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NATO Prepares to Test President Obama's 'Surge' Strategy in Afghanistan

Thousands of U.S. troops are heading into southern Afghanistan in June to launch an offensive in Kandahar province that President Obama has ordered to help end the Taliban insurgency. U.S. and coalition troops are already advancing in and around the city of Kandahar, where the Taliban are terrorizing the population with car bombings and other attacks.

A car bomb explodes (Wednesday) outside a small NATO military base in Afghanistan's southern Kandahar city, wounding two Afghans and destroying several cars.

The Taliban have launched their spring offensive in response to the U.S. push into Kandahar to flush out the militants and provide civilian aid to the population.

"Kandahar is the main effort. This is not only the main effort for ISAF, but also for the Afghan government and also for the entire international community," NATO's Brigadier General Josef Blotz said.

Afghanistan's main opposition leader, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah is optimistic. But he told VOA the military action in Kandahar must be followed by swift political and structural changes. "Under the current circumstances, the power structure in Kandahar in the eyes of the people of Kandahar is the problem number one, and the Taliban and al-Qaida number two," he explained.

The power structure in Kandahar is led by President Hamid Karzai's controversial half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, with alleged links to drug trade and local militias.

NATO commanders plan to reduce his influence as the chairman of the provincial council by making the local government more effective.

But, Steve Coll at the New America Foundation says the brother remains a problem, and Washington is just giving him more time to shape up. "The message is if you are not going to be clean and sincere, if you are going to engage in criminal activity, if you are going to cooperate with the Taliban, we will hold you accountable," he said. "We will take what steps are necessary to prevent that."

Coll says NATO plans to create an environment of security in Kandahar that would allow Afghans to create fresh political equations. "That is to go into sub-district areas and try to build new "shuras", new town councils, new groups of businessmen and elders and other respected personalities and to have them try to decide how this new strategy, new security should be carried out," he added.

"We are going to put a lot of aid resources, a lot of troops in there. The situation in Kandahar is going to get better, says Tony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "People are going to see more security."

But Steve Coll says the success of the Kandahar offensive really hinges on a psychological battle that will be more difficult to win. "The question is whether they can create a change in the outlook of Afghan people -- of farmers, and shopkeepers and others who may be intimidated by the Taliban," Coll said. "Who may have to choose with their lives at stake between trusting the Americans, trusting the Afghan government or trusting the Taliban."

The analysts say if the offensive can reverse the Taliban momentum and create trust among the people for the coalition forces, it will definitely turn the tide. But if it fails, it will underscore the limits the international community faces in its efforts to change the future of Afghanistan.