Afghan offensive in Kandahar to begin in June: US

WASHINGTON (AFP) – NATO forces will begin their offensive on the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar in June, a US military official said, to regain ground against the fierce insurgency in their spiritual homeland.

The offensive in the region "has already begun," the official told AFP late Monday on condition of anonymity, saying that in Kandahar "operations will begin (in June)."

NATO and US forces that earlier this year launched a major offensive against the Taliban in Helmand province, near Kandahar, have already announced plans to begin operations in the insurgent stronghold this summer, but without giving specific dates.

AFP file photo shows an armored NATO vehicle on patrol in Kandahar.

US President Barack Obama in a surprise visit to Afghanistan at the weekend defended his sweeping new push to flush out Taliban strongholds in Helmand and future targets in the south where the insurgency is concentrated.

"Our strategy includes a military effort that takes the fight to the Taliban while creating the conditions for greater security and a transition to the Afghans," he told US and NATO troops gathered at Bagram Airfield outside Kabul.

The United States and NATO are boosting their military effort to 150,000 troops in Afghanistan in coming months as efforts to eradicate militant strongholds intensify. Related article: Progress too slow in Afghanistan: Obama

US General Stanley McChrystal said earlier this month he would take on Taliban militants in their Kandahar this summer when enough reinforcements are on the ground.

McChrystal, the US war commander, told President Barack Obama by video conference at a war cabinet meeting that the military was on course to pour thousands of extra troops into Afghanistan in the coming months, while he reported "continued progress" in the offensive against the Taliban in Marjah.

A US combat brigade of 4,000 men was already deployed in Kandahar in the summer of 2009 to secure lines of communication leading to the capital of southern Afghanistan, historic stronghold of the Taliban movement.

Upon his return Monday Obama also stressed the immediate need for progress in the country, torn by decades of conflict and over eight years of US-led intervention.

"I think he is listening," Obama said, referring to his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai.

"But I think that the progress is too slow, and what we've been trying to emphasize is the fierce urgency of now," Obama said in an interview with NBC, set to air on US television early Tuesday.

He pressed Karzai, returned for a second five-year term in fraud-riddled elections last year, to step up the fight against corruption and the drugs trade, and invited the Afghan leader to visit Washington on May 12.

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