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Afghanistan quagmire watch

KUNDUZ, Afghanistan — This city, once a crossroads in the country’s northeast, is increasingly besieged. The airport closed months ago to commercial flights. The roads heading south to Kabul and east to Tajikistan as well as north and west are no longer safe for Afghans, let alone Westerners.

Although the numbers of American and German troops in the north have more than doubled since last year, insecurity has spread, the Taliban are expanding their reach, and armed groups that purportedly support the government are terrorizing local people and hampering aid organizations, according to international aid workers, Afghan government officials, local residents and diplomats.

The growing fragility of the north highlights the limitations of the American effort here, hampered by waning political support at home and a fixed number of troops. The Pentagon’s year-end review will emphasize hard-won progress in the south, the heartland of the insurgency, where the military has concentrated most troops. But those advances have come at the expense of security in the north and east, with some questioning the wisdom of the focus on the south and whether the coalition can control the entire country.

You're seeing here, on a micro level, the bigger problem with trying to combat Al Qaeda by planting troops in Afghanistan: Wherever your troops go, the enemy goes somewhere else. And sometimes they go places -- Pakistan, say -- you can't really go all that easily.

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