In the next stage in the Afghanistan war, coalition forces are expected to build up gradually on the outskirts of the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, perhaps for months. That strategy departs from the one executed in the Marjah offensive, in which troops entered quickly.
Fresh off a recent success, so far, in Helmand Province, American military planners are thinking ahead to the next phase of challenging the Taliban in southern Afghanistan: Kandahar. But the fight for Kandahar – described as the New York City of Afghanistan for its cultural, political, and economic significance – is expected to be more measured than the operation in Marjah in Helmand, which was a precision strike that began with the insertion of hundreds of US marines by helicopter.
“There won’t be a D-Day that is climactic,” said Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander there told reporters in Kabul, during a trip in which he escorted Defense Secretary Robert Gates. “It will be a rising tide of security when it comes.”
The operation in Marjah included about 2,500 marines and 1,500 Afghan soldiers – with as many as 10,000 troops in support. The top Marine commander in Marjah said last week the objective there was to come in “big, strong, and fast, [to] put the enemy on the horns of a dilemma.”
By contrast, the mission in Kandahar, expected to begin by summer, will be more gradual. Few details are clear, even in a counterinsurgency in which the NATO command has telegraphed its intentions before starting an operation, such as in Marjah last month. But military officials say Kandahar will require a more nuanced, measured approach in which forces will build up slowly, probably on the outskirts, before entering the city itself perhaps months later.