- The Washington Times - Friday, May 14, 2010

U.S. and allied forces will see increased fighting in Afghanistan as their offensive in the southern part of the country unfolds in coming weeks, Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal said Thursday.

“We should expect increased violence as our combined security forces expand into Taliban-controlled areas,” Gen. McChrystal told reporters at the Pentagon.

He also said the Taliban does not control the strategic southern Afghan city of Kandahar and that the U.S. offensive in that region will focus on winning the support of local people.

Discussing the coming offensive in Kandahar, Gen. McChrystal said there will be no D-Day or H-Hour for an attack.

The allied offensive is seeking to “shape” the local population and its leaders to support the allies and the central Kabul government, he said. The Taliban “certainly do not control Kandahar,” he said, noting that the city is not secure and is vulnerable to Taliban attacks.

The Taliban are using targeted assassinations in and around Kandahar to try to dissuade the population from supporting the allies and Kabul, he said.

“Many insurgencies use targeted assassinations as a way to intimidate the population and undercut the ability of the government to establish effective mechanisms,” Gen. McChrystal said. “And that’s what I think we’re seeing here. Certainly some of those murders may be criminally related, but there is a clear insurgent thrust to the primary part of this.”

Sounding a cautious note on current military efforts, the four-star general noted “considerable progress in security and governance.”

“But as is expected in counterinsurgency, progress is often slow and deliberate,” he said following meetings with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who toured Arlington National Cemetery.

Gen. McChrystal said the counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan “are about changing the perceptions of people,” adding that “Afghans believe more of what they see than what they hear.”

“This is a process that takes time,” he said. “It will demand courage and resilience.”

Asked about Taliban links to Faisal Shahzad, the suspect in the May 1 car-bombing attempt in New York’s Times Square, Gen. McChrystal said he was familiar with some of the intelligence on the issue.

“I think what this does point out is the rise of extremist groups, whether it’s [Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan], Pakistani Taliban or al Qaeda or others,” he said. “They all represent to some degree or another the ability to generate threats that can go outside of the local area that they are.”

Earlier, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the United States opposes political reconciliation efforts with Taliban insurgents who refuse to support women’s rights, although she said she supports Afghan and allied efforts to persuade some militants to end their role in the insurgency.

“It is essential that women’s rights and women’s opportunities are not sacrificed or trampled on in the reconciliation process,” she said during a meeting with Mr. Karzai at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

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