The Afghan Ministry of Defense just made a startling announcement:
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.
If this sounds odd, that’s because in 2009, when General Stanley McChrystal took over ISAF command in Kabul, he estimated there were about 25,000 Taliban fighting in the country. And if that sounds weird, too, let’s not forget Ahmed Rashid’s September 11, 2001 article for the Telegraph, in which he estimated 25,000 Taliban troops in charge of Afghanistan at the time of Ahmed Shah Massoud’s assassination.
Meanwhile, the number of Coalition troops in Afghanistan has increased from 0 at the time of Rashid’s article to about 450,000 by July of this year, when numbers will peak and start to decline under the initial “drawdown.” And the estimated number of Taliban fighters out there hasn’t changed one bit. There are no comfortable conclusions to draw from this. Either:
- We have no idea who’s out there, or in what numbers;
- The Afghan MOD is lying to justify its expensive troop subsidies;
- 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.
Not a single one of these conclusions bodes well for the war’s prospects.
Update: Steve Hynd sent along this story, from last month. Blockquote:
A massive effort by US and NATO forces — including offensives in the insurgent heartland and targeted assassinations of rebel leaders — has failed to dent Taliban numerical strength over the past year, according to military and diplomatic officials.
A NATO official said this week that the alliance estimates the current number of insurgent fighters at up to 25,000, confirming figures provided earlier by several military officers and diplomats.
Naturally, this was still evidence of progress, momentum, breaking the enemy’s back, and whatever else have you. Sigh.