It’s being billed as the biggest military offensive of this eight and a half year war and it could be just weeks away.
The U.S. military is beefing up its troop numbers in and around the city of Kandahar, the spiritual heartland of the Taliban. At the same time the Taliban is moving into the heart of the city. No one knows how many fighters have blended into the crowds in this southern Afghan city but violence has definitely increased in recent weeks.
NATO says this operation is necessary, the Afghan government says it’s necessary and the governor of Kandahar, Tooryalai Wesa tells CNN, “Kandahar means Afghanistan, when we have a peaceful Kandahar we have a peaceful Afghanistan, when we have developed Kandahar we have developed Afghanistan.” (Watch more from on the ground in Kandahar)
But what about the half million people who live here and could soon find themselves on the front line of this war. Has anyone asked them what they want or more importantly is anyone listening to what they are saying.
The locals were very willing to talk to CNN and the majority told us they were scared. Scared of the ongoing Taliban assassinations and suicide bombs and of future civilian casualties from the U.S.-led operation.
One resident, Saji-Khir Mohammad asked us, “Who are the Americans starting this operation against? The people of Kandahar? If fighters were blocked from entering the country this operation would not even be needed.”
Another man listening in adds, “We’re not happy with the operation but what can we do, they’re going to do it anyway.”
Some shopkeepers along a street next to the main square tell CNN they struggle to retain their workers. There have been a number of bombs in this area and they fear the offensive will just make it worse.
A baker whose shop is close to the previous bomb attacks doubts the operation will be a success, saying, “They don’t even know where the enemy is, so how can this operation stop them?”
But this city is not without its supporters of U.S. military intervention. Butcher Mohammad Yousuf accepts the operation on one condition, “They need to try very hard to avoid civilian casualties.”
Another shopkeeper is even stronger in his encouragement, “If the Americans stay and become strong, it can work. The local people need this operation, there are too many problems now.”
There is a recurring theme in talking to the people of Kandahar. They ask what will happen when the Americans leave. Will the Taliban fill the void and punish those who they believe collaborated with the foreigners.
Kandahar’s governor insists the operation is political not military and the main aim is to boost local governance – a political system that locals have little if any confidence in.
“This is 'hamkari', which means a giant effort and this operation which we are in the process of is not military, there’s no bombing involved no tanks involved no artillery involved. It’s just the extension of local governance in the district levels and more remote areas of the province.”
This may be hard for locals to believe as they frantically pull to the side of the road to get out of the way whenever a convoy of American M-RAP armored vehicles rolls through the center of town.