June 16, 2010:
The Taliban are using a traditional method to deal with their enemies; by assassinating Afghan leaders in the government, especially the reconstruction effort. While the reconstruction officials are often corrupt, they are there mainly to build things and give stuff away. Even with some kickbacks, that's still a gain for the locals. The Taliban are not keen on economic progress, as too much of the technology is from the West and the change it produces is seen as un-Islamic. Worst of all, most Afghans like economic progress, technology and change. Thus the dedication to decapitation (killing the enemy leadership). But, like the Taliban ability to replace leaders, the progress minded Afghans also keep coming. Afghans know they are at war with violent groups dedicated to keeping Afghanistan in a mythical, but very medieval, past. However, as the Taliban become less effective as their leadership gets hammered, so does the government and the reconstruction effort. So better security for these people is a priority, as is the search for the Taliban death squads that specialize in assassination.
The U.S. has responded in the last year by tripling the number of Special Forces troops in Afghanistan. This has resulted in 121 Taliban leaders being killed or captured. The Taliban see these Special Forces troops, and the UAVs and intelligence forces that support them, as their most formidable foe. While the Taliban have some popular support, it's ambitious and dedicated leaders that keep the operation going. As the leadership declines, or disappears, so does organized Taliban activity.
The Taliban also attack police whenever possible. The police in the south suffer several times as many casualties as do the foreign troops. The police are not as well trained, equipped or led as the foreign, or even Afghan, troops. This makes it more difficult to recruit cops, but those that join, tend to know what they are getting into and are willing to fight the Taliban. This is seen by the increasing number incidents where a police station is attacked by the Taliban, and the police stand and fight, and survive the onslaught.
U.S. Department of Defense officials recently announced that Afghanistan possesses mineral deposits worth nearly a trillion dollars. This is actually old news, as there have been several surveys of the country in the past half century, and the mineral deposits were, at least among geologists, common knowledge. Turning those minerals into money was not possible because of a lack of infrastructure (roads, railroads, electricity) and effective government (too much government corruption, and too many tribal leaders and warlords to deal with.) Some have tried, and all, so far, have failed. But because of the American announcement, the Afghan government promptly called for foreign firms to make offers. There will be some interest, but the mining companies are well aware of the fate of past efforts to operate in Afghanistan.
Peace talks with the Taliban continue, with the Taliban admitting that they are hated by most Afghans, but pointing out that while the Taliban are unlikely to return to power, they can keep the nation unstable (and unsuitable for foreign investors) for a long time. But in the meantime, the Taliban are hurting. Many individual Taliban gangs are fleeing Helmand and Kandahar provinces for neighboring ones. This causes problems, as the tribes and government officials there must now deal with typical Taliban terror tactics (intimidation, kidnapping, murder and extortion.) Not very pleasant at all. But back in Kandahar, many Taliban groups have been ordered to stay and resist the foreign troops. This means putting more pressure on local civilians to not cooperate with the government or foreign forces. NATO commanders are aware of this, and have adapted their tactics to provide greater security for local officials, in order to maintain support of the locals (who are not real enthusiastic about the Taliban running things.) This was made very clear on the 9th, when a teenage Taliban suicide bomber walked into the wedding celebration of a man who had recently joined an anti-Taliban militia. The explosion killed nearly fifty people, and wounded even more. The attack was intimidating, but it also angered many of the victim's kin, creating more armed men out for vengeance.
Afghanistan's first railroad, a 75 kilometers long link from the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif to the northern border, and the vast Eurasian rail net, is nearing completion, under the protection of armed locals who know that the line will bring economic benefits.