April 2, 2010:
Western criticism of president Karzai (for not curbing corruption) has resulted in Karzai blaming Western nations for the problems in Afghanistan. According to Karzai, Western critics have prevented him from making the presidency strong enough to deal with corruption. Karzai allies and kin are deep into corrupt practices, which is hard to avoid considering how pervasive the stealing and drug gang cooperation is among Afghan leaders. Karzai himself is considered clean, but his unwillingness to pressure subordinates and allies into curbing corrupt practices is seen as a major problem. But taking bribes has long been an accepted practice in Afghanistan, and customs like this are difficult to change. The bribes, which the drug gangs and Taliban are quick to offer, make it difficult to work with the Afghan army and police. You have to assume that some troops and cops are on the enemy payroll. Thus the Afghan security forces are often kept in the dark about military plans, until the last moment. Some details are not kept secret. The coming offensive in and around Kandahar, to clear Taliban and gangsters out of some neighborhoods and suburbs, is expected start in June, and go on for most of the Summer (until Ramadan begins in August). But the details are not widely known. However, heavy use will be made of Afghan troops and police. This makes it easier to conduct searches and keep the civilian population calm.
Denmark and Canada have confirmed that they are withdrawing their combat troops this year (Denmark) and next (Canada). The cost (in lives and cash) of these operations are unpopular with voters in NATO nations, and some politicians make the most of this by pushing for withdrawal of troops. It's understood, but not much discussed openly, that the U.S. will take up the slack and get the job done.
The war against the drug gangs is showing more success. Seizure of opium, for example, went up nearly ten times last year, to nearly 20 percent of production. The offensive operations in Helmand province and, soon, in Kandahar, are tearing up the base areas used by the drug gangs. This has forced the drug gangs to try and move their poppy growing and to other parts of the country. This is difficult, as most Afghans oppose opium and heroin (which causes many Afghans to become addicts). But marijuana is another story, and Afghanistan has become the world's largest producer of hashish (a concentrated form of marijuana that is easier to export). Most of the marijuana is grown where poppies are also grown, but more marijuana is found elsewhere. About half the provinces have significant marijuana production.
The drug gangs, and their Taliban allies, have much to fear from the coming Kandahar offensive, and continuing operations in Helmand. Large scale drug operations have been destroyed several times, in other parts of the world, in the last sixty years. It can be done, and the Afghan drug lords are determined to put up a stiff fight to hang onto all that new wealth. The government, however, stands ready to make deals. Amnesty and other considerations will be offered for sale. Since September 11, 2001, reverting to a religious dictatorship (that provides sanctuary for international terrorism) is no longer an option for Afghanistan. Most Afghans understand and accept that. Being a major producer of drugs is not acceptable either. The increased military operations in the south are meant to crush both the terror and the drug organizations. It's a death match, that could go either way. But the smart money is betting against the terrorists and drug gangs.
March 31, 2010: In Helmand, a bicycle bomb went off as locals assembled to receive free vegetable seeds from British troops. This is part of a Taliban/drug gang effort to intimidate civilians and coerce them to not cooperate with the government or foreign troops.
March 30, 2010: India has halted its medical and teacher education programs in Afghanistan, due to increasing terrorist attacks on Indian personnel.