Afghanistan is only half of a war that straddles the Pakistan border. Most of the hostiles are Islamic conservative Pushtun tribesmen. Northern Pakistan and southern Afghanistan are Pushtun country, where 40 million Pushtuns live (65 percent in Pakistan). Last year this war left about 15,000 dead. Over 90 percent of those killed were Pushtun. Over 10,000 were the Taliban and terrorist fighters determined to drive infidels (non-Moslems) out of the area and establish an Islamic state (under Pushtun control). Most of the other 5,000 dead were civilians, most of them killed by the Taliban. The casualties are pretty even on both sides of the border, although last year they were a bit higher in Pakistan. This year, there was a surge of fighting in Afghanistan. A record 711 of the 150,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan were killed (474 per 100,000, still lower than losses in Iraq during the peak years, but four times the current rate for U.S. troops in Iraq). No one expects the Pushtuns to win this war, they never do. That's why there have been so few Pushtun kingdoms in the region, much less a modern "Pushtunstan." Like their Kurdish cousins, the Pushtuns are more likely to fight among themselves, than unite. The tradition continues, although decade by decade, more Pushtuns realize there are better ways to live. But too many of these enlightened Pushtuns strive to leave the area, knowing how hostile some of the locals are to new ideas.
American efforts to curb corruption in Afghanistan are not doing so well. With so much money available for stealing, the Afghans have demonstrated remarkable skill and adaptability in avoiding detection, and getting the cash. Contacts in the Gulf states like the UAE put high ranking Afghan officials in touch with Western lawyers, accounts and media experts who can help them. U.S. troops and officials in Afghanistan are always being tempted by illegal offers of cash for illicit services. Afghanistan has long been known as one of the most corrupt regions on the planet, and over $50 billion in U.S. aid has brought out the worst in the locals.
The Taliban are concentrating their terror bombing operations in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, where NATO troops and government forces has driven the Taliban from many areas the Islamic radicals had felt safe in for years. It's gotten so bad, that previously pro-Taliban tribes are openly siding with the government. It's a desperate situation for the Taliban. While the corrupt government may not be all that popular, the absence of the Taliban is. That means the locals can trade freely with adjacent areas, and use cell phones. The kids, especially girls, can go to school. None of these are things most Afghans will die for, but it is the preferred way to live.
The U.S. is sending another 1,400 troops to Afghanistan, to help keep the Taliban from returning, during the Spring, to areas they have recently been driven out of. The Afghans do have some police and intel personnel capable to keeping Taliban and Islamic terrorists out. But most of these aces are assigned to the major cities, where the very wealthy live. Thus Kabul sees very little terrorism, and, of late, a lot less kidnapping as well.
NATO is spending over $10 billion a year to train Afghan soldiers and police. But widespread illiteracy (over 70 percent in the general population) and corruption make it difficult to transmit modern combat and policing skills.
December 31, 2010: The Taliban provincial leader in northern Kunduz province was killed during a raid. Taliban efforts to establish base areas outside the south have not gone so well. The Pushtun tribes outside the south are minorities, and are more concerned about angering non-Pushtun neighbors. So more people are providing information on Taliban movements, and more Taliban are getting caught or killed up north. Most of the Taliban activity outside the south is an effort to get away from the counter-terrorism operations in the south.