June 23, 2011:
The original American objective of sending troops to Afghanistan was to shut down Islamic terror groups there. Al Qaeda was the main one, and the captured bin Laden documents reveal that this has been done. While al Qaeda still exists in the region, it is mostly in Pakistan. Afghanistan is too hostile an environment, and has been since 2002. Then there's the decapitation campaign (going after senior al Qaeda leaders.) In the last 18 months, 20 of 30 such terrorist leaders have been killed in Afghanistan or Pakistan, usually via missiles fired from UAVs. The Taliban carries out most of the terror attacks these days. Unlike al Qaeda, the Taliban is not big on supporting attacks in the West.
The government, in response to widespread accusations of fraud in the 2010 national elections, set up a commission to examine the charges, and nullify the election of those considered to have won via fraud. The rulings are coming in, and many of those ordered to leave their elected posts, are not willing to do so. Most cases of election tampering where carried out by powerful men, or groups, just the kind of people who do not give-back easily.
The IMF (International Monetary Fund) has delayed a $70 million transfer to the government, until there is a satisfactory explanation for government involvement in a major bank scandal. This resulted in the collapse of the nation's largest bank (Kabul Bank), which was apparently looted by senior government officials and their cronies. The government refuses to admit this, and the IMF (and some other foreign donors) is not putting any more money into this kind of environment. Afghan officials are pulling out all the stops to get the cash flowing. The IMF is being called nasty names, and no one is taking responsibility for looting Kabul Bank. This is a major problem, because the government bailed out (replaced the money stolen by officials and well connected businessmen) Kabul Bank. That cost over $800 million. As a result, the government is a little short right now. In fact, without more money from the IMF, or any other flush foreigners, the government will not be able to pay its bills in another month or so. The flush foreigners are not amused.
With foreign troops headed for the exits, the Afghan government will have to defend itself. A vigorous recruiting and training program in the last year has increased police and army strength to a combined 296,000. This should increase to 305,000 by the end of the year. While about 90,000 new police and troops join each year, about as many desert. The biggest incentive to desertion is taking your weapon with you and selling it on the black market. If you can disappear with enough electronic goodies (like a thermal sight on your M-4 assault rifle) you can get a few thousand bucks for it. That's enough to make a down payment to a people smuggler, to get you out of the country and to the safer, and better paying, West. Meanwhile, the government cannot afford to pay for 300,000 troops, and must get foreign aid to sustain the force. But money for the troops is often (very often) stolen by government officials or army and police commanders. This encourages the police to use extortion a lot. Troops will often loot when they go out looking for the Taliban. There has not been much success in changing this vicious circle into a virtuous one.
June 21, 2011: The U.S. announced that it would withdraw 10,000 troops this year, and 23,000 next year. The U.S. currently has about 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, and 30,000 of them were added last year as part of a "surge". Most NATO nations want to have all their troops out of the country within three years. In ten years of combat, some 1,200 U.S. troops have been killed in combat, with another 300 dead from accidents. For every soldier killed in combat, about ten were wounded. Afghans are much better at killing each other than they are fighting foreign troops. Last month 368 Afghan civilians died because of terrorism and combat. This was the highest monthly total in four years. Most of these deaths were caused by the Taliban, who depend on terror to coerce cooperation from Afghans. While the Taliban is now concentrating on assassinating senior government officials, the weapon of choice is often the suicide bomber, which means lots of civilian bystanders get killed. There is also a shortage of suicide bombers, and more women and children are being recruited, or coerced, into doing the work.
June 18, 2011: The Afghan government admitted that peace talks had been going on with the Taliban leadership in the past year. NATO government have been kept informed. There has not been a lot of progress in these negotiations, and the Taliban continue their assassination campaign against senior government officials (although usually not those directly involved in the negotiations.)