Afghanistan — Kandahar Shaping Operations Under Way, Official Says

WASHINGTON, March 30, 2010 — U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan are lay­ing the ground­work for their much-antic­i­pat­ed efforts to com­bat extrem­ists in Kan­da­har, Pen­ta­gon Press Sec­re­tary Geoff Mor­rell said in a Pen­ta­gon news con­fer­ence today.
Mor­rell said com­bat oper­a­tions will begin in earnest in the com­ing weeks. But in the mean­time, he said, troops are engaged in what mil­i­tary offi­cials refer to as “shap­ing” oper­a­tions in prepa­ra­tion for the upcom­ing offen­sive there.

“The truth is they have begun,” Mor­rell said of shap­ing oper­a­tions tak­ing place in Kan­da­har, the spir­i­tu­al cen­ter of the Tal­iban. “They have been months in the mak­ing.”

A U.S. Stryk­er brigade com­bat team arrived in south­ern Afghanistan last sum­mer, mark­ing the begin­ning of oper­a­tions there. The Stryk­er vehi­cles are used to secure routes in and out of Afghanistan’s sec­ond-largest city, while oth­er prepara­to­ry work, such as trib­al engage­ments by U.S. spe­cial oper­a­tions forces, are also under way.

Shuras – meet­ings of influ­en­tial com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers – are a crit­i­cal com­po­nent to shap­ing the even­tu­al oper­a­tion by gain­ing local sup­port, Mor­rell said.

“So clear­ly, a lot of the prepara­to­ry work, the shap­ing oper­a­tions that will be essen­tial to ulti­mate suc­cess in Kan­da­har, are under way, and have been under way, frankly, for months now,” he said.

Mor­rell would­n’t spec­u­late on a timetable for major offen­sives to begin in Kan­da­har, but more forces will be ded­i­cat­ed to oper­a­tions there in the weeks ahead, he said. More civil­ian sup­port also will be required from NATO and the Afghan gov­ern­ment to be suc­cess­ful there, he added.

“Ulti­mate­ly, we need a more size­able force to be suc­cess­ful there than we cur­rent­ly have in place,” he said.

Coali­tion and Afghan secu­ri­ty forces are build­ing on suc­cess­ful oper­a­tions in Hel­mand province to launch sim­i­lar oper­a­tions in Kan­da­har city and province. How­ev­er, Mor­rell stressed that forces in Kan­da­har would con­sti­tute more of a “facil­i­tat­ing” role, because the city has “some sem­blance of gov­ern­ment con­trol, unlike Mar­ja, which was most­ly entire­ly in the hands of the Tal­iban.

“There may be some foun­da­tion on which to build,” he said of oper­a­tions in Kan­da­har and its gov­ern­ment. “There­fore we would more in the role of facil­i­tat­ing addi­tion­al gov­ern­ment assets and sup­port and secu­ri­ty ele­ments com­ing in, and that they could be more the providers of secu­ri­ty and bet­ter gov­ern­ment ser­vices.”

Kan­da­har will be an impor­tant oper­a­tion to estab­lish secu­ri­ty in the coun­try. The oper­a­tion alone will not decide the over­all out­come in Afghanistan, but it’s a nec­es­sary step to root out the Tal­iban, giv­en the city’s his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance to the Tal­iban move­ment, Mor­rell said.

“[Kan­da­har] is the like­ly next stop on a 12-to-18-month-long cam­paign,” he said. “It will clear­ly be a very impor­tant oper­a­tion. We cer­tain­ly hope it will be one that will break the back, to a large extent, of the Tal­iban who have called it home and who have used it as a sanc­tu­ary for some time.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)