The commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Army General Stanley McChrystal, says efforts to reassert Afghan government control in the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar have already begun, and will continue for many months with both military and political activities. The general spoke by telephone on Wednesday with reporters at the Pentagon.
General McChrystal says the start of the main military phase of the Kandahar operation will not be dramatic, as it was in the Helmand town of Marjah last month. He says efforts have already begun to secure key roads and areas around Kandahar, and to prepare for expected Taliban efforts to prevent the major military operation this summer.
"The insurgency will make an extraordinary effort this spring and into the summer to contest that. They'll use everything they can to try to make that as difficult as possible," he sai.
McChrystal says the effort is political as well as military. He says the Afghan government and the coalition have already been working with local leaders in Kandahar to set the goals of the operation and begin the process of establishing new political structures linked to the central government.
"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," said McChrystal. So one of the things we'll be doing in the shaping is working with political leaders to try to get an outcome that makes sense," he added.
The general says the coalition can not launch any successful operation without "the consent of the local people" who will be affected, and their traditional leaders. He stressed that the campaign for Kandahar will take a long time. And he says the goal is to convince local people that the coalition, and eventually the Afghan government and its security forces, can provide for their needs.
"What we've got to do is provide them security that is convincing, and provide that long enough for them to believe that it is permanent. And then we've got to make it clear that the Afghan national security forces have the ability and the resolve to do that as well," he said.
General McChrystal says a first step is to provide security on the roads so normal commerce and travel can resume. He describes some Afghans as deeply skeptical of the intentions and capabilities of the coalition and the Afghan government. So he says it will take many months, maybe years, to convince them otherwise.