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“It”s time to go,” said Lt. James. “We”ve been here longer than I”m comfortable with.”

Navigating the city”s bullet-strafed roads to visit project sites is a tense affair. Gunners inside the armored vehicles trained their sights on Toyota Corollas, vans and even motorcycles potentially packed with lethal explosives.

NATO officials say terrorist tactics are being used much more frequently this spring, a sign the insurgency has been hurt by an aggressive counteroffensive begun last year that has killed hundreds of fighters and eliminated key Taliban commanders.

“We are now seeing the fruits of Operation Medusa, which has had a tremendous effect on the leadership of the Taliban,” said Canadian Lt. Col. Bob Chamberlain, commander of the Kandahar PRT.

Suicide bombings are down compared with last year, Western officials say, considered a sign that the hard-core, or “first-tier” Taliban leaders are finding it harder to attract less-motivated “second-tier” recruits for suicide missions.

Regardless of the tactics used, ordinary Afghans continue to bear the brunt of Taliban violence. A Friday suicide attack in neighboring Uruzgan province killed 13 Afghans, including five children and a Dutch soldier.