Thursday, October 15, 2009
Taliban strength in Afghanistan nears military proportion
By Jonathan S. Landay and Hal Bernton, McClatchy Newspapers Jonathan - Wed. Oct 14,2009
WASHINGTON -- A recent U.S. intelligence assessment has raised the estimated number of full-time Taliban -led insurgents fighting in Afghanistan to at least 25,000, underscoring how the crisis has worsened even as the U.S. and its allies have beefed up their military forces, a U.S. official said Thursday.
The U.S. official, who requested anonymity because the assessment is classified, said the estimate represented an increase of at least 5,000 fighters, or 25 percent, over what an estimate found last year.
On Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry assured Afghans that America would continue to fight until "extremists and insurgents" were defeated in the war-torn nation.
The new intelligence estimate suggests that such a fight would be difficult. Not included in the 25,000 tally are the part-time fighters -- those Afghans who plant bombs or support the insurgents in other ways in return for money -- and also the criminal gangs who sometimes make common cause with the Taliban or other Pakistan -based groups.
The assessment attributed the growth in the Taliban and their major allies, such as the Haqqani Network and Hezb-e-Islami, to a number of factors, including a growing sense among many Afghans that the insurgents are gaining ground over U.S.-led NATO troops and Afghan security forces.
"The rise can be attributed to, among other things, a sense that the central government in Kabul isn't delivering (on services), increased local support for insurgent groups, and the perception that the Taliban and others are gaining a firmer foothold and expanding their capabilities," the U.S. official said.
"They (the insurgents) don't need to win a popularity contest," said Michael O'Hanlon , a military analyst at the center-left Brookings Institution in Washington . "They are actually doing a good job in creating a complex psychological brew. The first part is building on frustration with the government. The second part is increasing their own appeal or at least taking the edge off of the hatred that people had felt for them before. But on top of that they are selectively using intimidation to stoke a climate of fear. And on top of that they have momentum."
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