But those tactical gains have come at the price of further exacerbating the basic U.S. strategic weakness in Afghanistan " the antagonism toward the foreign presence shared throughout the Pashtun south.
The unprecedented home demolition policy and other harsh tactics used in the offensive suggest that Gen. Petraeus has abandoned the pretense that he will ever win over the population in those Taliban strongholds.
The New York Times first reported the large-scale demolition of houses in a Nov. 16 story that said U.S. troops in Arghandab, Zhari and Panjwaii districts had been using armoured bulldozers, high explosives, missiles and airstrikes in "routinely destroying almost every unoccupied home or unused farm building in areas where they are operating".
Confirming the widespread demolition policy, Col. Hans Bush, a spokesman for Petraeus, suggested that it was necessary to provide security, because so many houses were "booby- trapped" with explosives.
But Bush also acknowledged that U.S. troops were using a wide array of "tools" to eliminate tree lines in which insurgents could hide. And the demolition policy was clearly driven primarily by ISAF's concerns about the IED war that the Taliban has been winning in 2010.
The Washington Post's Rajiv Chandrasekaran revealed in a Nov. 19 article that, in one operation in Zhari district, the military had used more than a dozen mine clearing charges, each of which destroyed everything - houses, trees, and crops - in a 100-yard-long path wide enough for a tank.
The district governor in Arghandab, Shah Muhammed Ahmadi, acknowledged that entire villages had been destroyed " a policy he defended by claiming that there were no people left in them. "[I]n some villages, like Khosrow," he said, "that we've found completely empty and full of IEDs, we destroy them without agreement, because it was hard to find the people, and not just Khosrow but many villages we had to destroy to make them safe."
But Col. David Flynn, the battalion commander of a unit of the 101st Airborne Division responsible for a section of the district, contradicted the claim that demolition was only carried out if the people who owned the houses could not be found.
Flynn told the reporters that one of his platoons had a casualty rate of 50 percent in the village.
Flynn later claimed that the residents had responded to his threat by clearing out all the IEDs themselves, according to Carl Forsberg of the Institute for the Study of War. Researcher and author Alex Strick Van Linschoten, one of the only two Westerners to have lived independently in Kandahar City in recent years, said a friend had been told the same thing.
However, Linschoten told IPS that he understands from an eyewitness that at least two other villages in Flynn's area of responsibility, including the nearby Khosrow Ulya, were leveled and one was reduced to "a dust bowl".
District chief Ahmad referred to "Khosrow" as one of the villages he said the Americans "had to destroy to make them safe".
The threat to destroy a village if its residents did not come forward with information would be a "collective penalty" against the civilian population, which is strictly forbidden by the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War.