Afghanistan in July
But there is something heating up in the background; what remains unclear -- hazy as is a mirage, and potentially as dangerous.
For months the U.S.-led coalition consisting primarily of 40,000 NATO troops has alternated between predicting the Taliban were set to launch a new offensive across all of southern and eastern Afghanistan and admitting that no assault was imminent – only to hoist the warning flags again and then pull them back once more.
Last month the same pattern played out in Kandahar. A brazen Taliban daytime jailbreak saw some 400 Taliban, al-Qaeda, and common criminals suddenly back on the streets. Within a few days there were rumors of a major Taliban offensive that could well put Kandahar back in the militant’s column. A few more days and even this prediction disappeared.
Afghan Army and coalition forces did report one or two encounters in which three dozen or more militants were killed. But these numbers should not have derailed the Taliban’s purported plans unless the original estimates of their available fighting strength were grossly overestimated. If so, the few battles that have occurred might be enough to have upset the militants’ plans to directly take on the coalition troops and instead cultivate the population.
After all, the loyalty and support of the people are the prize, and at this point, both the Taliban and the Kabul government have an equal chance at the brass ring.