The killing of as many as a dozen civilians by a stray rocket in the allied offensive in southern Afghanistan demonstrates the difficulty of the task American forces have taken on in this first test of President Barack Obama's new strategy for the war.

There has never been any doubt that American, British and other NATO forces could win battles against the Taliban. But more than eight years into that conflict, it has also become clear that winning battles and clearing territory does no good if the Taliban fighters are welcomed right back into the area as soon as the foreign troops leave. It does no good if the Afghan government is unable to provide security and opportunity for its people, and it does no good if our efforts to root out the Taliban wind up alienating the civilian population.

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Gen. Stanley McChrystal's operational plan for this offensive recognizes those facts and is predicated on the notion that fighting a different kind of offensive, including much greater involvement from Afghan security forces, can help dry up support for the Taliban and lead to a stable peace. He's called for limiting the use of airstrikes in favor of ground operations that are less likely to cause civilian casualties. Tribal leaders in the region were consulted before the operation began, and reports from the battlefield indicate that the allied forces have changed their tactics in an attempt to avoid disrupting the populace.

But as the wayward rocket attack shows, that's easier said than done. Fortunately, there have been few reported casualties among the allied troops, but the more restrictions are placed on how they may conduct the offensive -- General McChrystal, for example, issued a suspension of the use of the rocket system that led to the civilian deaths -- the more risks our troops may face or the more difficult they may find the military operation.

It is also important to consider that the ultimate success of the offensive is not in our hands. It will depend on the ability of the Karzai government in Kabul to win the backing of people who have at least tacitly supported the Taliban. There has been little evidence so far that the corruption and ineffectiveness that have hindered the Afghan central government's ability to establish order have been eliminated, and the Obama administration's goal to put "more of an Afghan face" on the operation, as national security adviser James L. Jones said Sunday on CNN, won't help if that Afghan face isn't one that the people trust.

Before the surge, we expressed real skepticism about whether the Obama administration's plan could succeed. We hope our concerns will prove unfounded, but as our armed forces slowly work their way toward taking control of the Taliban stronghold of Marja, we must remember that military victory is only the beginning of the enormous task ahead.

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