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The U.S. commander said he is committed to returning Afghanistan, which has experienced a surge of violence and instability over the past month, back to the Afghan people and securing the nation’s future from the Taliban and from al Qaeda terrorists.

Within the past week, U.S.-led forces have fought two major battles with Taliban insurgents, one in eastern Paktika province along the Pakistani border and another on the outskirts of the southern city of Kandahar.

U.S. officials are desperate to keep the long-standing tensions between the two countries from breaking out into open hostilities.

In an interview with CNN on Sunday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, “I think it’s better that Pakistan and Afghanistan cooperate on their respective sides of the border.”

“There are Taliban operating in Afghanistan who have to be defeated,” she said, quickly adding that “there are Taliban who are operating in Pakistan and they have to be defeated, too.”

A Pakistani peace accord with tribal elders in the border regions in 2006, which Islamabad had hoped would undercut support for Islamist activities, instead led to an increase in the insurgency, recruitment of more terrorists and more training camps for al Qaeda, said U.S. counterterrorism officials familiar with the region.

That deal eventually collapsed. However, peace talks between Pakistan’s newly elected government and militants in tribal areas have raised new concerns in Afghanistan.

Further complicating matters are the financial and weapons support to the Taliban insurgency and al Qaeda from foreign financiers and countries.

“It’s a documented fact that there are foreign fighters and foreign financiers” supporting the insurgency in the Pakistani border regions, Gen. McKiernan said.

An intelligence report obtained by The Times found that al Qaeda has recruited agents from the United States and Britain to infiltrate areas frequented by foreigners in Kabul.

The commander would not comment on the report, but acknowledged that terrorism poses “a very real threat” internationally.

He said al Qaeda emanates from sanctuaries on both sides of the border, adding that the terrorist threat is not directed just at Afghanistan, but “regionally and globally.”

“What happens if we don’t [win in Afghanistan] is New York City, September 11, 2001, Washington D.C., London, Madrid, Indonesia,” the general said, ticking off a string of terrorist strikes by al Qaeda over the past seven years.

He said commanders must be willing to make the same sacrifices as the men they are leading.

“Senior leaders owe it to their soldiers to do the same thing,” he said, leaning forward in his chair to point at a map of the various provinces he has visited. “In my case, not just to the United States of America, but to all the 40 countries that are contributing to this ISAF mission.”

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