make a statement: drive the fight as aggressively as possible and rout the Taliban in their own backyard. Looking forward, commanders posit that improved civilian freedom of movement and a stronger government presence will be reliable gauges of progress. But it remains to be seen just what metrics will be enough to convince the Obama Administration that serious money and manpower should be poured into a conflict now entering its 10th year. One way or another, with plans taking shape to advance deeper into militant territory, the heavy firefights are sure to resume."
  • Taliban Leaves Kandahar Government in Tatters  Afghan news agency Pajhwok Bashir Ahmad Naadem reports, "The rising number of assassinations in southern Kandahar province is scaring people away from taking jobs in the administration. There are at least 600 local government vacancies in Kandahar City, the provincial capital, and various districts and not one person has applied, said Hajji Mohammed Anis, the provincial chief executive. Kandahar, the spiritual home of the Taliban, is one of most dangerous provinces in the country. Over the past nine years more than 600 tribal elders, government and foreign non-government workers have been killed in the province, according to government figures."
  • Kandahar Residents Losing Big  The New York Times' Carlotta Gall reports, "As American troops mount a critical operation this weekend in the campaign to regain control in Kandahar, they face not only the Taliban but also a frustrated and disillusioned population whose land has been devastated by five years of fighting. While most villagers have fled the area, those who remain complain that they are trapped between insurgents and the foreign forces. ... The experience has left a bad taste for many villagers. 'Fighting brings no result for us because when they are fighting, we get caught under their feet,' said Ghulam Haidin, a butcher who fled the hamlet of Garaj for a second time recently. The case of Lora, and two neighboring hamlets, Garaj and Ghilzan, which were also destroyed, would seem to be a lesson in the mistakes that NATO forces have made in southern Afghanistan, and what should not be repeated."
  • The Importance of Training Afghan Police  Slate's Christopher Beam writes of the U.S. effort to train local police, "The stakes could not be higher. The coalition can't stabilize the country without securing population centers like Kandahar. It can't stabilize Kandahar without a strong police force. And it can't create a strong police force without proper training. To say the fate of the war hangs on the MPs of the 372nd Company would be an exaggeration. But if the 372nd can't succeed, it's hard to see how Afghanistan can."

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