Since January 2011, the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan claims it’s killed or captured over 100 insurgent “leaders.” Too bad it doesn’t have any clear idea what “leader” means. Any insurgent who commands another person apparently qualifies. And worse, by that criteria, Taliban and aligned insurgents have killed twice as many U.S. troops in the same time period.
According to Danger Room’s count, since January 2011, ISAF troops have killed or captured at least 104 insurgent leaders. You might expect the insurgency to be battered from the loss of so many senior commanders in such a short period of time.
That’s the impression left from press release after press release. “A Taliban leader,” who happens to be an “explosives expert,” was taken into custody in Kandahar on July 8. Two days before, an airstrike killed “the Lashkar-e-Taiba insurgent leader Ammar” in Kunar Province. The day before that, the NATO command in Afghanistan, known as ISAF, killed “a senior Taliban leader,” Nek Mohammed, in the northern province of Sar-e Pul.
But what ISAF isn’t disclosing is that it doesn’t have any clear criteria for who it considers an insurgent leader. “The ISAF Joint Command does not have a specific definition for insurgent leaders in terms of geographical responsibility or numbers of men under command,” ISAF said in a statement provided to Danger Room. “In general, when we refer to an insurgent or terrorist leader, it is a member of an insurgent or terrorist organization who leads a number of insurgents in conducting attacks, facilitating attacks or coordinating the provision of support to permit the continuance of the insurgent or terrorist activities.”
“It depends a bit on the levels at which you’re taking the leadership down to,” adds U.K. Navy Lt. Cmdr. James Williams, an ISAF spokesman. “Any group of people have a leader, [whether there’s] two or more, there’s always one of those people who’s in the lead.”
Danger Room tallied up ISAF’s announced kills and captures from the American Forces Press Service, the Pentagon’s official news service, which takes its information from ISAF. Permutations on “Taliban leader,” “Haqqani network leader” and “insurgent leader” stretching back to January 2011 counted for this sample. This total is surely incomplete, since not every ISAF announcement makes it into the American Forces Press Service.