But Lalai and others said that with months of notice about NATO's intentions, the insurgents have already had plenty of time to get fighters and weapons into place in urban districts. And because Taliban fighters are so difficult to distinguish from ordinary locals, he said, they continue to arrive daily, unimpeded.
"There are checkpoints and so forth outside the city, so they can't come in big numbers, but they can come in by car or motorbike, by many separate ways," Lalai said.
Western officials point out that assassinations have been a feature of Kandahar's political landscape for years. Residents concur, but say that what used to be an infrequent phenomenon has now become an everyday occurrence.
"Each time, it reminds me of what happened to my wife," said Haji Abdul Salam, the widower of Malalai Kakar, who was a police officer in charge of dealing with crimes against women. She was shot dead in September 2008.
Misgivings in Kandahar are heightened by the fact that NATO troops are finding it extremely difficult to establish security and governance in Marja, a farming town in neighboring Helmand province that was the scene of a major Marine-led offensive three months ago.
Villagers there say that despite the heavy presence of Western and Afghan troops, Taliban fighters are filtering back into town, intimidation is rife, and government services have been slow to take hold.
The lack of clear-cut success in Marja may be contributing to a notable toning down of the Western rhetoric regarding Kandahar.
Shanks, the public affairs officer, acknowledged that the envisioned operation in Kandahar would be "exponentially more complex" than the one in Marja.
That makes many Kandaharis even more doubtful that Western troops can protect them from Taliban retribution.
"Even if Americans come to Kandahar 10 times over," said Hamidi, the mayor, "they cannot stand in front of every home."