And despite years of unrelenting attacks, Defense Department officials continue to put the number of Taliban fighters at somewhere between 40,000 and 80,000 fighters, a range that has not changed for several years.
What is the American military actually doing in Afghanistan?
The American military has long waged a series of off-again-on-again military campaigns in Afghanistan since the start of the war nearly two decades ago. More than 2,400 American troops have died, and 16 have been killed in combat this year — the most since 2014. NATO and other allied countries have lost roughly 1,000 troops since 2001.
But in the last five years, Afghan forces have felt the brunt of the fighting. More than 50,000 Afghan security forces have been killed, with recently two dozen often dying a day.
In the months after the Sept. 11 attacks, American troops, alongside Afghan fighters and backed by air support, drove the Taliban from control of the country and routed Al Qaeda fighters in the eastern mountains of Tora Bora. In 2010 and 2011, the Pentagon deployed more than 100,000 troops to small outposts across the country to stem the Taliban’s return. That mission was often praised, but never completely successful, and was the high-water mark of American counterinsurgency tactics. And in 2014, the Pentagon euphemistically ended American combat operations and shifted to supporting the fledgling Afghan military with advisers and airstrikes.
In the two years before General Miller took command in September 2018, the American military supported Afghan forces predominantly with airstrikes while attempting to eradicate the Islamic State’s offshoot that appeared in the country’s east in 2015 by focusing on aggressive offensives spearheaded by Special Operations forces.
Under General Miller, that strategy, in many ways, was flipped by tasking the American commandos, alongside their Afghan counterparts, to specifically go after the Taliban in provinces such as Farah, Badghis, Kunduz and Uruzgan — in an attempt drive them to the negotiating table — while the campaign against the Islamic State became a second priority.
Last fall General Miller increased the number of Green Beret teams and supporting forces, around 100 troops, as part of the strategy, and by the start of the year, American commandos were conducting nearly 100 operations a week, more than double than the year prior, according to Defense Department officials.