BRUSSELS — A massive effort by US and NATO forces in Afghanistan — including offensives in the insurgent heartland and targeted assassinations of rebel leaders — has failed to dent Taliban numerical strength over the past year, according to military and diplomatic officials.
A NATO official said this week that the alliance estimates the current number of insurgent fighters at up to 25,000, confirming figures provided earlier by several military officers and diplomats.
That number is the same as a year ago, before the arrival of an additional 40,000 US and allied troops, and before the alliance launched a massive campaign to restore government control in Helmand province and around the city of Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan.
The US-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has kept official figures of enemy strength under wraps throughout the nine-year war. But non-US military assessments have tracked the growth of the Taliban from about 500 armed fighters in 1993 to 25,000 in early 2010.
"These are rough estimates, because they're not just standing around to be counted," said the NATO official who could not be named in line with standing regulations.
The Taliban are pitted against about 140,000 ISAF troops — two-thirds of them Americans — and over 200,000 members of the government's security forces.