The senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan says he will know by year's end whether the upcoming military operation in the city of Kandahar is a success or a failure.
"It will be the end of this calendar year before you know," Gen. Stanley McChrystal said.
McChrystal said the overall priority in Afghanistan is to train Afghan forces, so they can one day take over security for their own country. But, he said, the immediate need is to secure southern Afghanistan, especially Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban.
Thousands of U.S. and Afghan forces will deploy to the city and surrounding areas beginning next month.
One military official told NPR that U.S. military police will join with Afghan police in setting up security stations around the city, much like U.S. forces did in Baghdad.
The Taliban does not control Kandahar city, McChrystal said. But, he said, those living in the city still don't feel safe.
"They remain to be convinced," he said.
Not long before McChrystal gave his assessment, Afghan President Hamid Karzai moved slowly among the tombstones at Arlington National Cemetery's Section 60 — often called "the saddest acre in America" — a resting place for service members killed in Afghanistan as well as in Iraq, Vietnam, World War II and other conflicts.
Karzai was wrapping up a four-day visit to Washington later Thursday with a televised give-and-take with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Also Thursday, Clinton told senior female Afghan officials that women's rights should not be sacrificed to any peace deal between the Kabul government and Taliban militants.
Karzai came to the U.S. this week in part to persuade the U.S. to back his plans for ending the war through negotiations with militants. But there are concerns that any political settlement with the Taliban could result in severe restrictions on women's rights.
Taliban sympathizers routinely intimidate or attack women who work outside the home, wear Western dress or try to attend school.
Clinton said "it is essential that women's rights and women's opportunities are not sacrificed or trampled on in the reconciliation process."
The Obama administration has done its best to repair strained relations with Karzai, its partner in the war against militants in Afghanistan.
Earlier Thursday, Karzai had breakfast with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other U.S. officials. He also attended a Capitol Hill lunch hosted by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry.
Karzai leaves Washington on Friday. Before heading back to Kabul, he is expected to visit Fort Campbell, Ky., home of the 101st Airborne Division, which is going to Afghanistan over the next several weeks, according to U.S. and Afghan officials.
Thursday's events cap meetings aimed at ending months of sniping and frustration over management of the war and fraud surrounding Karzai's re-election last year. They come as the U.S.-led force in Afghanistan is preparing to push hard into Kandahar province in June. The campaign for Kandahar, already under way in districts outside the city, is expected to be among the bloodiest of the nearly nine-year-old war.
NPR's Tom Gjelten contributed to this report, which includes material from The Associated Press