Afghanistan – Putting Afghan Plan Into Action Proves Difficult

New York Times – C.J. Chivers writes that if the American-led fight against the Taliban was once a contest for influence in well-known and conventionally defined areas – the capital and large cities, main roads, the border with Pakistan, and a handful of prominent valleys and towns – today it has become something else. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the United States military has settled into a campaign for scattered villages and bits of terrain that few people beyond their immediate environs have heard of.

Afghanistan – Letter From Kabul: The Great Afghan Bank Heist

New Yorker – Excellent analysis by Dexter Filkins of the corruption that permeates the Afghan government. The telling quote:

“The allegations against many appear to confirm wider suspicions that the vast army of private gunmen here, many hired to escort supply convoys headed for NATO military bases, often accomplish their work by bribing the Taliban to hold their fire. These bribes are believed by officials here and in Washington to be one of the main sources of the Taliban’s income. One Western diplomat told me that bribes paid to Taliban commanders by the private security contractors, along with the other ways the Taliban extort Western money, are themselves enough to finance a robust insurgency. “It costs NATO a hundred and forty thousand dollars to keep a soldier in the field for a year, and a Taliban fighter a fraction of that,” he said. “If just ten per cent of that money gets to the Taliban—through bribes or extortion or whatever—that’s enough to keep five Taliban fighters in the field.””

Afghanistan – What Marja Tells Us of Battles Yet to Come

New York TimesWhat Marja Tells Us of Battles Yet to Come

C.J. Chivers says that as NATO and Afghan forces flow into neighboring Kandahar Province, where for the next many months the latest high-profile effort to undo the Taliban’s hold will unroll, the continuing fighting in Marja can be read as a sign of problems in the American-led surge. It can also be read as something less worrisome: a difficult period in a campaign always expected to be hard.

Afghanistan – In Afghan Fields, a Challenge to Opium’s Luster

New York TimesIn Afghan Fields, a Challenge to Opium’s Luster

The annual Afghan opium harvest finished this month with production sharply down from last year, Afghan farmers and American military officers say. Now, growers and smugglers who had long been unchallenged here face tough choices created by the poor crop and new government and military pressure. They describe an industry approaching a crossroads.

Afghanistan – Toggling Between Fighting and Outreach in Afghanistan

New York TimesToggling Between Fighting and Outreach in Afghanistan

CJ Chivers writes that however the Afghan war is faring over all, across the wide and varied expanse of Afghanistan, with all of its political and cultural complexity, one thing is abundantly clear: toggling between fighting and outreach can create head-spinning scenes. Some of these scenes underline the difficulties inherent in a counterinsurgency doctrine that mixes lopsided violence with attempts to make nice. But they also simultaneously demonstrate that the efforts to follow the doctrine far from Kabul, out on remote ground, have become a central part of how the war is waged, even as the merits of the doctrine are quietly debated.