Pakistan is the problem. The evidence continues to pile up that Pakistani support of the Taliban (in both Pakistan and Afghanistan) and the drug gangs is crucial to keeping these two entities alive. While the normal corruption in Pakistan is helpful to the enemy (enables them to smuggle weapons and fertilizer, for explosives, in and drugs out), the active assistance of the Pakistani ISI (their CIA) and armed forces helps the Taliban and drug operations hang on against years of NATO and Afghan pressure. The military and political leadership in Pakistan tend to agree on the need for keeping India out of Afghanistan, and maintaining Pakistani control over what goes on in Afghanistan. The Afghans strenuously disagree with this, and the Indians want to help, and are exasperated at the Pakistani paranoia they have been on the receiving end of for decades. That paranoia has led Pakistan to actively support Islamic terrorists operating in India (from bases in Pakistan) for over two decades. The United States and NATO nations are running out of diplomatic ways to pressure Pakistan, and more evidence of Pakistani support for terrorism is getting into the media. This puts increasing pressure on Western politicians and diplomats to force Pakistan to act like an ally, not a double-dealing supporter of Islamic terrorism.
A new American commander in Afghanistan (general David Petraeus) has not changed the ROE (Rules of Engagement) much. The new tweaks allow the troops to be more aggressive going after the enemy, and urges them to coordinate more with local tribe and clan leaders. That means finding out just how much the locals want the Taliban gone. In many parts of the south, the locals are really (as in willing to risk more casualties to themselves) eager to get the Taliban out. Petraeus, his troops and Afghans all agree that the Taliban, and their drug gang allies, are bad. The enemy is violent, corrupt and cruel, and even Afghans on their payroll are tired of it. In late 2001, when the Taliban government was overthrown, there was joy in most of southern Afghanistan. But Pakistan provided bases in Pakistan for the fleeing Taliban, who used their drug profits to recruit, rebuild and return to Afghanistan as cruel oppressors. Because of that, most of Afghanistan has tolerated the presence of foreign troops for nearly a decade. It's not just the jobs those troops provide, and all that foreign aid (even after local politicians have stolen much of it), it's the alien religious philosophy (imported from Arab lands) of the Taliban and the drugs (that have created millions of addicts in Afghanistan, and powerful warlords). So the American ROE aims to take advantage of Taliban and drug gang unpopularity to drive the gangsters and Islamic extremists out. In most of Afghanistan, the Taliban and drug gangs are non-existent or a minor presence, because the locals (tribal or government) have the power to handle whatever armed force the enemy can muster there. But most of the drugs are produced in two southern provinces (Kandahar and Helmand), and that's where the Taliban (and drug gangs) are strongest. In the rest of southern Afghanistan, the Taliban sustain themselves with bases across the border in Pakistan. While the Pakistani Army has shut down some of these bases in the last year, there are still many of these in North Waziristan (opposite southeastern Afghanistan) and Baluchistan (opposite southern Afghanistan, especially Helmand and Kandahar). Western diplomatic pressure on Pakistan is all about getting these terrorist sanctuaries shut down.
A U.S. Army analysis of thousands of combat actions in the south found that when civilians were killed by foreign troops, the Taliban, or local tribesmen, were more likely to make more attacks, at least for a while. This is made worse if U.S. forces have not at least tried to make contact with local leaders. American commanders constantly adjust tactics and strategies based on analysis like this.
U.S. and NATO diplomats have forced the Afghan government to prosecute senior government officials by providing solid evidence of corruption and cooperation with drug gangs. Stealing government funds is less of an offense to most Afghans (it's sort of a national tradition), but working with the drug gangs is seen as shameful, as the drug activity only benefits a few, and brings misery to many Afghans.
After a four year effort, the Netherlands has withdrawn its 1,900 troops from Afghanistan. Canada will withdraw their 2,700 troops next year, and Poland's 2,600 soldiers will leave in 2012. Britain is planning to leave 2-3 years after that. Canada and the Europeans face domestic hostility to the expense of military operations in Afghanistan. Local politicians, and voters, know that they can depend on the Americans, as they have so often in the past (the World Wars and Cold War), to eventually carry most of the load.
Combat deaths among foreign troops were down (from 102 to 89) in July. The decline was mostly among NATO forces, as American combat deaths went from 60 in June to 66 in July. This is largely a result of more American combat troops arriving in Afghanistan, and more of them in heavy combat. Many American troops are not happy with this, and wryly refer to ISAF (International Security Assistance Force, the official name of foreign forces in Afghanistan) as "I Saw Americans Fighting." But the combined NATO/Afghan/American combat operations this year have done some serious damage to the Taliban and the drug gangs.
July 28, 2010: In the south, a busload of civilians hit a Taliban anti-vehicle mine, and left at least 25 civilians dead.