The S.C. National Guard's 218th Brigade Combat Team returned to the Palmetto State in May 2008 after a year-long deployment to Afghanistan. Since the unit's 1,800 soldiers were welcomed home, much has changed in Afghanistan, little of it for the better. F

Five ways Afghanistan has changed

October 24, 2009 

More troops - Both U.S. and NATO forces have more than doubled the number of troops they have in Afghanistan in an effort to beat back Taliban advances. There are about 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and the top U.S. commander, Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal wants at least 40,000 more. Overall, there are more than 100,000 U.S. and coalition troops in the country, double the number present when the 218th returned home.

More casualties - U.S. deaths have shot up dramatically, partly because there are more troops in the country and partly because of the Taliban's resurgence. Through Oct. 15, 252 U.S. service members have died this year compared to 117 in all of 2007 and 155 in 2008.

Deadlier tactics - The Taliban have changed the way they are fighting, favoring powerful roadside bombs over small-unit, hit-and-run tactics. About 60 percent of U.S. soldiers killed this year have died in bomb blasts, according to icasualties.org, an independent Web site. In 2007, 42 percent of U.S. deaths were due to bombings.

Kabul corruption - While no secret to those who have been to Afghanistan, the world has learned more about the endemic corruption of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's administration. That corruption became even more evident when a U.N.-backed panel tossed out as fraudulent a third of the votes cast for Karzai in Afghanistan's Aug. 20 general election.

The panel's action dropped Karzai's vote total below the 50 percent he needed to claim victory. He faces a Nov. 7 run-off against former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah. The election debacle, which led to the sacking of scores of poll officials, exposed Karzai's close ties to former militia leaders whose loyalty is uncertain and the failure of his government to establish security.

Falling support - Political leaders in Afghanistan and the United States face a more skeptical public, weary of the nine-year-long war.

A recent ABC/Washington Post poll reported 45 percent of Americans approve of President Obama's handling of the war, down 10 percentage points in just the past month; 47 percent disapprove, up 10 percentage points over the same period. The same poll found Gen. McChrystal's proposal to increase U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan is supported strongly by 47 percent and opposed - just as strongly - by 49 percent.

Meanwhile, Afghan support for the U.S.-led effort has slipped. A recent ABC News poll found Afghan approval of the United States has slid to 45 percent, down 22 percentage points from November 2007.

- Chuck Crumbo

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