The Taliban now controls 35 of Afghanistan’s 398 districts and contests another 35, according to information compiled by The Long War Journal. The data was used by The New York Times to create a map that depicts the Taliban’s reach in Afghanistan. The map is reproduced above. The Long War Journal‘s original map, as well as our methodology for labeling a district controlled or contested, can be viewed here.
We believe that the Taliban either controls or contests far more districts than are listed in the maps. From The New York Times report accompanying the map:
The Taliban have a significant footprint in Afghanistan, according to Bill Roggio, the editor of The Long War Journal, an online publication that is tracking Taliban control. Mr. Roggio has confirmed that about one-fifth of the country is controlled or contested by the Taliban, but based on his understanding of how the Taliban operate, he said, “they probably either control or heavily influence about a half of the country.”
Our data understates the Taliban’s influence in areas of Afghanistan, particularly in the east and south, as we are using open source reports to determine a district’s status. [See LWJ report, Taliban controls or contests scores of districts in Afghanistan, for more details.]
As the Taliban regains areas lost during the US-led surge from 2009-2012, the US is planning to further reduce its presence, just not as quickly as previously anticipated. The US currently has less than 10,000 troops in the country, after already abandoning a counterinsurgency strategy that required far more soldiers. President Obama planned to withdraw all US troops, with the exception of a force to protect the Kabul embassy, by 2017. Yesterday, with the situation in Afghanistan deteriorating, Obama reversed course and said that 5,500 troops would remain in country at the end of his term in office. Those troops would be based in four locations: Kabul, Bagram, Nangarhar, and Kandahar.
We argue that this force is insufficient to halt the Taliban’s advance. The Taliban seized the provincial capital of Kunduz for two weeks and dozens of districts this year, despite the presence of 9,800 US troops in country.
The Taliban also makes the case that a force of 5,500 soldiers is not enough.
“If the invaders lost the war in Afghanistan with the presence of hundreds of thousands of troops, their hopes of reversing the tide with five thousand troops are also misguided,” the Taliban said in an official statement that was released on Voice of Jihad.
We are loath to admit that the Taliban has a point.