KABUL – Tough times are ahead for Kandahar in southern Afghanistan where thousands of U.S., NATO and Afghan forces are gearing up for the latest offensive of the war, a top U.S. general said in an unannounced visit there Friday.

Gen. David Petraeus, the head of the U.S. Central Command, toured areas in and around Kandahar to bolster support for the military operation aimed at routing the Taliban from their southern stronghold.

“There have been tough moments here in Kandahar in recent weeks — that is well-known. And we know that there will be more tough moments in the weeks and months ahead,” said Petraeus, whose command oversees both Iraq and Afghanistan.

U.S. troops are already flowing into the area — part of the 30,000 U.S. reinforcements President Obama deployed to the war.

If NATO’s counterinsurgency strategy works, the improved security will give the Afghan government a chance to gain better footing in Kandahar, a hotbed of militant and criminal activity, and the international community can ramp up aid to residents.

“The operation in Kandahar is not going to be a conventional offensive. It is rather precise operations out, around the city,” Petraeus said.