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Why the Taliban Isn't Winning in Afghanistan

Too Weak for Victory, Too Strong for Defeat

A game of cricket on a field outside of Kabul, December 2017. Mohammed Ismail / Reuters

We must face facts,” remarked Senator John McCain in August 2017, “we are losing in Afghanistan and time is of the essence if we intend to turn the tide.” He is not the only one who has argued that the Taliban are on the march. “The Taliban are getting stronger, the government is on the retreat, they are losing ground to the Taliban day by day,” Abdul Jabbar Qahraman, a retired Afghan general who was the Afghan government’s military envoy to Helmand Province until 2016, told the New York Times over the summer. Media outlets have likewise proclaimed that “The Taliban do look a lot like they are winning” and that this is “The war America can’t win.”

Although the Taliban has demonstrated a surprising ability to survive and conduct high-profile attacks in cities like Kabul, it is weaker today than most recognize. It is hamstrung by an ideology that

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