The Taliban is in danger of being negotiated to death. Many older Taliban leaders, who ran Afghanistan until the end of 2001, and operating in Pakistani exile, are tired of the endless violence, and the growing dependence on heroin and al Qaeda to keep the Taliban war going. There is a growing lack of unity in the Taliban movement. The organization was always fragmented, but now you have mutually antagonistic factions (pro-drug, pro-al Qaeda, pro-"no foreigners or drugs", and so on). Many of the more powerful Taliban commanders are heavily dependent on drug money, and an increasing number of these commanders tolerate drug use by their gunmen. It puts the troops in a fighting mood, or takes the edge off when times are tight. But this offends the really old-school Pushtun tribal chiefs, and many old-school Taliban leaders. These conservatives have a large following in southern Afghanistan, and this population is also quite hostile to al Qaeda, and its foreign terrorists trying to turn young Afghans into suicide bombers and international terrorists.
While the media plays up the very real tragedy of every foreign soldier killed in Afghanistan, even with the rising casualty rate (520 last year, and currently running at the rate of 600 a year), it has no real military impact. The casualty rate (killed in combat) is less than a quarter of what it was in Vietnam or World War II. Non-combat losses (from accidents and disease) are higher, and have more impact on morale. The Taliban avoid combat, and cause most foreign troop casualties with mines and roadside bombs. The Taliban strategy is not to defeat the foreign troops, but to survive until the foreigners get tired of being in Afghanistan, and leave.
Since the Taliban cannot defend territory, they seek to maintain some control via terror. This includes threatening local officials (both government and tribal) with kidnapping or murder. When they can afford it, the Taliban will obtain this control with bribes. The drug gangs prefer bribes, and rely on the Taliban to do the dirty work. The drug gangs don't want to start any feuds, which can continue for generations. The Taliban are on a religious rampage, and care much less about who they offend, and are hated by most everyone.
The big problem with the governments efforts to negotiate deals with Taliban factions, is how this will also provide some protection to drug gangs. The heroin and opium production is something everyone wishes would just go away. But it won't, and addiction (and the resulting crime and personal tragedies) is a growing problem in Afghanistan, and the West, where Afghan heroin has become a rapidly growing problem. Eventually, the mass media will come after this story, and politicians are hoping they are safely out of office when that happens.
American officers are being trained to deal with the highly corrupt atmosphere in Afghanistan. The U.S. is pouring billions of dollars a year into Afghanistan for construction of schools, clinics, roads and infrastructure in general. Because of the corruption (and lack of locals with the needed skills), initially there was a tendency to use foreign contractors (and a lot of foreign workers) on these projects. The Afghan government protested, and insisted that more Afghan contractors and workers be used. Unfortunately, Afghanistan is the second most corrupt country in the world (Somalia is first), and contractors have to be watched closely to insure that the job is done right. This takes up a lot of time, for American troops involved with this. Thus soldiers and marines headed for Afghanistan are being prepared for all the scams they will encounter. Combat troops are better at this, because Afghan corruption often comes armed and ready to rumble.
U.S. forces are putting more emphasis on intelligence and going after key people (Taliban leaders and their technical experts, especially people who can build mines and roadside bombs). This brought victory in Israel five years ago, in Iraq two years ago, and is working against the Taliban. The pressure on the Taliban leadership (at all levels) is disrupting their operations, which is what it is meant to do. The UAV missile attack campaign in Pakistan is moving across the border, along with the Taliban and al Qaeda leaders being targeted. The Hellfire missile attacks killed hundreds of key Taliban and al Qaeda leaders and technical experts in Pakistan in the last two years. The recent Pakistani Army offensive has captured many previous safe houses the terrorist used. So more of them are fleeing to relatively safer locations in Afghanistan. But the entire border area is less safe for the terrorists than it was a year ago, and is becoming more dangerous for them every month.
January 30, 2010: Denmark reported that it had caught three Afghan soldiers, who tried to enter the country illegally, on their way to relatives in Finland. The three had deserted in December, while attending a training course in Germany. Many, if not most, educated Afghans want to get out of the country, and to some place where they can get a decent job, and live in a less rambunctious environment.
Taliban forces attacked Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, and were repulsed. Five Taliban were killed, and four Afghan soldiers were wounded.
January 29, 2010: An Afghan interpreter (who was a resident of the United States), working for the U.S. Army, killed two American soldiers, and was in turn shot dead by another U.S. soldier. The cause was apparently a dispute over the quality (or lack thereof) of his work. Using local interpreters has always been a problem, but so are people brought in from outside. American citizens (the only ones who can get a security clearance) who can speak Dari (related to Iranian, and a common language throughout Afghanistan) can earn a lot of money. But when they arrive, it sometimes turns out that their Dari skills are inadequate, and eventually these people are fired and sent back to the States. This often makes the interpreters very angry. But there are other problems with local interpreters. In Iraq, the enemy sought to insert spies, or even suicide bombers, via Iraqi interpreters. They had some success, especially with the espionage. In Afghanistan, the Taliban take advantage of the more mercurial attitudes towards foreigners, and urge interpreters to turn on their employers. Sometimes this happens without any Taliban encouragement. Many non-fatal altercations are never reported. American soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan have found that the Afghans can be harder to deal with. Iraqis have been doing business with foreigners for thousands of years, and consider themselves quite cosmopolitan. Afghans are more prone to viewing foreigners as a threat, not a business opportunity. Foreigners in Afghanistan have long been a source of loot or ransom, not a mutually profitable commercial deal.
Meanwhile, in the same province where the interpreter went postal, a joint force of U.S. and Afghan troops returning from a mission via a road near the Pakistan border, began to take fire from a hilltop position. An airstrike was called in, and the firing ceased. When the bombed position was reached, it was found filled with dead and wounded Afghan soldiers. The Afghan had had troops stationed there for 18 months, to block Taliban use of the road for smuggling. An investigation is under way to discover why the soldiers opened fire on the American and Afghan troops driving past on the road.
January 27, 2010: NATO troops detected a large group of Taliban north of Kabul, and went after them with smart bombs. At least twenty Taliban were killed, and the rest dispersed. Apparently this group of Taliban were attempting to attack NATO supply convoys on the roads from Kunduz to Kabul.
January 25, 2010: President Karzai has again made Abdul Rashid Dostum the chief of staff of the Afghan army (the number 2 position). Dostum lost that job in 2008, because of an investigation into his killing of a rival. Dostum is a powerful Uzbek politician, and a long time warlord (he was a general in the communist army, that was dissolved in 1992). The Uzbeks are Turks, and comprise nine percent of the population. The Uzbeks have always been hostile to the Taliban and drugs. Dostum is their leader.
January 24, 2010: The government postponed parliamentary electrons from May to September, because they had not received enough money from foreign donors to fund an anti-fraud effort. Afghanistan needs $120 million to run the elections, and expects foreign donors to supply 42 percent of that.