The Economist's Kabul and Khost desks find the U.S. Military "cautiously optomistic", attributing recent successes in the war against Afghan insurgents to the 2009 troop surge.
The blast annihilated the back of the Humvee, leaving a smear in the desert. “Every time we venture that far out, we get hit,” says Captain Aaron Tapalman of the US Army, who is responsible for Sabari district in Afghanistan's Khost province, near the border with Pakistan. The roadside bomb had exploded under the Afghan army vehicle, killing two soldiers and seriously wounding three.
Khost lies across infiltration routes from Pakistan's tribal areas, but much of the insurgency is local. “Most of the villages just want to be left alone, and some of them are clearly pro-Taliban,” says First Lieutenant Eddie Fox in neighbouring Bak. His outpost is often pummelled by rocket fire. The influence of the Haqqani network—eastern Afghanistan's leading insurgent organisation—is strong. They are said to have been behind a number of terrorist attacks in Khost and operate there as a mafia. Many local leaders are hedging their bets. “To be frank, we are afraid of both sides,” says a man in a nearby village.
In a place like Sabari, the efforts of the 140,000 troops of ISAF (NATO plus a coalition of the willing) look distinctly unpromising. American forces there are struggling to expand their “security bubbles”—the relatively secure zones around coalition bases. These intensively patrolled patches often cover only a dozen or so square kilometres in the most hostile parts of the country.