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Attacks Strain Efforts On Terror

"Proper protest has been made, but this will not alter the ground rules and intelligence cooperation with the U.S. It will continue as usual," the official said.

The latest U.S. missile strike came as suicide attacks by militants have been on the rise in Afghanistan, particularly in southern and eastern areas bordering Pakistan. In a country where such attacks have traditionally been rare, Afghan officials blame foreigners.

"It is difficult for me to imagine how it can happen without some kind of support from outside Afghanistan," said Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.

Others direct blame squarely at Pakistan, which they believe is trying to gain more influence in Afghanistan by sowing instability.

"We were using Pakistan as a base during the resistance times," said Hakim Taniwal, governor of Paktia province, referring to the U.S.-funded guerrilla war against Soviet occupation troops during the 1980s. "Now al Qaeda and Taliban are also using the Pakistani side to attack in Afghanistan."

Afghan government officials are feeling especially vulnerable now because the United States announced late last year that it would reduce its troop strength from 19,000 to 16,500. NATO soldiers are supposed to fill the gap by taking over some operations in the south, but the Netherlands, seen as pivotal to that transition, has wavered over whether it will send troops.

Meanwhile, the Taliban, al Qaeda and other groups that are trying to destabilize the nascent Afghan government appear to be taking advantage of the uncertainty.

"At the strategic level of war, this is a defensive insurgency," said Chris Mason, a retired U.S. diplomat who served in Afghanistan and is now a senior fellow at the Center for Advanced Defense Studies in Washington. "They're inserting just enough insurgents to shut down meaningful reconstruction in the south and keep the population on the fence."

Khan reported from Karachi, Pakistan.

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