There are now about 23,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, an increase of about 3,000 from last Fall. So far this year, 13 have died in combat (plus twelve from other causes). More NATO troops continue to enter southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban are trying to carry out a Spring Offensive. But the police and foreign troops have kept the Taliban on the defensive. Meanwhile, increased coordination with Pakistani troops just across the border has resulted in more Taliban raiding parties, based in Pakistan, getting hit on both sides of the border.
In northern Afghanistan, farmers attacked police, who were destroying poppy fields. Two farmers were killed and nine policemen wounded when a gun battle broke out. Because of good weather, this years poppy crop is a big, and lucrative, one. But the Taliban and numerous warlords grow strong from the drug trade. So destroying poppy fields is how the government tries to weaken these hostile forces.
As it has always been, the reach of the government is weak in most of the rural areas. This is what makes it possible for the Taliban to still operate. Afghanistan has always been a place where the tribes, clans and villages were pretty much little worlds all to themselves. Outsiders, especially armed ones, are not welcome. If the government comes in with goodies or other help, that is accepted appreciatively. But most of Afghanistan doesn't know from central government, and never has.
May 9, 2006: In the south, a Taliban ambush was turned around and three of the rebels were killed. The police, who were attacked, suffered no casualties. British troops in the vicinity did not participate in the brief action. NATO and U.S. troops are working closely with theAfghan police and army to find and kill or capture the several hundred armed Taliban who are out and about on any given day.
May 8, 2006: About a kilometer from the Pakistani border, in the southeast, a recon patrol spotted a truck that appeared to be loading rockets from a nearby cave. A U.S. bomber was called in and the truck was hit. The Afghan and U.S. troops then moved in, and took fire from the sole survivor of the bombing. In the wreckage, parts of 107mm rockets were found, along with the bodies of four Taliban. Others were apparently buried in the cave, which had its entrance buried.
May 7, 2006: A transport helicopter supporting U.S. operations in the south, crashed, killing all ten troops on board. Other helicopters were in the area, and saw it go down, apparently due to mechanical problems. Helicopters are heavily used in Afghanistan, because there are few roads and lots of mountains. The Afghans walk, and ride horses, a lot. U.S. troops are at a disadvantage because they carry twenty pounds of body armor, which Afghan fighters don't. So the helicopters are essential to put American troops in position to cut off enemy fighters. The "hot and high" conditions in Afghanistan also reduce the capabilities of helicopters, causing more wear and tear on them. Same with the abundant dust. Both of these conditions often play a part in helicopter losses.
May 5, 2006: For a month, several battalions of Afghan and American troops have swept several large valleys in southern Kunar province. Taliban have been forced to flee the area, because the Afghan troops searching the villages can tell who belongs there, and who doesn't. American troops block the exits from the villages, often killing or capturing Taliban trying to get away from the Afghan troops. But the main objective of the operation was to turn the valleys into sources of information, once the Taliban try to return. To that end, American medical personnel treated over 3,000 villagers, creating good will in most of the families of the villages. American and Afghan intelligence operatives made contact with villagers likely to be good sources of information, and Afghan police commanders developed relationships with local leaders. The area will still have a lot of Taliban sympathizers, but now there are more government sympathizers as well. Unlike Iraq, there are not a lot of cell phones in Afghanistan, especially out in the country. So police patrols through these valleys will be used to pick up any new information about what the Taliban may be up to.