The Taliban has reaped a recruiting bonanza the past two years, capitalizing on NATO’s stagnant posture in southern Afghanistan by increasing fighter ranks by 35 percent, U.S. officials say.
The increase is one reason NATO forces, in an ongoing offensive, are meeting strong resistance as they fight town by town to gain control of the Taliban stronghold in the city of Kandahar and in Marjah in neighboring Helmand province.
In the face of air strikes and NATO raids that kill scores of Taliban at a time, the former rulers of Afghanistan still have been able to pad their ranks. A military intelligence source, providing numbers confirmed by a senior U.S. official, told The Washington Times that Taliban strength now stands at 27,000 fighters in the Afghan-Pakistan theater, 7,000 more than in 2008.
“The Taliban have expanded their ranks by recruiting militants in their traditional southern strongholds, and by extending their reach to other parts of Afghanistan,” said the official, who asked not to be named because it was an intelligence matter. “The numbers of Taliban aren’t as high in those other areas, but the group’s footprint has clearly grown. There has been a steep increase.”
The military source also said about 600 al Qaeda operatives are moving between the two countries. (NOT 100 as the Obama administration flunkies like to say)
With control of scores of villages, Taliban commanders have been free to round up recruits, using Islamic ideology along with money, fear or a combination of both.
“I think that reflects the fact our presence in Helmand and Kandahar has been pretty small,” said Thomas Donnelly, a military analyst at the American Enterprise Institute who helped devise the Iraq troop surge in 2007. “They’ve been working hard since 2003, 2004, 2005 to rebuild, and they’ve been able to move into places and recruit people for a whole host of reasons — not least among them there has been no Afghan government presence or significant opposition to them.”
Said the military source, who recently served in Afghanistan: “They offer money and/or food. Their target audience is generally illiterate. And they take care of the families of their martyrs. It’s also fairly valid when they say, ‘We’ll still be here after the infidels have gone.'”
“More commonly, when the population in the area perceives the Taliban as ascendant, because they come to control the district or the village or the community in which they hadn’t before, the population is trying to hedge their bets over who is going to come out ahead in the end. And one of the ways to hedge your bets, and to make sure your family is protected, is by producing recruits for them.”
Then there is the sanctuary issue. The Taliban and al Qaeda use a network of mosques in Pakistan’s ungoverned tribal areas to coax new recruits, train them and ship them across the border, the military official said. The U.S. monitors the mosques but does not bomb them. WASHINGTON TIMES