December 23, 2011:
The U.S. has completed the withdrawal of 10,000 troops from Afghanistan, reducing the American force from 101,000 to 91,000. All foreign troops are planning on leaving by 2014. Meanwhile, the foreign troops remain fully engaged in combat. The Taliban and drug gangs continue to run a terrorism campaign against civilians who will not cooperate or submit to Taliban or gang control. Foreign troops often go after Taliban who participate in these terrorist acts (especially murders and kidnappings). Increasingly, the guilty parties are caught and kidnap victims are freed.
For the first time in five years Taliban attacks were down (nearly 20 percent) over an entire year. Despite the hostile relations with Pakistan, the Taliban bases in Pakistan are increasingly unsafe, denying the Afghan Taliban sanctuaries. The Pakistanis are not happy with the growing activity of Islamic terror groups inside Pakistan. Unfortunately, Pakistan is itself headed for more unrest, or even civil war, as public anger against the military and ISI (the local CIA) increases.
Despite the often corrupt behavior of the police, Taliban and outlaw efforts to disable the Afghan police are increasingly failing. The police are better armed and trained, and attacks on their bases tend to fail. Police patrols are more difficult to ambush and the cops more frequently win firefights with the Taliban and gangs.
A new coalition of political parties has been formed to try and control the increasingly abusive power of the Karzai government. Many Afghans either ignore the national government, or just consider it and its leader, Hamid Karzai, to be corrupt and a threat to everyone.
The U.S. still gets 29 percent of its supplies via Pakistan, down from 90 percent two years ago. Most stuff now comes in via the Northern Distribution Network. This consists of three separate routes into Afghanistan. One starts in a Georgian Black Sea port where cargo is shipped through Azerbaijan, across the Caspian Sea, and then through Central Asia to Afghanistan. The second route starts in Latvia, on the Baltic Sea, and then travels through Russia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan to Afghanistan. The third route also starts in Latvia, but instead proceeds through Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan to the Afghan border. The plan was always to completely replace Pakistan but that is going to happen sooner, rather than later, because Pakistan has closed its border to NATO supplies since November 26.
Pakistan and the United States are still arguing over who was responsible for the November 26 border incident that left 24 Pakistani border guards dead. American and Afghan officials insist that their troops received fire from the Pakistani side of the border. The U.S. concedes that there may have been some confusion as American commanders followed procedure and obtained Pakistani permission for the air strike on the Pakistani side. Pakistan wants the U.S. to admit that the entire incident was the fault of the Americans and Afghans, and that is apparently never going to happen. Meanwhile, American legislators have voted to cut nearly a billion dollars of aid to Pakistan, with threats to cut it all if the Pakistanis don't come around.
December 19, 2011: Pakistan has reopened its border liaison operation, which shares intelligence information on what terrorists and rebel groups are doing on both sides of the border. This operation was shut down by Pakistan after the November 26 border incident.
NATO announced that it would continue night raids, despite recent demands from the government that such operations cease. The drug gangs constantly pressure the politicians they own to stop these raids. Periodically, resident Karzai makes a public call for fewer night raids (which are capturing a lot of Taliban leaders and IED specialists) and combat against the drug gangs and Taliban. NATO then says it will consider the request and, after a few days, comes back and makes a public announcement that the night raids will continue.
December 18, 2011: For the second time in two days, someone threw a grenade at policemen and wounded two of them (along with 18 civilians). Attacks like this have been rare in Afghanistan but common in many other parts of the world.
December 16, 2011: The government is not renewing the appointments of outspoken members of the Afghan Human Rights Commission. This group has documented many atrocities that occurred as far back as the 1980s and as recently as this year. The leaders responsible are identified and many are government officials (including current and former warlords), as well as many Taliban leaders. Unfortunately, most of these murders are considered perfectly normal in Afghanistan but are seen as atrocities by the international community. The Afghan government does not want to get caught in the middle of this culture clash and is trying to sweep it all under the carpet.