‘Low morale’ in Taliban ranks due to operations: ISAF

The International Security Assistance Force claimed today that the high tempo of operations against the Taliban over the past three months has put a dent in morale among the Taliban ranks. Also, ISAF provides an estimate on the number of Taliban leaders and fighters killed and captured (“365 insurgent leaders and 2,386 fighters”) over the past 90 days. From the ISAF press release:

Intelligence reports indicate some pockets of low insurgent morale, with some insurgent fighters reluctant to keep fighting and some refusing to assume district commands when commanders are captured or killed, International Security Assistance Force officials in Afghanistan said today.

In a written statement, officials said the low morale among enemy fighters and insurgent leaders can be linked to successful security operations by Afghan and ISAF forces.

Coalition and Afghan forces conducted more than 2,800 counterterrorist operations over the past 90 days, the statement said, killing or capturing more than 365 insurgent leaders and 2,386 fighters. These counter-insurgency successes have also led to a growing sense of distrust among insurgent fighters, heightened fear of spies in their midst and increased suspicion among rival tribes, officials said.

“While the coalition strength and capability of the [Afghan forces] are on the rise, we are seeing evidence of low insurgent morale, which is affecting their capability across the country,” said German Brig. Gen. Josef Blotz, an ISAF spokesman. “The coalition will continue to neutralize insurgents and eliminate their safe havens, expanding areas that are secure enough for improved governance and development.”

The ISAF statement cited the Taliban commander in Helmand province’s Marja district as an example, noting that he openly acknowledged to his fellow insurgents that the Taliban are losing Marja and that their chances of winning are poor.

ISAF officials said intelligence reports indicate the Taliban commander based his assessment on battlefield losses — insurgents killed or captured by the coalition forces — and increasing resentment of the insurgent methods by average Afghans.

Popular estimates of the Taliban forces put them at between 20,000 and 30,000 fighters. With more than 2,600 killed or captured over the past 90 days, the Taliban may have suffered a loss of an estimated 10 percent of their forces.

ISAF special operations forces are conducting an average of 31 raids a night. At The Long War Journal, we’ve highlighted some of the more high-profile raids, particularly the ones targeting elements of al Qaeda’s network in Afghanistan. These raids have taken place throughout Afghanistan, not just in the south, where the bulk of ISAF forces have been deployed.

The uptick in tempo of the raids was detectable almost immediately after General Petraeus took command on July 23 following President Obama’s dismissal of General McChrystal. The raids most certainly began well before McChrystal left his post. But it seems that McChrystal must not have directed his public relations team to highlight these operations. Instead, he took great pains to de-emphasize combat operations and special operations forces raids during his command.

Almost immediately after Petraeus took command, however, ISAF’s public affairs team began dumping information about the raids. Also, ISAF began to define more clearly who was being targeted, and where.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • paul says:

    The Pak army wont be happy!

  • Paul says:

    We should even increase the attacks. have em on the run…no mercy…no letup.

  • Zeissa says:

    The tide has turned. It is just a pity that McChrystal will not get deserved credit for this because he was so focused on de-emphasizing combat.

  • wallbangr says:

    Perhaps a bit optimistic, particularly the bit about winning in Marja, but good to get some idea of the impact the uptick in operations (or their coverage) might be having. I do think that body counts and statistics (as they say, there are lies, damn lies and then there are statistics) should be taken with a grain of salt, especially in the context of COIN operations. But I think ISAF should be highlighting their successes, especially because COIN is about perceptions. I’m glad to see such press releases and am glad to see more mention of the specific targetting of foreign elements. Telling that the shift should occur after McChrystal left. I think he was overly cautious about downplaying the importance of raids in particular since they seemed to be a point of contention with the locals. Even if there was no real change in the number of raids, I think that de-emphasizing it in the press, while certainly for local consumption, did not allow for these kinds of successes to be highlighted.
    Being a Taliban district commander must feel like being AQ#3 these days — it’s a revolving positon. The paranoia and fracturing trust (a particular proclivity amongst Afghans, it seems), if true, are especially encouraging.
    Two nit-picking grammatical items: in the 3rd to last paragraph it reads “not just int he south” and I suspect you meant de-emphazise in the following paragraph.
    As always, Bill, excellent work.

  • Mr T says:

    Thats good news. I definitely believe we need to make “being an insurgent” a bad gambit unless you really, really just want to be matryed. Muslim culture embraces that but human culture typicallly does not.
    Its cool to run around with guns, shooting at coalition troops and running away. Its cool to go into a village and be the big man, demanding people give you stuff and taking money and food from them.
    Its cool to brag to your friends how “brave” you were and how important you are.
    When you get killed, its not really so cool anymore. Kinda takes the fun out of it for those without a radical death wish.

  • Render says:

    It would be great news…if it were true.
    One of the benefits of being a “holy warrior” in love with death is never having a morale problem.
    The local Talib around Marja may very well be having a morale problem, dealing with USMC will cause that among even the most committed of death lovers. But the rest of Helmand, not so much…
    12 hours of sustained attacks featuring multiple waves is not an example of low morale.
    Please do not expect ISAF to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth at all times. That’s not what they’re paid to do…

  • KaneKaizer says:

    Looks like we’re making more progress than the media wants to admit, and this is all after Marja and before Kandahar. Hope to see more news like this in the coming months.

  • Neonmeat says:

    I love hearing this type of stuff, they need to keep terrorising the terrorists make them live in fear. I recently read a book by Mark Urban (a BBC correspondent) called ‘Task Force Black: The Explosive True Story of the SAS and the Secret War in Iraq’ which details a similar story of raids in Iraq and talks about how keeping the tempo up and raiding suspects every night was vital to keeping the enemy worried and paranoid and on the run.
    It seems we are seeing a similar thing now in Afghanistan, i hope they keep it up. You know the Taliban are scared when no one wants a promotion as they know if they become a Commander they are pretty much going to die.
    Wallbangr: it is spelt ’emphasize’, in UK we go with ’emphasise’.

  • TimSln says:

    Sounds like the beginning of some momentum for the ISAF. Let’s maintain or even increase the tempo, along with the rest of COIN, so this will take root and progress continues.
    General Petraeus stated a few days ago that Taliban momentum has been reversed in many areas.

  • Civy says:

    I’ve never understood those that bristle at the notion of a war of attrition. What else is there?

  • Max says:

    Bravo! Long live General Petraeus.

  • Bungo says:

    Civy said : “I’ve never understood those that bristle at the notion of a war of attrition.”
    My sentiments exactly. Never underestimate the power of decimating your enemy on the battlefield. My heart soars like an eagle.

  • KaneKaizer says:

    We all do know that simply killing thousands of Taliban isn’t enough to win the war, but there comes a point where if you’re able to kill/capture enough of the enemy attrition has its own strategic value.

  • Marlin says:

    The Taliban are not happy with the more assertive stance the American military is taking with the main stream media.

    The Afghan Taliban are angry that the man whose job it is to kill their fighters has claimed to be making progress; so angry that they want to hold an unprecedented news conference to talk about it.
    The Islamist group said on Sunday they wanted to call together international media based in Afghanistan to discuss the assertion made by General David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.
    “The Islamic Emirate, in an attempt to provide the world with the awareness of the facts and figures and what the reality is, suggest holding a press conference of the world media correspondents in Afghanistan,” the statement said.
    This was intended “to survey the overall situations and to have an assessment of the ongoing circumstances particularly in those areas General Petraeus has claimed to have made progress in”, the statement, written in Pashto and English, said.
    Petraeus said the insurgents’ momentum had been checked in their southern strongholds, an assertion the Taliban described in a separate statement last week as “baffling”.

    Reuters: Amid bloody Afghan battle, name-calling on the rise

  • C-Low says:

    This proves the idea of “killing terrorist just makes more terrorist” is true until you quit half stepping and fight war as war shifting to to killing as many terrorist as fast as possible. Attrition doesn’t even begin to work until you cross the point of the enemy regeneration capability, at which point you start getting compound results.
    Hold the tempo and increase were possible. Loosen the ROE to even further increase temp. DO NOT ALLOW CEASE FIRES FOR ANY REASON IS IMPERATIVE. Volume and tempo should be the goals.

  • Charu says:

    I hope that this is true. When I see a lot of positive reports coming out at the same time, the skeptic in me wonders if some press officer is just working overtime. This kind of spin, if eventually found to be untrue, is more damaging than unvarnished truth; because it is then often too late to make the changes in strategy and tactics required to win.


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