NATO command touts body count of ‘Taliban irreconcilables’

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.

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

  • pre-Boomer Marine brat says:

    Body counts, inflated or not, are irrelevant in measuring push-back against an Islamist Fascist organization such as the Taliban, al Qaida, ISIS, et cetera. At best, body counts are merely tactical, and extremely short-range.

    The goal should be a counter-jihad against the hard-core Wahhabist/Deobandist/Salafist ulema who churn out the recruits. Those mullahs will never permit internal theological debates such as have gone on in Christianity and Judaism, neutering their various forms of inquisitions. Anyone within Islam who tries it, dies. The result is “Stockholm syndrome” type groups like Pakistan’s Sunni Tehreek, a nominally Barelvi sub-sect which fights Deobandist takeovers of its mosques by trying to out-hardline the hardliners.

    The solution is to turn the Darul Uloom Haqqania and all the others into 30 yard-deep, glass-slag-lined pits which glow in the dark, but we kinder-and-gentler folk in the West will never do anything like that.

    The European religious wars were ended by both debate and blood. To repeat a phrase loosely, those who do not wish to pay attention to history will be killed by it.

  • S R says:

    Resolute Support and General Nicholson have been putting up a lot of positive spin recently on the RS mission in Afghanistan, as if RS is going to win very soon. As if something which 150,000 NATO troops couldn’t achieve in Afghanistan, 16,000 NATO troops and the ANDSF are achieving in Afghanistan. General Nicholson is going to leave his post as Commander of the US and international forces in Afghanistan soon, and he wants to leave on a high, even if it’s a fake high.

  • C says:

    A sure sign DESPERATION on Not Anything To Original(Z) part.
    This material has been seen before.
    And well, we know how it ended.

  • Russell J Coller says:

    i thought Gen. Wm Westmoreland settled this case ‘out of court.’
    Perhaps i’m mixed up.

  • jay p says:

    While I agree with most of Trumps foreign policy, The way the Afghan war is being handled is not much different than Obama’s. I can’t stand when the military spins the narrative to suit their agenda, Obama’s DOD was a master at doing it and trumps is following the bs line.

    At best its a stalemate and at worst Afghan forces are are battling to hold ground and often times withdrawing from districts or completely being overrun in others. I would love to see you guys from FDD grill the DOD in their daily briefings about the afghan situation and see what they say. And who’s the genius that that thinks after 18 years of war with the Taliban in the best position they’ve been in since , would all of a sudden be willing to negotiate peace talks. Good grief.

    • Observer 1 says:

      Agree with your point about T agreeing to negotiate, though I read today something about them having held secret meetings with U.S. officials. If the way Trump likes to cozy up to violent authoritarian “winners” (he wants his people to show him “that kind” of respect) and as you said, while Taliban continues to take control, or prevent the “government” from regaining or gaining control, it hardly seems that the west or Western-backed government can negotiate and obtain equality, safety, democracy or peace at present.

  • John Spartan says:

    Currently serving in Afghanistan as a mentor to the Afghan National Army. This is my second tour here, with my first being in 2004-2005 doing the same job. The Afghans are as bad now as they were then. The obsession with body counts is to hide the fact that the government cannot retake districts that are contested or controlled by the Taliban. That is the only true metric on whether or not you are winning this war. Anything else is nonsense. The idea that the Taliban will negotiate when they are not losing ground is puerile. We are in a stalemate until someone decides we have done enough and pulls us out. I have been a Soldier for over 20 years and have never seen operational and strategic incompetence at the levels I ‘am witnessing now.

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