KABUL – After a smoother-than-expected military operation to take the southern Afghan town of Marjah from the Taliban, the U.S. military is aiming to quash Taliban resistance in the Islamist group’s spiritual home of Kandahar by the fall, two NATO officials said Tuesday.

They added, however, that success in Afghanistan’s second-largest city would depend more on evolving political negotiations than on a decisive military campaign like the one that ousted Sunni Muslim militants from the Iraqi city of Fallujah.

“This is not Fallujah. This is not Baghdad,” one senior NATO official said. “There is not going to be house-to-house clearing.”

Instead, military officials are looking to minimize urban fighting by encouraging political leaders to lead the way.

“The solution to Kandahar will not be done through security,” said the other NATO official, who’s a senior U.S. military official in Kabul. “It will be enhanced through security. But the change, the real dramatic change for Kandahar, will have to happen politically.”

The officials briefed reporters in Kabul in part to counter reports out of Washington on Monday that the coalition will start an intense two-month Kandahar military offensive in June.

Both spoke only on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the developing military operation more freely.

But as officials are discovering in Marjah, a farming area with less than 10 percent of Kandahar’s population, clearing the Taliban out is easier than establishing a competent and respected Afghan government and keeping the militants out.

Kandahar is a center of opium trafficking. The local government and police are widely considered corrupt and the army and national police aren’t able to operate without U.S troops.

The political push to strengthen the weak Afghan government in the area will come in conjunction with a beefed-up American military presence that aims to establish a stronghold in large parts of central Kandahar where no Afghan or coalition forces operate now.

“This is the jewel,” the U.S. official said of central Kandahar. “If the Taliban lose effective control of the city – their ability to harass, intimidate and control the outcomes of what happens on the normal days of life in Kandahar – (then) they’ve lost.”