The fight to remove the Taliban from Kandahar strongholds will not repeat the destruction of Iraq’s Fallujah in 2004, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in south Afghanistan said in an interview.
It will be the locals who bring down the Taliban, Major-General Nick Carter said, as Canadian troops in the city ceded control to a U.S. commander in the build-up to an anti-insurgent offensive to be unleashed within weeks, Reuters reports.
“It is not a Fallujah waiting to happen,” he told Reuters in an interview, referring to the Iraqi city where U.S. troops engaged in vicious street combat while rooting out insurgents in 2004, levelling much of its centre.
Some U.S. commanders have expressed fears the Taliban will drop weapons and go underground in Kandahar when coalition soldiers move from current “shaping” operations sealing the city from outlying districts and shift to a clearing of the centre.
The Taliban would likely seed the city with bombs and leave behind fighters with the aim of causing as many casualties as possible, including among civilians, then blaming coalition troops, one senior U.S. strategist said on background.
But Carter, a Briton, said while there would potentially be some Taliban cells left behind in the city, improved intelligence, safety and police on the streets should lead local people to reveal hidden insurgent lairs.
“Ultimately this insurgency is in the minds of people. The population is looking for a more stable and secure environment,” Carter said, as fresh U.S. forces continued to flood into the southern province which former commanding General Stanley McChrystal called a “bleeding ulcer”.
“I think it will lead to a set of circumstances where we are able to get after these cells on a targeted basis. The population will push the insurgency out of the city,” Carter said.
Around 150,000 foreign troops and Afghan security forces will take part in the U.S.-planned “surge” against the Taliban, staged in tandem with pressure on President Hamid Karzai to deliver improved governance with the aim of depriving insurgents of local support.
Kandahar, a city of one million ringed by suburbs of narrow alleys and mud-walled houses, gave birth to the Taliban and helped shield al Qaeda militants before the U.S.-led invasion of the country in 2001.
American planners estimate as many as 2,000 insurgents may be in the city, which also faces rival mafia-style criminal gangs and militias split along traditional tribal lines.
Carter acknowledged fighting in Kandahar was on an “upward trend” after casualties among NATO and U.S. forces hit a record monthly high of over 100 in June, but said the coalition was “getting up the nose of the Taliban”, prompting a violent backlash.
“One should be in no doubt that the Taliban is fighting back. It is a resilient insurgency and it is going to take some dealing with,” he said.
The start of Ramadan on August 11 would likely coincide with an improved security situation in the province, Carter said. A more stable Kandahar is crucial to a U.S. and NATO troop draw-down expected to start next year.
Asked what success would look like in Kandahar, Carter said it would include a community council, or shura, representing all tribal and village interests, as well as safe movement for local people and better government.