Is the Taliban Weaker or Stronger?

Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Congressman Mike Rogers (R-MI) made waves with their recent proclamation that the Taliban is actually stronger today than it was two years ago, when the United States “surged” additional troops into Afghanistan. The Washington Post recaps:

When asked if the Taliban’s capabilities have been degraded since Obama deployed the additional troops two years ago, Feinstein said: “I think we’d both say that what we’ve found is that the Taliban is stronger.”

This contradicts recent statements by Obama administration officials, including the president, who spoke last week of the “light of a new day” in Kabul. See, also the Pentagon spokesman’s recent comments:

“The Taliban’s momentum has not only been thwarted, it’s been thrust back,” Navy Capt. John Kirby told reporters. “We believe they are in a much weaker position.”

Statements about the weakness of the Taliban are nothing new. Shortly after Osama bin Laden was killed a year ago, Admiral Mike Mullen – then chairman of the Joint Chiefs — had a similar assessment:

 “To be sure, these groups are weaker — much weaker — and not just as a result of this raid, but as a result of the extraordinary efforts expended by both coalition forces and the Pakistani military over the last several years,” Mullen said.

Contrast this with ISAF commander Lieutenant General David Rodriguez’s response to a reporter’s question in February 2011, shortly before Osama’s death:

Q:  Does that mean that the Taliban is weaker going into this spring offensive than they were a year ago, do you think?

GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  You know, again, we’ll have to see that.  That’s a hard question.  What I’m telling you is that we have reduced the support bases inside Afghanistan, that we’ll continue to keep the pressure up on their leadership, all designed to reduce the effectiveness of the insurgency.  How that will occur and how well that will be, we’ll have to see how effective both us and the Afghans are doing that.  But that’s what we’re trying to do with the environment that they’ll see differently in the spring.

An interesting evolution…

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