Tenacious Taliban force NATO rethink
Northern Afghanistan used to be seen as a relatively safe and stable area untouched by the insurgency in the south and east of the country. That, however, has drastically changed for the worse.
The air strikes ordered by the German forces on hijacked tankers causing massive loss of life and devastating political consequences came against the backdrop of increasingly ferocious attacks by the Taliban which have forced Nato to readjust its strategy.
Many of the roads outside the main towns in Balkh and Kunduz are no longer safe with the Taliban carrying out ambushes and operating roadblocks, even sometimes using Afghan police uniforms and police vehicles to carry out abductions.
Although the number of insurgents is low compared with places such as Helmand and Kandahar, Uzbeks and Chechens with links to al-Qaida are present in their ranks.
They have built up a reputation for tenacity and brutality. The region has also seen attacks mounted by the fighters of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former protege of the CIA whom the Americans have subsequently attempted to kill.
Critics blame the German forces for allowing the infiltration of the north by the Taliban, accusing the 4,200-strong contingent of failing to take action to stem the flow of fighters, allowing them effectively to take over swathes of rural areas while the troops stayed in their barracks.
The Germans insist that they are now taking a more aggressive stance and recently around 300 of their soldiers took part in an operation alongside Afghan security forces in which a number of insurgents were killed and captured. But that may be too late.