Winning the War, 30 Taliban at a Time

by Joshua Foust on 9/29/2010 · 8 comments

This past weekend, U.S. helicopters staged an assault on Pakistani territory, killing 30. It is, as we all know, something of a magic number. I explain this week for PBS:

We know those happen routinely, and we can infer from the presence of the magic number of 30 dead bad guys that we probably don’t know what really happened. We do know the war inside Pakistan is escalating in many ways: Katherine Tiedemann, who manages a database of drone attacks inside Pakistan, noted today that September has been the “busiest month on record” for the number and fatality of drone strikes.

What we don’t know is how effective these strikes are. There is an old story on The Onion, a satirical newspaper, which notes the U.S. has killed off 80 percent of al-Qaida’s #2 men. Unfortunately, that’s not entirely satirical: by all counts, al-Qaida has been “stressed” or “degraded” by these drone strikes, and its institutional capacity has been severely diminished. The U.S. has killed several versions of al-Qaida’s senior leadership, whether Abu Laith al-Libi or Mustafa Ahmed Muhammad Uthman Abu al-Yazid or Shaikh al-Fateh — but, despite CIA director Leon Panetta’s insistence that these killings will “flush out” al-Qaida’s senior leadership, there’s no evidence it’s actually affecting the war. Even as the estimates of the number of al-Qaida actually in Afghanistan decrease, the violence of the war there climbs steadily higher.


Subscribe to receive updates from Registan

This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

For information on reproducing this article, see our Terms of Use


Toryalay Shirzay September 30, 2010 at 12:21 am

Big deal,the US got 30 out of 300,000!so what,this is not even a drop in the bucket.Instead of conducting a real war,the US/NATO are just fetching several bad guys here and there hoping to justify the presence of 150000 troops for accomplishing not much,certainly not much to crow about.Lets hope the US/NATO are brave enough not to yield to load yellings and bitchings by the crafty Pakis!

Don Anderson September 30, 2010 at 4:56 am

This is sooooo true.. You are so right, 30 is the number of KIA they always report. There must be a template or power point guidance on this with the PAOs.

Just more of the same nonsense which is coming out of the circus at ISAF. This year’s production is called “The Miracles of COIN and Having the Right Inputs”

Next year, they will be peforming another: “If We only had Another Year- we could really turn this around.”

If things were not so serious, this would be funny but its more sad than anything.

Abdullah September 30, 2010 at 9:11 am

Anyone in the area knows 300,000 is a bit of an exaggeration. Kind of embarrassing how low the numbers really are when one thinks about the number of lives lost, number of forces on the ground, reported and non-reported and funds that have been and are being expended. The escalation of drone attacks do not necessarily correlate to more dead insurgents. And please, it isn’t a mystery as to how many are inside a structure when a green light is given to fire. Perhaps a better indicator of the real number of critical fighters being taken out and a gauge of momentum and direction could better be answered on the sending end , rather than in theater. Wouldn’t one assume if highly trained fighters are ready in the waiting, so to speak, but being denied right to travel to theater for engagement, is an indication that the momentum is in their favor, or at least at a hold and wait point. It just seems that if so many critical fighters were being removed, there would be a need for replacement.
Actually a relevant post that brings in so many layers that could be discussed, just perhaps not all on public forum. Thanks

b October 1, 2010 at 2:49 am

My old piece: Around the Hindu Kush, 30 is a Magic Number – An Update seems relevant here 🙂

Steve C October 1, 2010 at 6:55 am

Good to see you’re still out there keeping an eye on things, b.

Caleb Kavon October 1, 2010 at 4:00 am

Its true…30 is the magic number…un be lieve able……….

Steve C October 1, 2010 at 4:13 pm
Steve C October 1, 2010 at 4:14 pm

Quote to tease that:

“An Iranian lawmaker said an operation that killed some 30 “terrorists” the Islamic state says were behind a deadly bomb attack, had taken place in neighboring Iraq, according to a news report on Friday. “

Previous post:

Next post: