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February 11, 2011

Back to the Top of the Slide
Posted by Eric Martin

While it is understandable that there is a reluctance on the part of the Department of Defense to use bodycounts to measure progress in Afghanistan, Joshua Foust took note of a pretty damning announcement regarding insurgent numbers from the Afghan Ministry of Defense:

The strength of Taliban insurgents and other anti-government elements estimated to be between 25,000 to 35,000 in the militancy-hit Afghanistan, Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi said on Wednesday.

The reason those numbers should cause concern is that the estimate of Taliban/insurgents strength bears a striking resemblence to estimates in 2009 and, in fact, 2001 at the onset of the conflict.

Though estimates of Taliban strength dipped considerably in the years immediately following the onset of the US military intervention, that the figure has returned to the status quo ante, and remained fairly constant throughout the past few years, despite rather significant fluctuations in US/allied troop levels and shifts in tactical approaches, points to a list of possible conclusions - all of which are unsettling in their own right. As Foust notes:

  • We have no idea who’s out there, or in what numbers;
  • An enormous, expensive build-up in troops has not noticeably diminished the numbers of Taliban (or, in a worst case scenario, created 10,000 more);
  • There was initial success in diminishing the Taliban, but their numbers have grown; or
  • The Taliban are recruiting new people far more quickly than we can reconcile or kill off.

Each of those options militate in favor of pursuing a different strategy.

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