U.S. political leaders are dithering on the decision to send 40,000 additional troops requested by military commanders. It's more politically useful, in the U.S., for Afghanistan related problems to just go away, or at least require less American money and troops. But Afghanistan won't go away. For thousands of years, Afghanistan has been a refuge for raiders and a staging (and recruiting) area for invaders headed for Pakistan and northern India. But now the threat is hordes of fierce tribesmen, but rather Pushtun heroin smugglers and terrorists. Afghanistan's neighbors are frantically trying to keep this threat out, and are not succeeding. The drug smugglers are moving through Central Asia, Iran and Pakistan, and the heroin is showing up in more places, more cheaply. The terrorists are still operating their training camps, and the graduates are still being caught in the West. The more graduates there are, the greater the probability some of those planned attacks will come off.
Casualties for foreign troops this month have been hitting record highs (nearly 70) and the annual totals are headed for 450. This is still lower than the Iraq peak of nearly 700 killed per 100,000 troops per year. The Afghan loss rates are also less than a third of those experienced in World War II or Vietnam. Even with the many impressive explosions, the Taliban and drug gang gunmen cannot hurt the foreign troops in a militarily successful way. For example, the Russians, during their 1979-89 war, had far fewer Afghan allies, and suffered a casualty rate three times what the NATO and U.S. troops are enduring now. While the Russians had most of the population against them, the U.S. has most of Afghan aiding them (against the few Pushtuns who want to restore Taliban rule, and the establishment of a narco-state that will fund itself with heroin sales.) Russia never had a realistic expectation of defeating the rebellious (against Afghan communists trying to run the country) tribes. The U.S. does, because most of the tribes are opposed to the Taliban and the drug gangs. But religious fanaticism and drug money are powerful weapons, especially since the Taliban and drug lords are fighting for their very existence. Another advantage the U.S. has is that the Taliban had a safe base in Pakistan during the 1980s, and billions of dollars a year in aid from other Moslem states (mainly Saudi Arabia) and the United States. There is a much smaller base area in Pakistan now, and it is in the process of being shut down now by the Pakistani army. If you look at this war from the viewpoint of the enemy, things don't look very good at all.
Afghans don't mind holding a runoff vote for the presidential election, as foreigners are paying for it (nearly $400 million), and most of that money goes to Afghans. It cost about $67 per vote during the last election. During that first round of voting, 40 percent of voters (5.7 million) turned out, but at least 23 percent of those votes turned out to be fraudulent. One advantage the foreigners have with paying for the election is that they have a good opportunity to detect fraud. There was lots to detect the first time around, and there will probably still be a lot of it when the second vote takes place on November 7th. Weather (the snows have started) and continued Taliban intimidation will probably reduce the voter turnout rate even more. Foreign officials are threatening to halt their aid for the vote, because local officials refuse to crack down sufficiently on the corruption. The locals are calling the bluff of the foreigners, and the foreigners will probably blink.
October 29, 2009: An Israeli firm has agreed to supply German troops in Afghanistan with Heron (similar to U.S. Predator) UAVs by early next year. UAVs have proved to be a decisive device in the fight against the Taliban and drug gangs. There are not nearly as many UAVs in Afghanistan as there were in Iraq, and NATO/U.S. commanders are hustling to change that.
October 28, 2009: Taliban gunmen attacked a UN compound in Kabul, killing five UN employees.
October 27, 2009: A major Western newspaper publicized the rumor that Afghan president Hamid Karzai's brother Ahmed has been getting payments (for information and cooperation) from the CIA for the past eight years. This kind of exposure hurts the CIA effort to get information, especially from someone like the president's brother (who is all deep into government corruption and the drug trade.) But American newspapers have been having a hard time economically, and every hot headline helps. Collateral damage is not news.
October 26, 2009: Three U.S. helicopters crashed. One during a raid in the mountains, while elsewhere two choppers collided. Eleven soldiers and three civilians died. In the last two days, twenty U.S. troops have died from roadside bombs and helicopter crashes.
October 25, 2009: The Taliban got their fans and paid protesters in Kabul to turn out for another anti-foreigner rally. This is all for the foreign media (many of the banners and signs are in English, the universal media language). The reason for the rally was an invented incident of Western soldiers burning a copy of the Koran during a raid. No one asks for proof in cases like this, and such charges are often used to gather a mob to murder a local non-Moslem who has offended someone important. Afghans love to mix religion and violence.
October 24, 2009: In the south, four civilians were killed when their car drove too close to an ISAF convoy and the foreign soldiers opened fire. As in Iraq, using suicide bombers in cars is a popular tactic, and locals either don't get the word about how to approach a military convoy, or simply try to beat the odds by trying to speed past the troops. Elsewhere in the south, two American soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb, while a Danish soldier was killed in a firefight.