Another major factor is the change in what caused casualties. Explosions (like roadside bombs) are less likely to cause fatal wounds. For example, currently 12.9 percent of bullet wounds are fatal, compared to 7.3 percent for bombs and 3.5 percent for RPGs (and grenades in general). The enemy in Afghanistan prefers to use roadside bombs, because U.S. troops are much superior in a gun battle. All this contributed to the changing the ratio of wounded-to-killed, that was 6-to-1 in Vietnam, to 10-1 now.
While the Taliban, and other Islamic radicals, make much of their religious goals (a worldwide religious dictatorship), it’s mostly about power and money. In the few countries where Islamic radicals have gained power (Iran, Sudan, 1990s Afghanistan) the pattern was the same. The leaders used Islamic law to terrorize their opponents, while stealing everything in sight. It’s a sweet deal, getting rich while doing God’s Work. While many of the lower ranking fighters are true-believers, not many of the leaders are. They all either rationalize getting rich, or just go for the gold. It’s the custom around here, as it is in most other places. It’s something worth dying for.
Even being out of power for the last decade has not weakened the Taliban’s larcenous ways. In any area they control, they run a protection scheme, where local businesses pay for “protection” (from the Taliban), or else. This includes foreign aid groups, who must either pay off the Taliban, or, all too often, the government security forces. Despite these deals, the Taliban will often steal foreign aid, or rob the foreigners of their SUVs, pickups and electronic gadgets. If you and your friends have guns, such things are possible and hard to resist.
After years of planning and promises, this January the U.S. Army troops will start serving combat tours of nine months instead of twelve. By the end of next year, this new policy will be fully implemented. At the same time, the army is increasing dwell time (how long troops are at their home base, between combat tours) to three years. While all this is great for morale, it has also been found to reduce PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or combat fatigue) losses. This has been the experience of Britain and the U.S. Marine Corps, both of whom have long used 6-7 month combat tours, and have lots of data to back up the superiority of this approach. Despite that, many army commanders resisted moving to six month tours, thus the compromise on nine. The army has been using the 12 month combat tours since the early 1950s.