Field officers say eradicating fighters who cross the porous 1,470-mile border is like trying to drain a swamp when one cannot shut off the streams feeding it. Pakistan's failure to dam those streams has deepened the five-year-old conflict, they say.
"Stopping the infiltration is not the only way we are going to win this war, but it's a very key factor," said Capt. Samuel Edwards, who led U.S. Army troops in a recent drive into the Davudzay mountain bowl in the southeastern province of Zabul.
The Zabul routes are just a fragment of a vast cross-border network, reminiscent of the Ho Chi Minh Trail of jungle tracks and secret roads that carried Vietnamese communist troops and equipment to battle.
NATO "will never control the border without greater control of the border areas by Pakistan and greater coordination and cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan," Gen. John Craddock, the current NATO commander, said recently in Washington.
Which of course we don't have. We're in no danger of imminently losing Afghanistan. The problem is we're also in no danger of imminently winning, and the Taliban have only grown stronger in the 5 1/2 years since they were ousted from power. We're going in the wrong direction. Slowly, but inexorably.
UPDATE: Also, this sort of thing doesn't help.