Pentagon Spokesperson Dana White still thinks the Taliban is “desperate,” even after the group entered Farah City and took control of two districts in other areas of the country this week. White also denied that the Taliban has the initiative and touted the fact that all six Afghan army corps are now on the offensive, even though they have been for at least eight months.
White made these comments during yesterday’s Pentagon briefing.
“They’re desperate,” White responded when asked how the Taliban is able to attack provincial and district centers.
“The Taliban has not had the initiative,” White continued, and claimed the Taliban only hit “soft targets.”
White made nearly identical comments two weeks ago, stating that the the Taliban is launching suicide attacks because it is “desperate” and “losing ground.” However, as a survey by FDD’s Long War Journal of the status of Afghanistan’s districts shows, the Taliban control or contest at least 59 percent of the 407 districts, more than at any point since the US invaded the country in 2001 and ousted the Taliban from power. Other factors, such as Taliban control of the Afghan population, the rise of civilian casualties, sectarian attacks, and security incidents, and the shrinking of the Afghan military, rebut White’s pollyannish assessment of the situation in Afghanistan. [See LWJ report, ‘Desperate’ Taliban ‘has lost ground,’ Pentagon spokesperson wrongly claims.]
Yet again, White’s comments harkens back to Sept. 2012, when then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta claimed that the sharp rise of green-on-blue attacks, in which Afghan security personnel attack Coalition forces, were due to the “last gasp” of a dying Taliban. And when President Obama said that the Taliban’s “momentum is broken.”
“All six Afghan Army corps are on the offensive”
During yesterday’s briefing, White also said that the outlook for the security in Afghanistan is bright as “all six Afghan Army corps are on the offensive.” White characterized this as a “great milestone.”
“Now, for the first time across Afghanistan, all six Afghan Army corps are on the offensive against the Taliban,” she said “This is a great milestone for Afghanistan that will allow for coordinated campaigns as they take the fight to the Taliban throughout the country.”
The problem is that all six Afghan Army corps have been on the offensive for eight months, and yet the Taliban continues to dictate the pace of the fighting in Afghanistan. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, in his testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Oct. 3, 2017, noted this.
“Beginning last month (Sept. 2017), and for the first time in this long fight, all six Afghan military corps are engaged in offensive operations,” Mattis said.
White’s assessment of the situation on the ground in Afghanistan does not match the reality at the moment.
There has been little to no “progress” in combating the Taliban’s grip on the rural areas. In fact, the Taliban has continued to use these rural areas to threaten provincial centers. It attacked Farah City earlier this week, and fighting is ongoing. Six other provincial centers are under threat, according to the Afghan Ministry of Defense, which rarely is forthcoming about such issues.
The Taliban is neither desperate nor is losing ground. And the fact that all six Afghan Army corps have been on the offensive for eight months and the Taliban shows no signs of breaking should give White, the Pentagon, and Resolute Support pause.
Excepts from the May 17 Pentagon press briefing
Q: On Afghanistan, you said that this is testament to tremendous improvements in ANDSF operations. But it’s still the case that the Taliban can attack at will major population centers and districts — sorry, provincial centers.
How — how is — how is this a tremendous improvement? This is still — this is still a major offensive and it took intense U.S. air support to — to drive it back.
MS. WHITE: Well one, I think it’s important to remember that progress and violence can co-exist. It’s also important to remember that the Taliban has not had the initiative. You also see that they’re using this — they’re hitting soft targets, they’re hitting polling places.
They’re desperate. This is also the start of the fighting season, so this is not unexpected. But the Afghan forces have done tremendous work with the six corps now working across the country. So it’s still a long fight, but absolutely there’s been progress that’s been made and there’ll continue to be progress.
And I think you also see with the South Asia Strategy, the fact that you do have a — the six corps now trained and on the offensive, that all shows progress.