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There’s a couple of articles below that I would normally just run through the sidebar. They’re pretty important however so I thought that I’d give them a full post. Both are from the Long War Journal and they’re the best thing I’ve seen in a while at giving a short concise descriptions of the problems that the NATO-led ISAF (officially, International Security Assistance Force, but more accurately “I Saw Americans Fight,” “I Suck at Fighting,” or “I Sunbathe at FOBs”) are running into in Afghanistan. In a word, that problem is Pakistan.

Afghanistan has seen its worst bout of violence since the US overthrew the Taliban government in 2002. Taliban-related attacks and incidents have skyrocketed as the Taliban seeks to destabilize and de-legitimize the weak Afghan government and break NATO’s will to fight a protracted counterinsurgency campaign.

The number of Taliban-related incidents per day has jumped by almost 50 percent, according to data compiled by Vigilant Strategic Services Afghanistan.

While NATO and Afghan forces have killed an estimated 7,000 Taliban fighters this year, the Taliban have demonstrated the capacity to recruit new fighters. These recruits are often trained in the Pakistani camps before being sent across the border to strike at NATO and Afghan forces.

7,000 dead Taliban seems like a lot until you realize that there are still 10,000 non-Pakistani Taliban/Al Qaeda in the Pakistani Free Tribal Areas.

A critical factor behind Afghanistan’s deteriorating state is the turn of events in Pakistan, where the Taliban and al Qaeda have found a safe haven in recent years. After the October 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan felled the Taliban, most of al Qaeda’s senior leadership relocated to Pakistan’s federally administered tribal areas, the remote and mountainous regions that border Afghanistan, and set about finding allies within tribal society.

Pakistan’s military mounted a campaign to flush al Qaeda out of the tribal areas after the group was connected to multiple assassination attempts against Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf, but the military suffered so many losses that Musharraf eventually concluded he had no choice but to deal with his would-be killers. In March and September 2006 he consummated the two halves of the Waziristan accords, peace agreements that essentially ceded Waziristan to the Taliban and al Qaeda. Musharraf also cut deals with Islamic militants in the regions of Swat, Bajaur, and Mohmand. The treaties, punctuated with frequent skirmishes, symbolized Pakistan’s inability to confront its extremists.

The primary advantage that terrorist sanctuaries in northwestern Pakistan provide to the Afghan insurgency is the ability to operate with relative freedom in that country. The U.S. military is constrained in cross-border strikes and hot pursuit because Pakistan views the tribal areas as sovereign territory. Not only is Pakistan a U.S. ally, but there are also serious concerns that too heavy a U.S. hand in the tribal areas will destabilize the government and push more members of Pakistan’s military and intelligence communities and civilian population into the extremists’ camp.

Thus, the American military is handcuffed in its ability to respond to attacks when the enemy melts back over Pakistan’s border. Reluctance to strike in Pakistani territory also prevents the U.S. military from disrupting the enemy’s bases and supply lines. The safe havens in northwestern Pakistan give the Taliban and allied groups a virtually untouchable rear area, where they can recruit, arm, train, and infiltrate fighters into Afghanistan.

The main issue here is the free tribal areas of Pakistan. The free tribal areas are internationally recognized as part of Pakistan. The people that live there, approximately 3 million Pashtuns, are willing to nominally acknowledge that it is part of Pakistan.

Pakistan does not really control the free tribal areas however. Nor can the United States go in there for fear of destablizing the Pakistani government. And that gives the Taliban the ability to build up an army and attack into Afghanistan at will.