US troops marched through a poor neighborhood in western Kandahar this morning, searching homes and making promises of future aid in something officials are calling a “preview” of the summer offensive.
The latest move comes as NATO continues to reel from a Taliban attack on the Kandahar Airport on Saturday night, their largest base in the region. The attack came as two top British officials, Foreign Secretary William Hague and Defense Secretary Liam Fox, were scheduled to fly into the base.
The Kandahar attack was the third major Taliban attack against a NATO target in the past few days, amid growing fears that the Taliban is changing strategy to avoid attacking the largely ineffectual Afghan military and hit the international occupation forces directly.
But Kandahar is even more significant than the attacks in Kabul, as it is the focus of a massive, long-promised US-led offensive to begin at some point this summer.
Officials say the Kandahar offensive is the best chance they have to displace the Taliban from their home city, but increasingly there are doubts that the plan is anything more than a public relations stunt, a pledge to deploy massive amounts of troops and aid and magically transform a city full of skeptical Afghans into loyal supporters of the NATO-backed government.
The worst news about the doubts is that the US really doesn’t have any backup strategy for when this, as so many past plans, fails. The massive offensive is constantly being rebranded to convince people that it has promise, but in reality it is the all-or-nothing culmination of the McChrystal Plan for escalating the war, a plan which the Pentagon is increasingly doubting.
The center of the insurgency, Kandahar makes all the sense in the world as a goal for NATO, but between the massive corruption in the provincial government, the tiny and ill-trained (and in many cases completely untrained) police force and a local populace that resents NATO at least as much as it resents the Taliban, it is not exactly fertile ground for a NATO strategy which is still, months later, struggling to bring a largely fictional town of Marjah under control.