June 4, 2008
A statement from the Afghan Taliban leadership has challenged an assessment of the military situation in Afghanistan given by outgoing International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) commander General Dan McNeill in an interview with the BBC’s Pashto language service (Voice of Jihad, May 28).
McNeill, who is turning over command of NATO’s ISAF contingent to General David McKiernan on June 3, was reported as saying that ISAF has made considerable progress in the military and reconstruction aspects of its mission in the last year, as well as describing the Taliban’s campaign as little more than a series of roadside bombs, suicide attacks and ambushes.
The Taliban responded to these remarks by asking: “What blind, deaf or senseless person will accept remarks by McNeill—this commander of the forces of barbarism and darkness—that the NATO forces in Afghanistan are more powerful than they have been at any other time and are more superior now to the mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate? Do not the United Nations, various research institutions, independent organizations and well known Western and regional media outlets and news agencies acknowledge that 60 percent of Afghanistan’s territory is under the control or influence of the Taliban?”
The Taliban rebuttal cited January’s attack on the Serena Hotel in central Kabul and the April 27 assault on a military parade in Kabul attended by President Hamid Karzai and General McNeill as examples of the Taliban’s broadening reach and improved operational capabilities.
A Kabul newspaper controlled by the opposition National Front—a coalition of ex-Northern Alliance leaders headed by former President Burhannudin Rabbani—was largely in agreement with the Taliban assessment of the current situation: “It has become crystal clear now that the government and its administrative units do not have as good and as effective a presence in the areas of the south, southwest and east of the country as the armed opposition groups… This situation is very similar to the last days of the communist regime in Afghanistan, which only controlled the centers of the cities while the rest was under the control of the mujahideen” (Eqtedar-e Melli, May 31).
This article first appeared in the June 4 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus