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U.S. To Launch Operation In Kandahar City

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The United States plans to launch a new military operation later this year to seize Kandahar city in southern Afghanistan from Taliban control, a senior Obama administration official has said.

"If the goal in Afghanistan is to reverse the momentum of the Taliban...then we think we have to get to Kandahar this year," the official told reporters.

Kandahar is Afghanistan's second largest city. A major offensive there follows the current military operation in the Taliban stronghold of Marjah in neighboring Helmand Province.

The offensive to secure Marjah, which is now in its third week, is an early test of President Barack Obama's plan to add 30,000 more troops to win control of Taliban strongholds and eventually transfer them to Afghan authority.

Marjah is one of the biggest operations in the more than eight-year-old Afghan war, aimed at driving the Taliban from one of their big strongholds in the country's most violent province.

"The way to look at Marjah -- it is a tactical prelude to a comprehensive operation in Kandahar City," the official said.

He said the military operation in Marjah was "pretty much on track" but NATO forces still had several more weeks left to clear the area of Taliban.

On February 25, Afghan authorities raised the Afghan flag over Marjah to signify the handover of control to the government from NATO troops led by U.S. marines.