KHOST, Afghanistan — 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 American reach a decade ago and have organized their insurgency ever since.
In southern Afghanistan, the United States has succeeded over the past year in prying the Taliban’s grip from parts of Kandahar and Helmand provinces. But U.S. military commanders recognize they have far to go in the country’s east, where insurgents fight from the cover of craggy mountains, drive truckloads of weapons through illegal dirt-road border crossings, and flee across the frontier into Pakistan to elude capture.
The intense U.S. 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, and some territory held by the Afghan government has fallen back into Taliban hands after U.S. troops pulled out of their small outposts.