Back in the autumn of 2003, US troops in Afghanistan were confident of their impending victory against the Taliban insurgents. The Taliban had only three options, a US military spokesman in Afghanistan said: “Leave, die or change” — end their insurgency, be killed or support the Afghan government.
Hardly anyone would have put money on a fourth option — that the remnants of the Taliban would regroup into an effective guerrilla army.
As Afghanistan prepares for the August 20 presidential election, the Taliban are stronger than ever since their ouster in late 2001.
“Attempts to defeat the insurgency in Afghanistan primarily by military means have not been successful,” said Thomas Ruttig of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, an independent policy research organization. “They have only driven more Afghans to take up arms.”
Estimates of the insurgents' numbers vary. There might be as many as 10,000 to 20,000 fighters; however, not all participate in the insurgency full time. The number of attacks usually rises after the poppy harvest in summer as fighters return from working their fields. Forced levies on planting opium poppies and drug trafficking add millions of dollars to the Taliban's war chest.