While NATO forces have routed insurgents from their strongholds in southern Afghanistan, the Taliban's strongest region, the militants have opened new fronts in the north and west and have stepped up attacks in the east.
The surge has exacted a high price: More than 680 international troops, including 472 Americans, have been killed in 2010, making it the deadliest year of the war. Hundreds of Afghan civilians have also died, most as a result of Taliban attacks.
There has been little progress in dislodging the militants from their sanctuaries across the border in Pakistan. A corrupt and ineffectual Afghan government remains a fragile pillar of the U.S. war strategy. And many Afghans expect the Taliban to return to their southern strongholds when the winter snows melt.
"Will they come back? This will be answered in the spring," said Sadeek Dhottani, 41, a farmer in Marjah. "What I think is, yes, they probably will because when spring appears, the Taliban always show up with greater force and enthusiasm."
The White House's year-end report on the war, to be released this week, is expected to express confidence that Afghan forces can take the lead in securing the country by the end of 2014, but raise questions about Pakistan's efforts to root out militants.
Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, has called for patience, saying the extra 30,000 U.S. troops, along with about 10,000 additional NATO forces, just finished arriving at the end of August, nine months after Obama ordered the buildup.
Patience as the war plods on, however, is something Afghans are running short of. Tired of the fighting, they wonder why their daily lives have not markedly improved despite billions of dollars in foreign assistance and thousands of foreign troops on their soil for more than nine years.
"I am not able to calmly come to my shop from my house," Sayed Rahmat, 27, in Ghazni province in eastern Afghanistan, which has not seen the tentative security gains that Afghan and NATO troops have achieved in the south. "If we don't have security, then we don't have work opportunities," Rahmat said.
Meanwhile, officials said several suspects have been arrested in a suicide attack Sunday that killed six U.S. troops when an explosives-packed minibus blew up at the entrance of a joint NATO-Afghan base in southern Afghanistan. An Afghan official said the six were Americans.