Resolute Support, NATO’s command in Afghanistan, is using insurgent battlefield casualties as a key metric to claim the Afghan military is having success against the Taliban, al Qaeda, and the Islamic State since the end of the Eid ceasefire.
However, the Afghan military is notorious for inflating enemy casualties incurred during its operations. More importantly, the Taliban has not been rolled back from any areas it currently controls or contests.
Resolute Support made the claims in a July 21 press release clearly designed to put the best possible face on Afghan military operations. The press release quoted US Army Major General Andrew Poppas, Resolute Support’s deputy chief of staff for operations.
“Three weeks of sustained military pressure, with undiminished intensity is impressive,” Poppas says. “And they [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces] are showing no signs of stopping.”
“The results seen on the battlefield are obvious, the ANDSF [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces] are growing in capacity, proficiency and lethality,” Poppas continued. “They take the fight to the enemy and continue to remove all who oppose them at every turn.”
According to the statement, “Afghan forces conducted more than 90 operations that resulted in the death or injury of more than 1,700 insurgents” since the Eid ceasefire ended.
Poppas did not state how the 1,700 casualty figure was derived, but the data must have originated from the Afghan military as NATO forces have had very little visibility in most of the Afghan military operations. Most NATO advisers are embedded with Afghan forces at the corps level, not at the company and platoon level, where most of the fighting has occurred.
The Afghan military, like the Taliban and the Islamic State, inflates its enemy’s casualties in order to put a positive spin on operations.
Resolute Support’s attempt to use casualties to promote successful Afghan military operations does not provide any real context since the Afghan military and Resolute Support refuse to release data on Afghan military and police casualties, hiding behind classification restrictions. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Secrecy shrouds US development of Afghan security forces.]
However, when the US military was releasing information on casualties for Afghan security forces in 2017, the numbers were extremely discouraging. According to the Special Investigator General for Afghan Reconstruction, 2,531 Afghan security forces personnel were killed and another 4,238 were wounded during the first three months of 2017, or an average of 564 casualties per week.
Additionally, Resolute Support did not explain how a purported high Taliban body count has translated to success. The Taliban has been fighting US, NATO, and Afghan forces since 2001, and has incurred a large number of casualties during this time, especially during the US surge from 2009-2013. The Taliban recouped its losses to contest and control more districts in Afghanistan during any point in the war. The Taliban clearly is able to regenerate its forces, both from within Afghanistan, and from neighboring Pakistan, whose military and intelligence services continue to provide safe haven, a recruiting base, and material support to the group.
The press release also described the Taliban who are being targeted and killed as “Taliban irreconcilables.” However, Resolute Support has yet to identify any reconcilable Taliban. While Afghan, NATO, and US officials continue to maintain there is ongoing dialogue with the Taliban to conduct negotiations, none have been identified.
The Taliban has publicly maintained it is not holding talks with the Afghan government, which it has repeatedly stated is illegitimate and un-Islamic.