Who Offers the Better Deal in Afghanistan?

It took two years, but al Qaeda fighters helped resurrect battered Taliban forces from the ashes of their defeat - arming and funding them.
Seventeen Americans were killed in Afghanistan in November, less than a third the number killed in the previous month.

It's only one measure, but it suggests things are no longer getting worse, reports CBS News correspondent David Martin. As long ago as August, that's what Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander there, told his staff.

"I do think that we have probably bottomed out in terms of that," McChrystal said in August.

That's because earlier this year, President Obama ordered 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Ask Capt. Paul Sheppard what a difference that made in one violent town south of Kabul.

"We've seen a complete 180 and we've seen that because one, we flooded the area with soldiers," Sheppard said. "We've gone from 500 to 5,000."

Despite pockets of success, Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, still thinks overall conditions are deteriorating. It's a fine line, but as Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution points out, if after eight years you can't tell who is winning and who is losing, something is wrong.

"You could also simply say right now it's too close to call, and that's not a very good place to be in," O'Hanlon said.

Some of the most successful operations have been commando raids against insurgent leaders, like a firebrand in Western Afghanistan. But this is a war the U.S. cannot kill its way out of. American soldiers and Marines must clear out enemy strong points, hold that territory, and build a better life for the Afghan people.

"We're doing pretty well on clear and hold, pretty lousy on build," O'Hanlon said.

As a result, much of the population is sitting on the fence, waiting to see which side can offer them a better deal.

Call it a stalemate at best, but with 30,000 more troops, an aide to McChrystal says "we are going to turn this quickly and seize the initiative."

More U.S. troops mean more firepower, but guns alone won't win the war in Afghanistan. That's why there's a new effort underway to convince the Taliban to switch sides - by offering incentives in some cases, reports CBS News correspondent Mandy Clark.

Wakil Ahmad Mutakwail translates the Koran into different languages. Before Sept. 11, he was the Taliban foreign minister. He now urges talk, not war.

"In fighting you bleed, in talks, you sweat," he said through a translator. "It's better to sweat."

Some Taliban have come to the table for talks with the Afghan government. Others have been put on the payroll in a program supported by U.S. tax dollars. The so-called $10 Taliban are paid to put down their arms.

But is Taliban reconciliation a viable option?

"Yes, I think it is the only option," said John Dempsey, with the United States Institute of Peace. "I don't think Afghanistan will succeed going forward unless there is political dialogue with the insurgency."

You can't buy loyalty here, but you can rent it. Afghan commanders have a history of switching sides without stigma. There is even a term for it: turning your turban.

Thousands have turned away from the insurgency, but the hardcore Taliban, also estimated in the thousands, will never turn.

"We know that there are a lot of servants and spies of America under the name of Taliban who take money from the enemy," said one Taliban through a translator. "If we catch them, we will behead them."

A former Taliban member, who asked for his identity to be protected, wants to unite the country. Interestingly, he has the same concerns about President Karzai's administration as the U.S. government.

"Government corruption and infighting are stopping more Taliban from switching sides," he said.

Another obstacle to reconciliation could be the tens of thousands of new troops the President is sending to Afghanistan. As one Taliban fighter told CBS News, more troops means more war.

CBS News anchor Katie Couric asked CBS News chief foreign affairs correspondent Lara Logan about the situation in Afghanistan.

Couric: I was told by a senior White House official that there are 92,000 Afghan army troops they consider combat-ready, but they want to double that number in a year and a half. What shape is the Afghan army in, and is that, in fact, doable?

Logan: It's going to be very tough. Part of the problem is that many Afghans don't even read or write so training them you are really starting from zero. And there aren't enough Afghan troops from the Pashtun tribe, that's one of the biggest problems. So they've got a job on their hands and with the police it will be even harder.

Couric: There's stale war going on in Iraq, with more troops there now than will be in Afghanistan following the surge. What is the status of that and the scheduled draw-down there?

Logan: Well, the hope is that any next summer the U.S. will draw down to 50,000 troops and they will pull all combat troops out of Iraq by 2011, by the end of the following year. That's an ambitious plan, but it seems to be on track. It's what's not being said in Iraq, it's the involvement of Iran that's really underpinning that withdrawal and the consequences of that will show itself later.