KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — The prospect of a robust military push in Kandahar province, which had been widely expected to begin this month, has evolved into a strategy that puts civilian reconstruction efforts first and relegates military action to a supportive role.
The strategy, Afghan, American and NATO civilian and military officials said, was adopted because of opposition to military action from an unsympathetic local population and Afghan officials here and in Kabul. There are also concerns that a frontal military approach has not worked as well as hoped in a much smaller area in Marja in neighboring Helmand province.
The goal that U.S. planners originally outlined — often in briefings in which reporters agreed not to quote officials by name — emphasized the importance of a military offensive to bring the Taliban-dominated south under effective control by the end of summer. That would leave a year to consolidate gains before President Barack Obama's July 2011 deadline to begin withdrawing combat troops.
Now, the very word "offensive" has been banished.
"We cannot say the term offensive for Kandahar," said the Afghan National Army officer in charge, Gen. Sher Mohammad Zazai. "It is actually a partnership operation."
The commander of NATO forces in southern Afghanistan, Maj. Gen. Nick Carter, insisted there never was a planned offensive.
"The media have chosen to use the term 'offensive,' " he said. Instead, he said, "we have certainly talked about a military uplift, but there has been no military use of the term offensive."
Whatever it is called, it is not happening this month. Zazai says it will begin in July, take a break for Ramadan in mid August and resume in mid September.
American officials say it has already begun, not with a bang, but with a steady increase of experts from the U.S. Embassy and NATO and aid workers — a "civilian surge" — accompanied by a quiet increase in American troops to provide security for them. The Americans deny they planned an offensive they are now backing away from.
Bodies return: The bodies of five American servicemen killed Monday have returned to the United States. The bodies of Army Lt. Michael E. McGahan of Orlando; Army Spc. Brendan P. Neenan of Enterprise, Ala.; Marine Sgt. Brandon C. Bury of Kingwood, Texas; Marine Cpl. Donald M. Marler of St. Louis, Mo., and Marine Lance Cpl. Derek Hernandez of Edinburg, Texas, arrived at Dover Air Force Base, Del., about 1 p.m. Tuesday.
Bomb kills 2: Two American troops were killed by a roadside bomb and a British soldier was shot dead on patrol Tuesday.