January 9, 2012:
The fighting continues against drug gangs in Helmand and Kandahar provinces. Winter is not as much of an obstacle down here in the lowlands, but the growing number of Afghan troops and police mean there are plenty of roadblocks. The Americans know the Afghan security forces are likely to take a bribe at these checkpoints. To counter this, the Americans supervise the Afghans, often from a distance. The corruption is just something you have to work around. There are some un (or much less) corrupt commanders, but never enough to go around for crucial operations where reliability counts for a lot. Cash is the most potent weapon the drug gangs have, and they know how to use it. But the culture of guns and corruption makes it dangerous to try and depend on buying your way out of trouble. The guys with guns can just take what they want and explain away your dead body as "resisting arrest". NATO troops throughout Afghanistan have to adapt to this gangster mentality in order to succeed. In the south, the foreign troops have adapted and the drug gangs are taking a beating, as are their Taliban security contractors (who aren't getting paid, but are getting captured and killed).
The Taliban are disappearing from many parts of Kandahar and Helmand provinces. This has always been the heartland of the Taliban, but now there are a growing number of areas where Afghan soldiers and police control security, while NATO troops chase after the remaining Taliban. The American commando raids at night have been particularly damaging to the drug gangs and Taliban, and much cash and many threats have been directed to government officials to get the raids stopped. The government has tried, several times, to force the Americans to halt the raids. But the government, the Americans, and the enemy all know what is at stake here, so the raids continue.
The Afghan government is proceeding with its plan to shut down all foreign security firms and force foreign aid groups and governments to use Afghan government controlled security personnel. These men are less reliable, and the government will demand more in fees and bribes to get adequate levels of protection. It's all just another example of the corruption that pervades everything in Afghanistan. The government was forced to allow embassies and some NATO bases to use foreign security firms. These firms actually use a lot of Afghans but under the supervision of competent and incorruptible foreigners.
NATO and the Americans make no secret of their plans to leave Afghanistan within the next few years. This cheers up many Afghans, but Taliban and drug gang leaders, some of them, know that if Afghanistan becomes a sanctuary for Islamic terrorists who carry out attacks in the West, the foreign troops will return. The drug gangs know that their time to make fortunes is limited, because the nations on the receiving end of all this opium and heroin eventually strike back. That's why heroin production has moved several times in the past 70 years. Despite all this, Afghanistan has been disappearing from the news back in the West. In the United States, Afghanistan related news only occupied two percent of the electronic and print media. That was enough to keep people aware there was still a war going on, but not enough to explain all that was going on.
January 8, 2012: In the south, six NATO and three Afghan soldiers got into a dispute which ended in a brief gun battle. One NATO and one Afghan soldier were killed. Afghans are quick to settle disputes with violence and NATO has found that no amount of military training can completely remove this trait. So events like this continue to occur. The Taliban are no different, but few of the battles between Taliban factions get reported. Nor does any of the daily violence in Afghanistan make the news. The foreign aid medical teams see this. But not just wounded (by knives, fists and such, as well as bullets) men, but also an astonishing number of women and children. Afghanistan is a very violent place and has been for a long time.
January 7, 2012: The Afghan government accused the U.S. of abusing Afghan prisoners in American jails in Afghanistan. The charges were bogus and part of an Afghan effort to get control of all Afghan prisoners. This would be a huge source of cash, because it's traditional to pay bribes (or ransom) for prisoners. The drug gangs are particularly eager to be able to do this. As things stand now, if you get captured by the Americans you won't get tortured (as you will if captured by Afghans), but you will be stuck in prison because the Americans cannot be bribed. Not that the drug lords haven't tried. Years ago you could get through to Afghans hired to handle some of the prison security, but the damn Americans had layers of security and too few of them were susceptible to bribes and most of them would turn in whoever proposed a bribe. This has been very unpleasant, but now the drug gangs have their people in the government making a major push to take control of all prisons in the country. The government officials will become rich (or, in many cases, more rich) and many gangsters and Taliban will go free. The U.S. is holding over 3,000 Taliban in its prisons, and refuses to tell the government about how information was obtained on these prisoners. The Americans know that if they share that information on methods and sources with the government it will be sold to the drug gangs and Taliban. After that, it will be a lot harder to track down Taliban and drug gang members.
While the Taliban openly and frequently accuse the Afghan government of being collaborators with the foreign "invaders", many Taliban leaders have expressed an interest in making a deal with the government and the foreigners. This is part of a trend that has been going on for over five years. But now, core Taliban officials are involved, including some who have blood on their hands from the 1990s (when the Taliban used mass murder frequently against tribes and clans that opposed them.) The Persian Gulf state of Qatar has offered to help broker such a deal. To that end, some Taliban leaders, and their families, have moved to Qatar to open the first official Taliban office. This is risky, because Qatar is full of all sorts of gangsters, smugglers, and shady characters. The Taliban office can be used to arrange all sorts of things and get things done more easily than if it had to be done clandestinely. But the "liaison office" will be shut down if the Taliban don't make some progress, or give a convincing appearance of progress, in peace talks.
January 4, 2012: The Afghan government agreed to negotiations with the Taliban, as well as the Taliban opening an office in Qatar.
January 3, 2012: In Kandahar, three bombs went off, killing 13 people.
January 2, 2012: The U.S. Air Force is buying twenty Brazilian A-29 Super Tucano aircraft for the Afghanistan Air Force. The Super Tucano is a single engine turbo-prop trainer/attack aircraft that is used by over a dozen nations. This aircraft carries two internal 12.7mm (.50 caliber) machine-guns and carries 1.5 tons of bombs and rockets. It can stay in the air for 6.5 hours at a time. It is rugged, easy to maintain, and cheap. The U.S. is paying $17.7 million for each Super Tucano, which includes training, spare parts, and support equipment. These aircraft are more useful to the Afghans than jet fighters (which the Afghans would like to have, if someone else would pay for them.)
January 1, 2012: The national power company announced that it is planning to cut electricity to several government agencies, and at least one major prison, if millions of dollars in power bills are not paid. Someone stole the money, although the official excuse was that the government is disputing some of the charges.
December 31, 2011: Mullah Omar, the long-time (since the 1990s) leader of the Taliban has managed to get most Pakistani Taliban (and other Islamic terror groups there) to agree to halt terror operations in Pakistan and shift their efforts to Afghanistan. There, the local Taliban are agreeing to peace talks with NATO and the Afghan government, and the drug gangs, that provide most Taliban financing, are being battered and drained of cash.
December 30, 2011: Afghanistan and seven neighboring countries have agreed to cooperate in halting the production (in Afghanistan) and distribution (especially in neighboring countries) of drugs (mainly opium and hashish, as well as the more expensive heroin and morphine). The neighbors are very angry with Afghanistan over this drug problem, which has created over ten million addicts in Afghanistan and surrounding countries. Most of the drugs come from Helmand and Kandahar provinces, where drugs are a key component of the local economy. In short, the war against the drug gangs is popular with most Afghans as well as their neighbors. NATO operations in Kandahar and Helmand this year have cost the drug gangs billions of dollars, and sharply cut Taliban income from the gangs. Within Afghanistan, most of the country is hostile to what's going on in Helmand and actively fights to keep the drugs, drug gangs, and their Taliban allies out of the other 32 provinces.
December 26, 2011: In the north, a suicide bomber set off a bomb at a funeral, killing 22 people and wounding over fifty. The target was an anti-Taliban member of parliament. The Taliban continue their assassination program against politicians and local leaders that oppose them, although at a reduced level.