Afghan leader seeks popular support for planned offensive
The Associated Press
KABUL — Afghan President Hamid Karzai sought Sunday to rally public support for an upcoming military operation in the Taliban's birthplace, promising that U.S. and NATO troops will push into insurgent areas there only after consultations with community leaders.
His remarks to about 2,000 officials and tribal leaders in Kandahar reflect a NATO strategy that makes bolstering the stature and capabilities of the Afghan government in the city, the largest in southern Afghanistan, as important as clearing neighborhoods of insurgents.
"There will be no military operation without your cooperation and consultation," Karzai told the leaders as the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and NATO's top civilian representative, Mark Sedwill, looked on.
As Karzai was appealing for public support, NATO confirmed that international troops were responsible for the deaths of five people, including three women, killed Feb. 12 in Gardez south of Kabul. A NATO statement said a joint international-Afghan patrol fired on two men mistakenly believed to be insurgents. The three women were "accidentally killed as a result of the joint force firing at the men," it said.
American and NATO forces are preparing a campaign in Kandahar expected to kick into high gear in June that will test President Obama's gamble that tens of thousands more troops can turn the tide in the 8-year war. NATO hopes to wrap up the operation by Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting and prayer that begins in early August.
Commanders have emphasized the need for support among Kandahar's half million people, most of whom are members of the same Pashtun ethnic group as the Taliban. The Taliban was organized in Kandahar in the early 1990s and made the city their headquarters before they were ousted from power in the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.