The Afghan war is returning to the place it began: the violent eastern borderlands with Pakistan, where the Taliban and al Qaeda slipped out of US reach a decade ago and have organized their insurgency ever since.
In southern Afghanistan, the US has succeeded over the past year in prying the Taliban’s grip from parts of Kandahar and Helmand provinces. But US military commanders recognise they have far to go in the country’s east, where insurgents fight from the cover of craggy mountains and drive truckloads of weapons through illegal dirt-road crossings, flee across the border into Pakistan to elude capture.
The US focus on the south has meant that there are about 38,500 troops in that region, compared with 31,000 in eastern Afghanistan. But those in the east have borne a disproportionately high share of casualties in recent months.
In eastern Afghanistan, “we really haven’t focused our energy and efforts,” said US Army Lt Gen David Rodriguez, Nato’s second-ranking commander in Afghanistan. “Because you can’t do it everywhere.”
But commanders are faced with the problem of trying to intensify a fight with fewer US troops, as President Barack Obama will begin withdrawing soldiers next month.
In the past six months, 64 US troops have died in the east, compared to 67 in south, even though there are 7,500 more troops in the south.
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