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Weekly News Roundup: Taking Stock of Afghanistan, a Rare Look at the Taliban, FET Photos

written by Matt Elliott
on December 10, 2010

A review of the war in Afghanistan ordered by President Obama a year ago is expected next week. It's not expected the report will result in any shift in strategy, but "it will set the scene for decisions about how quickly Washington will start bringing its troops home," reports Reuters. The article also lays out three scenarios for how the first half of 2011 might go, which you could classify as swimmingly well, increasingly challenging, and the most likely, somewhere in the muddled middle, where security in parts of the country improve while it deteriorates in other areas, with widespread government corruption slowing any real progress.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates was in Afghanistan this week, and he expressed optimism at the progress he sees in the war. "I will go back convinced that our strategy is working... The bottom line is that over the last 12 months we've come a long way... There is no denying that the security climate is improving and that the sacrifices of Afghan and coalition troops are achieving greater safety and security." As The Washington Post reports, Gates has received mixed reports from U.S. commanders, with those in the east near the border of Pakistan saying the insurgency is gathering strength while those in south have more positive reports, including a large drop in roadside bomb attacks along the heavily trafficked Route 1 in Kandahar. Col. Art Kandarian, a brigade commander with the 101st Airborne Division in Kandahar reports, "We have now cleared and held a great deal of insurgent-held territory that the insurgents have never lost in."

Although roadside bombs may be on the decline along Route 1, IEDs are still taking their toll in Afghanistan, reports The Christian Science Monitor.

Lt. Gen. Michael Oates, director of the Pentagon's Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, says there has been a "significant" rise in the number of roadside bombs because even as the U.S. military has surged into Afghanistan, the Taliban has surged, too. And paradoxically, Lt. Gen. Oates says, a lack of technological expertise among Afghans means the locally manufactured IEDs are of a simpler design than those deployed against US forces in Iraq, making them harder to detect by NATO troops and hence more effective.

In a new report, the Center for a New American Security offers a bleak outlook on Afghanistan after U.S. and NATO forces exit in 2014. It states that after the 2014 deadline, Afghanistan will still require a Special Operations Forces-led team of up to 35,000 troops for "direct combat actions against al Qaeda and its allies' core capabilities." This article from Wired's excellent Danger Room blog has more.

A Norwegian fimmaker, Paul Refsdal, gives a rare look of life behind enemy lines with the Taliban. He spent nine days in October 2009 embedded with a Taliban commander and witnessed an attack on U.S. forces. Have a look at his riveting video on CNN, which provides a glimpse of how the Taliban lives and fights.

A part of the strategy of winning hearts and minds in Afghanistan is a Female Engagement Team, members of which are Marines who volunteered to train for this special group. MSNBC has a photo slideshow of these Marines.

More photos of the fighting in Afghanistan were published this week by The Christian Science Monitor.

What's this, a seven-hour theater production that covers the past 150 years of conflict in Afghanistan? Even stranger, The Game: Afghanistan comes highly recommended.

Lastly, Australian journalist and documentary filmmaker John Pilger has a new film debuting this month called The War You Don't See. See a preview of the film and read why he thinks wars are not reported honestly, from WWI to the invasion of Baghdad.

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