November 30, 2009:
U.S. and NATO forces have ten times as many helicopters in the south. There are also many more UAVs and specialized intelligence aircraft. This has led to a more intense application of the anti-IED (roadside bomb) techniques developed in Iraq. This involves using UAVs, camera equipped intelligence collection aircraft and helicopter gunships to go out at night and hunt down the teams that place the bombs. Even if not caught in the act, there are radar equipped aircraft that can follow the bomb team back to where they live, which is often where the bombs are made. As in Iraq, once you take down the entire team (especially the bomb makers and emplacers), you find that there are a lot fewer (often none at all) roadside bombs used in the area for a while. Thus the deaths among foreign troops are now less than half what they were (about 74 a month) for the last four months. Weather is not so much a factor down south, where most of the fighting is. It's still way above freezing at night, and room temperature during the day. Great bomb placing weather, if it weren't for the Hellfire missiles and cannon fire from the gunships.
Afghanistan has gone through some major changes since the Taliban lost power in last 2001. There is a thriving media, mostly radio and television (because over 60 percent of the population is illiterate). Cell phones are also common, as these can be used by illiterates (most of whom still know how to count and handle numbers). This has made life more difficult for the Islamic conservatives, who are constantly trying to shut down electronic media they don't agree with (most of it, especially if it's entertaining). This fight against fun underlies much of the popular dislike for the Taliban. But the Islamic conservatives and tribal traditionalists are willing to fight for their cause. That's why they're called radicals. The electronic media show more Afghans, more often, and more convincingly, that there's more to life than guns and violence and being the poorest nation in Eurasia.
NATO commanders have concluded that they are not going to get a lot of competent, reliable Afghan police anytime soon. Despite, or perhaps because of, thousands of additional foreign trainers for Afghan police, NATO commanders now have plenty of reports of what shape the Afghan police are in. Not great shape. The problem is that Afghanistan has never had a national police force. The tribes policed themselves informally, and that's the only concept of "police" most Afghans have. Couple that with the low (about a 60 percent of the population) literacy rate, primacy of tribal loyalty and culture of corruption, and the optimistic predictions see a nationwide network of clean and competent cops in 5-10 years.
The U.S. is pushing a program of crop substitution (of poppies), to cut heroin supplies. Farmers are being offered cut rate seed and fertilizer if they will stop growing poppies.
November 29, 2009: In eastern Afghanistan, police were attacked by a large group of Taliban, but counterattacked, killed 29 of them and captured several of them. One of the captives was a Chechen, many of whom have been encountered along the Pakistan border.
November 27, 2009: The governor of Kandahar (a Canadian citizen who returned to the land of his birth to help out) survived another assassination attempt. Kandahar is the "capital" of Taliban country, and continued government control of the city is a major irritant to the Taliban.