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NATO forces brace for Afghan offensive

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Ten loud explosions that rocked Kandahar one day last week actually signaled good news on the front line of the war against the Taliban.

The blasts, one every 30 minutes from 10 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., were from Afghan and coalition forces blowing up more than 6,000 pounds of Taliban AK-47s, bomb-making equipment, homemade explosives and rocket-propelled grenades.

Finding and destroying the insurgents' weapons in Kandahar Province, the birthplace of the Taliban, is just one way Afghan and coalition forces are trying to make it difficult for the militants to launch a big spring offensive.

In advance of an increase in fighting expected in the spring, they are working to demolish Taliban hide-outs, kill and detain their leaders, and professionalize police who patrol this city of 800,000 people, the largest in southern Afghanistan.

"We are definitely expecting them to come back at us hard," said Lt. Col. Victor Garcia, deputy commander of the 3,500-soldier 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. deployed in Kandahar on one of the NATO coalition's most critical missions. "I believe the Taliban sense that they've lost some momentum and now they're trying to regain some of that."

Militants did just that Friday in another blast heard around the city. A suicide bomber rammed his car into the home of Provincial Police Chief Khan Mohammad. Three days earlier, a mine exploded just as his vehicle passed by. Before that, the deputy governor of Kandahar was killed by a suicide motorcycle bomber crashing his motorcade.

Until late last year, insurgents roamed with little resistance throughout Kandahar. Last summer, after the 40,000 mostly U.S. reinforcements bloody offensives forced insurgents from their strongholds. Casualties went up, making 2010 the deadliest year of the 9-year-old war.

Security improved and the game plan now is to hold the territory, giving the Afghan government an opportunity to rush in development and bolster governance.

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