December 1, 2010: While most of Afghanistan is at peace, parts of the south and east are suffering from Taliban and drug gang violence. This year, the violence got worse, as NATO troops, using a more powerful intelligence system, went after key drug gang and Taliban targets. The drug gangs were hit hard, as many of their mobile labs, that refine the opium (scrapped from poppy plants) into heroin, were tracked down and destroyed. Often, Taliban bomb making facilities were found in the same locations, and hundreds of tons of bomb making materials have been destroyed. The use of roadside bombs has declined, as has the amount of heroin being smuggled out of the country. Heroin and opium prices are way up, partly because of a plant disease, but largely because the drug production infrastructure has been heavily damaged.
The biggest problem with the drug gangs and Taliban is that they have safe havens in Pakistan, where the army (a power unto itself that no civil government has dared to rein in) refuses to withdraw its support of the Taliban. It was the Pakistani military that created the Taliban in the early 1990s, and believes it is their right, and duty, to interfere in Afghan affairs. So no matter how badly you beat up on the Taliban in Afghanistan, they can flee to Pakistan, especially over the Winter, rebuild and return in the Spring. The drug gangs are another matter, and the Pakistani military is willing to cooperate to fight the flow of opium and heroin into Pakistan. While most of this stuff is just passing through on its way to more lucrative markets, enough stays around to cause a spreading plague of addiction in the military. Even, and especially, among the children of those Pakistani generals who refuse to help wipe out the Taliban.
The key problem in Afghanistan is, has been and remains the drug gangs. The billions of dollars in profits this business creates each year for the gangs makes the drug lords powerful. Not just because of all the Taliban guns they have hired, but because of all the government officials they have bribed. The drug gangs command the loyalty of about ten percent of the Afghan population, and are the principal financial support of the Taliban terrorists. Kill the drug gangs, and the Taliban go back to being the minor nuisance armed religious fanatics have always been in Afghanistan. It's possible to drive the heroin trade out of Afghanistan. Several nations have eliminated such major drug producing operations from their territory. The drug lords know this, and are in a fight to the death. The drug gangs don't want to lose all that wealth and power. For them, it's something worth dying for. Same for their Taliban parasites.
Most Afghans want the drug lords gone because the drugs cause many Afghans to become useless and dangerous addicts, and the drug gangs use violence and bribes to get their way. Worse, the drug gangs employ the Taliban to help them. The Taliban are particularly disliked throughout Afghanistan, because the Taliban actually represent the religious beliefs and customs of one small part of Afghanistan. The Taliban are using violence to try and impose their beliefs on other Afghans. This sort of thing has always been unpopular in Afghanistan.
But the basic problems of Afghanistan (tribalism, illiteracy, corruption, poverty, warrior/raider mentality) remain. Tribalism prevents a true democracy, as supporting your tribe comes first for most Afghans. OK, one can have a federal type government to deal with that. Well, maybe. The hundreds of clans that comprise several dozen major tribes, also have their differences. All politics is local, and in Afghanistan the locals have guns and will kill to win an argument. The illiteracy, corruption and poverty are all intertwined. As the poorest country in Eurasia, Afghanistan is a classic case of a culture that operates in survival mode. That's why the warrior/raider mentality is so important. Westerners often fail to grasp this concept. Afghan tribesmen don't own a gun so they can bravely fight the invader (usually someone from another clan living in the next valley over). In fact, a big part of the Afghan "warrior tradition" is to run away if you don't have a real good chance of winning. The key element in the Afghan warrior tradition is loot, and living to bring the goodies home and brag about how you got it. Thus corruption isn't seen as bad government, but being a resourceful and successful Afghan. A large minority of Afghans understand that this is not how the rest of the world, especially the insanely wealthy (by Afghan standards) nations, operate. These Afghans understand that education must increase, and corruption and raiding decrease, before Afghanistan can approach the living standards most other people on the planet enjoy. But in the meantime you have all those illiterate guys with guns, greed and, by Afghan standards, a license to steal (as long as the victims are from another tribe). None of that is going to change quickly. But speed is what Western media, voters and politicians demand. The Afghans say they are trying, and please send more money.
November 29, 2010: In east Afghanistan, a border policeman, apparently angry over a dispute with his father, opened fire on U.S. troops he was working with, and killed six of them. The Taliban took credit, but there's not much proof of that.
November 28, 2010: A Pakistani businessman convinced British intelligence that he represented senior Taliban leadership, and managed to get several hundred thousand dollars in "bribes and payments" from the British and Afghans to set up peace talks with the Taliban. But recently, it was confirmed that he was not the Taliban leader he was pretending to be. The scammer is being sought in Pakistan.
November 26, 2010: Russia has agreed to allow NATO to transport armored vehicles on Russian railroads to and from Afghanistan.