But the raid’s failure also highlighted the Taliban’s inability to represent a major threat to the Afghan state, according to military officials. They say that the insurgents control little populated territory in few regions and have not been able to expand that sway and that Afghanistan’s fledgling security forces are increasingly able to defeat them.
In a statement issued a week ago, a NATO coalition spokesman, Col. Thomas W. Collins, said the Taliban “simply do not have the manpower, capability or coherence in command and control to be considered a strategic threat.”
Assessing the potency of the shifting and elusive organization is difficult, however. Afghan and coalition military officials acknowledge that they do not know how large the Taliban’s fighting force is, but analysts say it is easily able to recruit foot soldiers and fund itself through extortion. And although Afghan security forces have been able to combat Taliban attacks in urban areas, they are far more vulnerable in rural regions, where they are losing air backup and other international support.
Several Afghan officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, agree that the insurgents probably cannot defeat the much larger government forces. But the officials said that the greatest threat to Afghanistan’s future is not the strength of the insurgency but the weakness and corruption of the government, which has caused some Afghans to turn to the Taliban for security and justice.
“We don’t fear the enemy. We don’t need better equipment and technology, because those are things they don’t have. What we need is a stronger and better government,” one Afghan military official said. “People are dissatisfied with all the corruption, and there are splits even among our officers. We can’t afford to split into factions. This is very worrisome.”
‘Fighting to free our country’
In recent weeks, unusually ambitious insurgent attacks have stunned residents and international workers in Afghanistan. One assault team occupied a building in downtown Kabul used by an international refugee agency, setting off a five-hour gun battle. Another breached a government compound in Panjshir province, considered one of the safest areas in the country.
In an especially surprising incident, a suicide and commando squad attacked a provincial office of the International Committee of the Red Cross, a group that observes a strict neutrality in conflicts, visits detainees on both sides and has helped maintain communication between imprisoned Afghan insurgents and their families. No group asserted responsibility for that attack, but Afghan security sources said the tactics were similar to those often used by the Taliban.