The U.S. has shifted most of its special operations troops (Special Forces, SEALs, DELTA Force, CIA field operatives, and so on) from Iraq to Afghanistan. Some have been sent to other parts of the world, like northeast Africa (Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and Somalia), but the bulk of the task forces that hunted down Saddam and destroyed al Qaeda in Iraq, are now in Afghanistan. This is causing more casualties among Taliban and al Qaeda leaders, and leading to more terrorist resources (safe houses and weapons, especially bomb making materials) destroyed. But the influx of Special Operations troops has also caused some problems, as these operators often get, from the top, priority on resources (helicopters, UAVs). There are never enough helicopters and UAVs, so this causes some bad feelings among the troops that lose out.
Civilian deaths this year were up about ten percent, to 2,400. Exact figures are difficult to obtain, because, per Moslem custom, the dead are buried the same day, and exhumation is not allowed. This has led to widespread false reporting, because the foreign troops, if involved, will pay cash to the families of the dead. A few thousand bucks is big money, and in isolated villages, the community can keep a secret about the phantom child buried in an empty grave (or one with a goat, to fool the corpse sniffing dogs.) The Afghan government doesn't like to talk about this deception, but troops encounter it quite a lot out in the countryside. The word has gotten around, and it's a growing problem. That's because the Taliban and drug gangs have worked out a drill with local media (who are often on the payroll, a common arrangement in this part of the world) to look for, or create, civilian deaths whenever the foreign troops are involved in using a smart bomb. These stories are not checked at first, and quickly put the Afghan government on the defensive. The easy way out is to accept the accusation that the foreigners killed innocent civilians. The follow up investigations that disprove these accusations rarely get much media attention.
The Taliban Information War has also gotten the Western media to buy into the fiction that the Pushtun terror organization is a lot larger and more powerful than it actually is. The Taliban are actually a terrorist group with the support of a minority of the Pushtuns (mostly in southern Afghanistan), who are in turn a minority (40 percent) of the Afghan population. Most Afghans, including most Pushtuns, hate the Taliban, and were fighting them even before September 11, 2001. The Taliban thrive because they allied themselves with the drug gangs, who have grown rich producing heroin and opium. The majority of Afghans want nothing to do with the drug business, which is why most of the stuff is produced in Taliban Central; Helmand province. For the majority of Afghans, the Taliban and their drug producing allies are a plague upon the land, and the sooner they are destroyed, the better.
The U.S. has pledged $16 billion, to expand the Afghan army from 100,000 to 240,000. This is far more troops than the Afghan government can afford to maintain, much less recruit, equip and train, in the first place. Such a large army will have to be paid for by foreigners indefinitely.
The foreign troops have developed a powerful weapon against the Taliban, by combining growing cell phone ownership, and cash rewards for information on Taliban, or drug gang, activity. This includes people, safe houses, weapons caches, and roadside bombs and mines. The Taliban have responded with a savage round of killings, often including mutilation of the bodies. The dead were known, or suspected, to be police informants. The foreign troops have learned to be more discreet. But this bumps up against a big problem in Afghanistan; corruption. Too many people are for sale. And the Taliban and their drug gangster buddies tend to have a more current price list. Soldiers, policemen, officials and journalists can all be bought, or at least rented. Combine that with the Taliban supply of suicide bombers, and you have a very effective system for threatening anyone you want with death, or worse. Not impossible to beat, but very tough.
December 30, 2009: At an American base in eastern Afghanistan, a suicide bomber got in without being searched, set off his explosives and killed eight people, seven of them CIA agents or civilian contractors. The base was used for CIA intelligence collection operations on both sides of the border. This was the worst loss for the agency since 1983, when a suicide bomber killed eight agents in Lebanon. Until today, only 90 CIA agents have been killed in action since the agency was created 57 years ago. In this case, either the terrorists scammed the CIA, or the CIA got sloppy, or a bit of both. The most likely group behind this attack is the terrorist organization led by Jalaluddin Haqqani. An Afghan warlord who got his start in the 1980s battles against the Russians. Haqqani has been a loyal, and useful, tool of Pakistani intelligence for over a decade. That alliance is coming apart, and Haqqani's bases in Pakistan are now vulnerable to attack by the Pakistanis. The CIA has openly pledged to get those responsible for the deaths of their people, something the agency has done successfully, and often at great expense and effort, over the decades.
East of Kabul, two French journalists, and several Afghans working for them, were kidnapped, apparently for ransom.
December 26, 2009: A Taliban leader, who organized many of the attacks in Kabul, was tracked down and killed south of the city.
December 23, 2009: The first of 5,000 M-ATV MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicle wheeled armored vehicles has arrived in Afghanistan. M-ATV is more mobile and stable off the road, and better protected against roadside bombs and mines. Vehicles like this reduce (by half or more) casualties caused by these weapons (which are now causing about 60 percent of the foreign troops deaths in Afghanistan).
In the north, an Afghan senator and his son were killed when their vehicle ran a police roadblock, and got involved in a gun battle with the police. It was out in the countryside, at 2 AM, and the police were hunting a bunch of Taliban. There was apparently confusion as to who was who, and everyone had guns.