With the U.S. troop surge now nearing its peak in Afghanistan, more than 150,000 US and international troops are now on the ground. 64 of those troops lost their lives this month, as forces pushed hard into the southern Kandahar Province, traditionally the heartland of the Taliban. At the same time, preliminary discussions are beginning to take place between the inner circle of President Hamid Karzai and members of the Quetta shura, the leadership group that oversees the Taliban war effort inside Afghanistan. Part of the current coalition strategy is to continue applying pressure on the Taliban in the fields, and encouraging their leaders to participate in hoped-for settlement talks. Collected here are images of the country and conflict over the past month, part of an ongoing monthly series on Afghanistan. Afghan firemen hose down a burning oil tanker after an explosive device planted underneath it exploded, on the Jalalabad-Torkham highway, east of Kabul. Chief of Defense of the Swedish Armed Forces, General Sverker Göranson, place the Medal of Honor on the coffin of Kenneth Wallin, killed in action on an ISAF mission in Mazar-i Sharif in Afghanistan on Saturday, during a ceremony at Arna military airport north of Stockholm, Tuesday Oct. 19, 2010. Wallin was the 6th Swedish soldier killed in action in Afghanistan. Sgt. Thomas James Brennan of Randolph, Massachusetts, from the First Battalion Eighth Marines Alpha Company, smokes a cigarette in his bunk surrounded by photographs of his wife Melinda and their daughter Madison, 2, after a night of rain at the remote outpost of Kunjak in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province.