Remember all the stories about how we had beaten back the Taliban, knocked them off balance and disrupted their planned spring offensive? Maybe we didn't achieve quite as much as claimed.
The Christian Science Monitor reports that the recent Taliban kidnapping of 23-Korean aid workers is just the latest evidence of the spreading insurgency.
It suggests that the Taliban have consolidated enough power in border provinces to strike farther north, with an eye toward ringing Kabul from the south. Few analysts say that Kabul itself is in danger of direct attack, and none say it is in any danger of falling. But the situation echoes what happened to the Soviets two decades ago, when they maintained control of the cities and little else.
"Ghazni is important as the gateway to Kabul, and control of that road is very important, both symbolically and practically," says Joanna Nathan, a Kabul-based security analyst for the International Crisis Group.
The increasing instability on Kabul's southern doorstep is a concern for President Hamid Karzai's government and its allies. The insurgency has always been centered in the south, where the Taliban was born from ultraconservative Pashtun tribes. But it is creeping northward and farther from Pakistan.
"It is getting farther away from the border," says Ms. Nathan. "What was cross-border is becoming local."
In recent months, suicide bombings in the far north – in Badakhshan and Kunduz – also suggest an attempt to widen the theater of combat, at least superficially. The attempt is more deeply rooted in Ghazni, where the Taliban can attempt to marshal support from a disaffected local populace made up largely of conservative farmers. Local Taliban have been reinforced by Taliban from the deeper south, says Lee.
This does not necessarily suggest growing sympathy for militant Islam. Rather it indicates that some Afghans have lost their patience with the government and are turning against it. The effect has been to constrict the flow of trade on roads south of Kabul, cutting it off from a major trading partner, Pakistan.