Pentagon spokesperson doubles down on ‘desperate’ Taliban comment

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

Emphasis added:

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.

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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7 Comments

  • Brian L. says:

    This is outrageous and thank you, Bill Roggio and FDD/LWJ, for keeping up your reporting on this. We can’t win a war until we admit that we’re losing.

  • Steve says:

    Spot on as usual and especially damning to see the same language being rehashed over the years in official statements.

    However, it’s spelled Pollyannaish after the character Pollyanna in the children’s book…

  • irebukeu says:

    It is often said that ‘History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes’. The good example which follows below after the number one is a Memo I have copied and pasted (Source and Link at the bottom). I changed some of the words {noted like this} for what will be obvious reasons and deleted others. Note the date on the source at the bottom. By the end of that year over 1900 Americans would have already keen killed.

    1. Plan for Cutting Our Losses
    In essence, what we should seek to achieve is a posture vis-a-vis the various leaders in {Kabul} that will appear to the world as reasonable and lacking any suggestion of arbitrariness… we make it a condition of continued assistance that the various elements in {Kabul} put aside their petty differences and organize themselves to fight the war… the present government seems even worse than its predecessors.
    2. The Task of Re-education
    It should by now be apparent that we have to a large extent created our own predicament. In our determination to rally support, we have tended to give the {Afghan} struggle an exaggerated and symbolic significance …
    The problem for us now–if we determine not to broaden and deepen our commitments–is to re-educate the American people and our friends and allies that:
    (a) The phasing out of American power in {Afghanistan} should not be regarded as a major defeat–either military or political–but a tactical redeployment to more favorable terrain in the overall… struggle;
    (b) The loss of {Afghanistan} does not mean the loss of all.. {Pakistan} is a special problem…
    (c) We have more than met our commitments to the {Afghan} people. We have poured men and equipment into the area, and run risks and taken casualties, and have been prepared to continue the struggle provided the {Afghan} leaders met even the most rudimentary standards of political performance;
    (d) The {Taliban}–while supported and guided from {Pakistan}–is largely an indigenous movement. Although we have emphasized its {war on Terror} aspects, the conflict in {Afghanistan} is essentially a civil war within that country;
    (e) Our commitment to the {Afghan} people is of a wholly different order from our major commitments elsewhere–to {Europe} to NATO, to South Korea, etc. We ourselves have insisted the curtailment of our activities in {Afghanistan} would cast doubt on our fidelity to the other commitments. Now we must begin a process of differentiation being founded on fact and law. We have never had a treaty commitment obligating us to the {Afghan} people or to a {Afghan} government… To be sure, we did make a promise to the {Afghans}. But that promise is conditioned on their own performance, and they have not performed.

    Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 4, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1971), pp. 609-610
    Memo: 29 June 1965-by George Ball to Rusk, McNamara, both Bundys, McNaughton and Unger
    Link: //www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/pentagon4/doc258.htm

  • Jo says:

    What is this whole charade supposed to be? Everyone who is the least bit interested in the Afghanistan war, knows that it’s not going well. Everyone who is a little bit more interested can quickly establish, with minimal effort, that the whole affair is going rather bad. So what are these statements from the Pentagon and RS supposed to achieve? They are not even badly covered lies, they are statements from an entirely different universe.

    • Bill Roggio says:

      This. You really don’t need to be a in-the-weeds Afghanistan watcher to quickly figure this out. Well said, Jo.

  • Passer by says:

    Ajristan District In Ghazni On The Verge Of Collapse

    The district governor for Ajristan of Ghazni province on Saturday warned that if within one hour reinforcements are not sent to the district, the district will fall to the Taliban.

    //www.tolonews.com/afghanistan/ajristan-district-ghazni-verge-collapse

  • tuffsnotenuff says:

    Anybody teaching the Afghans about bloodhounds ???

    Yeah, the bloodies don’t “look military” and they smell funny to humans. And nobody’s cousin is breeding them like the Belgian shepherds.

    But this is at least half a Tracking War. The Afghans love their dogs. Bloodies are not indigenous — Aussies and the Dutch used them successfully. So why not use the dog that does tracking the best of all ???

    Is anybody serious about identifying Taliban sourcing? IDing individuals who handle Taliban weaponry? Whistle in the wind…….

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