August 12th, 2009
11:09 PM ET

Hardly winning

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/08/10/afghanistan.taliban.challenge/art.soldiers.run.afp.gi.jpg caption="A U.S. soldier takes his position near a building attacked by the Taliban south of Kabul, Afghanistan."]

Peter Bergen | Bio
AC360° Contributor
CNN National Security Analyst
For Foreign Policy

"Taliban Now Winning" declared Monday's headline in the Wall Street Journal based on its interview with Gen Stanley McChrystal. But the headline was a classic case of a editor hyping the substance of a story, which the reporters of the story themselves had already applied a little touch of their own gilding to when they characterized General McChrystal's position in their interview to be that the Taliban now had the "upper hand."

In fact, when the WSJ reporters actually came to quote him, General McChrystal said rather more innocuously of the Taliban, "It's a very aggressive enemy right now... We've got to stop their momentum, stop their initiative. It's hard work."

McChrystal added that the Taliban were moving beyond their strongholds in southern Afghanistan to threaten formerly stable areas in the north and west. But that's a lot different than saying either that the Taliban is "winning" or has the "upper hand." (Would the pre-Murdoch WSJ have headlined the piece in this hyped-up manner? Just asking.)

McChrystal's views about the Taliban were more accurately captured by a USA Today article that appeared on the same day as the WSJ article in which he said "I wouldn't say we are winning or losing or stalemated... What I would say at this particular point is that the insurgency has a certain amount of initiative and momentum that we are working to stop and, in fact, reverse."

That doesn't sound much like the Taliban are "winning" or gaining the "upper hand" either.

Aside from the obvious implausibility of an American four-star general theater commander in the middle of a war saying that the enemy is "winning" in an on-the-record interview with a major U.S. newspaper - short of the Taliban appearing en masse at the gates of Kabul - there is another problem with this concept, which is that the Taliban are not winning or anything close to it.


Filed under: 360° Radar • Afghanistan • Peter Bergen
soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. Joe G. (Illinois)

    Question: Does America really want to bring Sex, drugs and Rock and Roll into Afghanistan?! If deep down in their hearts the answer is “Yes..!” But that’s not the case.. Is it? Not when soldiers are facing the Maker in the battlefields.. Maybe for Obama! Because of his childhood, maybe resentments and his deep rooted believes in equality…

    August 13, 2009 at 3:00 pm |
  2. Geline

    Well, newspapers should be careful on what they print, specially with such sensitive issues like this. What if the Taliban read this headline? What do you think they would do?

    August 13, 2009 at 10:46 am |
  3. Sharon,Daniel Island, South Carolina

    one reason on a long list that made my vote for Pres. O so easy. its plain to see we were never winning this,post vietnam, vietnam

    August 13, 2009 at 7:23 am |
  4. Darrell

    There is no comparison for a man that has taken care of his body for his entire life, and has no medical treatment, to a man that smokes tobacco and drinks alcohol! However, the man that has his Illness is given treament! All for the reason of MONEY! love america!

    August 13, 2009 at 6:34 am |
  5. J.V.Hodgson

    In old language this is a guerilla type war, with the added ingredient of the fighters instead of being purely nationals ( guerilla's) there are many outsiders from other countries. This is a fundamental flaw in the Taleban ( or Al Qaeda) strategy and why the taleban have such low support from Afghan nationals and part of the fundamental reason why US and ISAF forces are often criticised.
    The current efforts to " Afghanise the police and army and governance" is the only way to so called "victory" for either side Taleban/Al Qaeda on one side and the Afghan government and US and ISAF forces on the other. unfortunately that means also recognising the tribal reality in Afghanistan ( centuries old and unchangeable) and winning them over ( an Afghan government etc benchmark not US forces)Plus the local Imans (again an Afghan government benchmark) as no outsider can even begin to manage, let alone understand those aspects in the depth needed. It means a Tribal overlord and Religious overlord in the Afghan government to work Regionally, with tribal and religious leaders to establish each regions priorities, and then manage aid resources and financial support accordingly . Winning the hearts and mind of people, is what wins wars. Battles you can fight and run away and live to fight another day. Losing a battle does not mean you have lost or gained the "upper hand"
    The WSJ should stick to facts and actuality and Integrity not DRAMA for pure circulation reasons.

    August 13, 2009 at 4:51 am |
  6. Dcaese

    War = Money. America does not lose a War. God protect my Fellow Brothers in Arms Abroad.

    August 13, 2009 at 3:10 am |
  7. Jon Zatkin

    Afghanistan is not now nor has it ever been a nation-state.

    The US invasion in 2001 was spectacularly successful (for the US) because it mobilized Tajik and other (ethinic minority) warlord proxies to defeat the Taliban. These proxies subsequently took over "national" government – over the objections of the Pashtun majority.

    The Taliban are winning because they appeal to the Pashtun majority's feelings of alienation and are increasingly successful in mobilizing them against the foreign invaders. Until the NATO coalition finds a way to reconcile with the Pashtuns the situation will continue to deteriorate!

    August 13, 2009 at 2:16 am |
  8. geoff

    I just got back from the northern afghanistan spot of the american area of operation, nuristan. this also is a stronghold. the media does not cover it and makes it seem less of a problem. nuristan is a big problem. now we are taking troops out of it and making even more spots for taliban and hig to take over. we are letting ourselves get runover. if ISAF would stop being so political and start pounding the enemies a** we could potentially start freeing up more areas for elections and political progress.

    August 13, 2009 at 2:01 am |
  9. Steve

    I wish we would stop talking about race and just talk about the issues. This country will never move on until we stop the race card. I nreally believe the reason for the problems in Town meetings is much more then just Health Care. With all the bail outs, middle class has not seen any changes. Since all the help seem to be going to people that got in to trouble by over spending. were is the benifit tto the public who has always made payment on time and on schedule

    Just my thoughts

    August 13, 2009 at 1:58 am |
  10. Sabrina in Los Angeles

    There is no winning in war...only stopping the evil and not loosing ground.

    August 13, 2009 at 1:29 am |
  11. John

    To assume that the national health care debate is about racism....is in itself, racist.

    August 13, 2009 at 1:14 am |
  12. Carolyn Lockett

    I am one of the millions of uninsured Americans in this country. It would be interesting to find out if these rowdy dissenters to healthcare reform are insured.....Hummmmm. Its easy to squawk when you have healthcare. What about us?

    August 13, 2009 at 1:14 am |
  13. carole l bryant

    I'm an old hippie and have never supported any war, but this one is different! The schools being built for the afgan children are very important.I think we have a long way to go with this one,and I must say, for the first time for me, that I sincerely admire our service people and strongly support their effort.

    August 13, 2009 at 1:01 am |
  14. Mike in NYC

    I always look forward to these press releases from Langley.

    August 12, 2009 at 11:14 pm |

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