The government has disbanded 17 private security companies owned by senior government officials. These security companies were basically criminal enterprises, used to help extort money, or get government contracts and steal most of the cash received (by claiming more employees than were actually on the payroll.)
In the north, provincial governments have been increasingly successful in driving the Taliban, and the drug operations the Islamic radicals protect, out of the area. In the last few months, two hundred Taliban a month have been surrendered, or been killed or captured in the north. Many more have fled, usually back south. The security situation has improved so much in most of the country that Russia now wants to send in reconstruction personnel and money, to rebuild facilities originally built with Russian aid decades ago.
In the south, the Taliban have taken such a beating in the past year that more tribes are joining government efforts to hunt down Taliban fighters, and to keep them out of the area. These pro-government militias typically guard villages or valleys, and do so with the assurance of support from the government or NATO (reinforcements, ammo, radios, more guns, economic aid). Backing one tribe or another is always a risky business, as each tribe has its own political agenda.
The Taliban are in trouble because they have taken heavy losses on both sides of the Pakistani border in the past year. The losses continue, and many Taliban factions are in turmoil because established leaders have been killed or captured, and potential replacements are feuding, or actually fighting each other, to decide who will be in charge. There's less cash to go around as the drug gangs also had a bad year. But long term, the Taliban believe things will go their way eventually, as most NATO forces withdraw over the next three years. Currently, there are 150,000 foreign troops in the country. Cut this by a third, or more, and the Taliban see opportunities for survival.
Despite much higher prices, opium production is expected to continue its decline this year. The main reason is the drought, and continued attacks on drug gang operations in the south. Hostile populations and tribal leaders in the north have opposed moving much of the poppy plant cultivation north. Opium is a sap from the poppy plant. Opium can be refined into heroin or morphine and exported.
In the southeast, the Taliban have a crises on their hands. Ten days ago, the local Taliban called 21 tribal elders to a mosque for negotiations over halting the practice of tribesmen working for the government. The negotiations did not go well, and the Taliban kidnapped the 21 elders. Now the local tribes are in an uproar over this bad behavior by the Taliban. Kidnapping tribal elders in a mosque is considered bad manners.
Most NATO military contingents are determined to leave Afghanistan within the next three years. In preparation for that, more efforts are being devoted to training Afghan police and soldiers. This is frustrating, considering the high illiteracy and tendency for tribal loyalty to overwhelm every other loyalty.
January 30, 2011: The government, under pressure from the UN, agreed to stop recruiting anyone under age 18 for the police or army. In Afghanistan, boys are considered ready to be warriors according to size and temperament, not chronological age. But the UN supplies lots of money and such, so the agreement was signed.
January 29, 2011: A deputy governor of Kandahar province was killed by a suicide bicycle bomber.
January 28, 2011: A suicide bomber attacked a supermarket in Kabul, killing eight (including three foreigners). This is a major success for the Taliban, as the government had been able to keep terrorists away from targets like this until now.