United States Central Command has “no accurate numbers for the strength of the Taliban,” an official spokesman has told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
The news comes after various reports throughout the past year indicating the terrorist organization has grown in strength in Afghanistan. A Tuesday report from NBC claimed the Taliban has increased threefold since 2014, from roughly 20,000 fighters to roughly 60,000. When TheDCNF asked CentCom whether those numbers were accurate, spokesman Captain Thomas Gresback said the U.S. and it’s allies don’t know.
“There are no accurate numbers for the strength of the Taliban,” Gresback wrote in an email. “[They] have the capacity for continual reinforcement along the porous border with Pakistan. There are also thousands of part-time Taliban, and there is no formal tracking or census mechanism in place.”
Gresback continued, painting a more optimistic picture of the Taliban’s recent activity than other sources.
“The Taliban failed in all of their 2017 objectives, and have been forced onto the defensive in continued campaigning by Afghan and coalition forces during the winter when traditionally they have regrouped and re-equipped,” he wrote.
A recent quarterly report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) indicated that the Taliban grew its territory by 18 percent between February and August of 2017 alone. The U.S. also nearly doubled its forces in Afghanistan at the end of August from 8,500 to 14,000 and it may commit 1,000 more this spring. CentCom nevertheless argues 2017 was a bad year for the terrorist group.
“The Taliban were completely unable to achieve any objectives from their declared Operation Mansouri during the 2017 fighting season,” Lt. Col. Koné Faulkner told TheDCNF. “In addition to their unrealistic goals, they were unable to take a provincial capital or even a single city. This year the Taliban and have fared poorly.”
The Taliban has also integrated with the Haqqani Network in 2017, a fellow terrorist organization. The two organizations are so integrated that “many observers no longer look at them as separate entities, but as factions within the same group,” according to the Pentagon’s June 2017 Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan report.
President Donald Trump has given the Pentagon free rein to become more aggressive in Afghanistan, loosening rules of engagement and increasing airstrikes against both Taliban and ISIS fighters. U.S. commanders have responded with a threefold increase in bombings over the number in 2016, along with stepped up strikes against the Taliban’s opium production facilities.
Despite extensive knowledge of the Taliban’s combat and political activity throughout 2017, the U.S. does not, apparently, have meaningful estimates of the organization’s strength.
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