KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Although it's just beginning, the U.S.-led effort to pacify the Taliban's spiritual capital in southern Afghanistan already appears to be faltering.
Key military operations have been delayed until fall, efforts to improve local government are having little impact and a Taliban assassination campaign has brought a sense of dread to Kandahar's dusty streets.
NATO officials once spoke of demonstrating major progress by mid-August, but U.S. commanders now say the turning point may not be reached until November, and perhaps later.
At the urging of Afghan leaders, U.S. officials have stopped describing the plan as a military operation. Instead, they've dubbed it "Cooperation for Kandahar," a moniker meant to focus attention on efforts to build up local governance while reducing fears of street battles.
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"We're not using the term 'operation' or 'major operations' because that often brings to mind in peoples' psyche the idea of a D-Day and an H-Hour and an attack," U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S.-led international forces in Afghanistan, said Thursday in Washington.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed him. "This is not Fallujah," Clinton told reporters, in a reference to the house-to-house fighting that drove Sunni Muslim insurgents from the Iraqi town of Fallujah. "Lessons have been learned since Iraq. A lot of lessons."
McChrystal emphasized winning over the local population.
"It's important that we engage the population so that we shape the leaders, the natural leaders, the elders, political and economic leaders so that their participation helps shape how we go forward," he said.
American and Afghan officials, however, so far have made little headway in building a foundation for a respected local government capable of winning the confidence of the nearly 1 million Afghans who live in and around Kandahar.
On Thursday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai visited Arlington National Cemetery's Section 60 — a resting place for military killed in Afghanistan as well as in Iraq, Vietnam, World War II and other conflicts.