KABUL — Afghan President Hamid Karzai sought Sunday to rally public support for an upcoming military operation in the Taliban's birthplace, promising that U.S. and NATO troops will push into insurgent areas there only after consultations with community leaders.
His remarks to about 2,000 officials and tribal leaders in Kandahar reflect a NATO strategy that makes bolstering the stature and capabilities of the Afghan government in the city, the largest in southern Afghanistan, as important as clearing neighborhoods of insurgents.
"There will be no military operation without your cooperation and consultation," Karzai told the leaders as the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and NATO's top civilian representative, Mark Sedwill, looked on.
As Karzai was appealing for public support, NATO confirmed that international troops were responsible for the deaths of five people, including three women, killed Feb. 12 in Gardez, south of Kabul. A NATO statement said a joint international-Afghan patrol fired on two men mistakenly believed to be insurgents. The three women were "accidentally killed as a result of the joint force firing at the men," it said.
U.S. and NATO forces are preparing a campaign in Kandahar expected to kick into high gear in June that will test President Barack Obama's gamble that tens of thousands more troops can turn the tide in the eight-year war. NATO hopes to wrap up the operation by Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting and prayer that begins in early August.
Securing Kandahar is considered the key to turning back the Taliban in the south, the main battlefront of the war. A NATO service member was killed Sunday by a bomb in southern Afghanistan, NATO said without saying the location or the victim's nationality.