News / Asia

Despite Massive Taliban Death Toll No Drop in Insurgency

An Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier is seen through damaged glass as he keeps watch at the Forward Base in Nari district near the army outpost in Kunar province, Feb. 24, 2014
An Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier is seen through damaged glass as he keeps watch at the Forward Base in Nari district near the army outpost in Kunar province, Feb. 24, 2014
— Afghan police and army units are killing an average of 12 Taliban fighters every day but according to experts the high death toll is having little effect on Taliban recruitment efforts or the group’s ability to stage attacks. 

Fighting that led to the initial collapse of the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in late 2001 did not come with heavy casualties, but now 13 years later, as the U.S. is set to end its combat mission the Taliban casualty rate has skyrocketed. 

As they take the lead in the war effort, Afghan army and police killed over 720 Taliban insurgents in January-February 2014, according to official news releases compiled by VOA Dari Service.

Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry sends news statements on almost daily basis describing military operations by police forces in different parts of the country in which Taliban casualty figures (killed and wounded) are noted. 

Since the interior ministry’s news statements report less than 50 arrests of Taliban fighters in January and February but that more than 720 were killed during the same period, the data indicates that Afghan security forces are mostly killing Taliban fighters than capturing them.

Najib Danish, a spokesman for the interior ministry, confirmed the authenticity of the casualty figures gathered by VOA and said those killed included foreign citizens.

“Among the terrorists killed were citizens of Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Arab countries and Chechnya,” said Danish who could not provide precise figures for each nationality. 

Zabihullah Mujahid, a purported Taliban spokesman, repudiated the interior ministry’s figures saying the numbers were inflated to boost the morale of government forces.

Over 300,000 Afghan security forces, police and army, are fighting Taliban insurgency but the country’s defense ministry does not regularly release insurgents’ casualty numbers resulting from its own counterinsurgency operations.

There are still about 60,000 U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban but a NATO spokesman said the allies are not recording enemy casualty numbers.

A regenerating force

Since 2001 the Taliban have regrouped, mostly in sanctuaries in Pakistan, and have launched an intensifying insurgency in Afghanistan.

It’s unclear how many Taliban have been killed over the past 13 years but estimates vary from 20,000 to 35,000.

Just over a decade ago in the early years of the insurgency, the Taliban were a hit-and-run force of about 2,000 foot soldiers but as much as efforts to kill them have intensified so have their regenerating capacity, experts say.

In 2014, the core Taliban force is estimated at over 60,000, according to Matt Waldman, a Fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School and an Associate Fellow at Chatham House.

“Afghan security forces have inflicted heavy casualties on the Taliban," said Waldman adding that the heavy death toll had not weakened the insurgency.

Casualties are highest among the Taliban’s rank-and-file members while their leaders have largely been spared, living in safe havens in remote parts of Afghanistan or across the border in Pakistan.   Experts say targeting these leaders would do more to defeat the insurgency than focusing on killing large numbers of foot soldiers. 

U.S. drones strikes and other counterterrorism measures which have been largely carried out in the  tribal areas of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province have killed many Pakistan Taliban leaders but most Afghan Taliban leaders are believed to be hiding out in Pakistan’s Baluchistan and Sindh provinces.  

Other casualties

For the first time in over a decade of war against Taliban, the Afghan government has listed the casualty figures for Afghan security forces.

At least 13,700 Afghan police officers and army soldiers have been killed in the war with more than 16,500 others wounded, according to a statement issued by President Hamid Karzai’s office on March 2.

More than 3,420 NATO allied forces, among them 2,315 U.S. service personnel have died in the war, according to iCasualties website.

Additionally, about 15,000 Afghan civilians have also lost their lives in the war since 2007, according to the United Nations.

Excluding civilian casualties prior to 2007, before the U.N. began recording them, the Afghan war has cost more than 32,000 lives – Afghans and foreigners. This figure does not count the thousands of Taliban fatalities. 

And it does not count the more than one million Afghans who died between 1979 and 1989, after the former Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, or the hundreds of thousands of Afghans who died in a the brutal civil war that followed the Soviet withdrawal. 

By some accounts at least two million Afghans have died in more than 35 years of nearly continuous conflict.

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