KABUL, Afghanistan — The current U.S.-led military operation in Helmand province is a trial run for what could be the decisive clash with the Taliban in Afghanistan this summer in the area that is its spiritual home — Kandahar province.
Officials at the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force say the focus of the coalition will shift from Helmand to Kandahar, the big prize for both the Taliban and the coalition. Kandahar city is home to about 1 million people, while Marja, the target of the massive ongoing offensive in Helmand, is an obscure dusty town of 85,000 inhabitants that had turned into a Taliban stronghold.
A senior assistance-force official, who didn’t want to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue, said: “This moves to Kandahar. That’s the next main objective.”
Until recent months, a combat force of only 1,000 Canadian troops was in place to defend Kandahar. That allowed the Taliban to control large parts of the province and reach into the provincial capital.
The troop deployment in Kandahar is being ramped up rapidly and should reach about 6,000 this spring. Thousands more likely would be deployed to begin a major offensive in early summer.