Afghan President Hamid Karzai and top US General David Petraeus flew to Kandahar yesterday to review a major NATO-led offensive in the Taliban’s powerbase.
Karzai flew by NATO helicopter to the Arghanab district headquarters with US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, Petraeus — the commander of 152,000 US and NATO troops in Afghanistan — Afghan Defense Minister General Abdul Rahim Wardak and other Cabinet ministers and Kandahar Governor Turyalai Wesa.
The president’s half brother Ahmad Wali Karzai — a key provincial power-broker — was among the entourage.
Karzai swept into talks with Afghan and US generals to be briefed on Operation Dragon Strike led by thousands of NATO and Afghan troops in an effort to flush the Taliban out of Kandahar city and surrounding areas.
Control of Kandahar is seen as crucial to a US counter-insurgency strategy hoping to reverse the nine-year Taliban insurrection to an extent that would allow US forces to start withdrawing from Afghanistan next year.
The president was later due to address hundreds of local elders, and listen to their opinion of the military operation as well as try to rally support for international forces and the Afghan government.
Earlier, he and his delegation paid their respects at the Baba Sahib shrine.
Blanket security was imposed for the visit with hundreds of soldiers, police and presidential bodyguards deployed and NATO helicopters flying overhead.
Kandahar was the country’s designated capital during Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001 and has been at the center of their increasingly violent insurgency against Karzai’s Western-backed government.
Karzai comes from the southern province, where he narrowly escaped an assassination in the provincial capital in September 2002.
There were three other failed assassination attempts against him in Paktia, Ghazni and Kabul provinces in 2004, 2007 and in 2008.