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Thursday Aug 05 2021

How do the Afghan forces and the Taliban compare?

In this picture taken on August 1, 2021, Afghan National Army commando forces walk along a road amid ongoing fighting between Taliban and Afghan security forces in the Enjil district of Herat province. — AFP/File
In this picture taken on August 1, 2021, Afghan National Army commando forces walk along a road amid ongoing fighting between Taliban and Afghan security forces in the Enjil district of Herat province. — AFP/File

KABUL: The Taliban now control around half of Afghanistan's districts after lightning offensives in the months since foreign troops began their final withdrawal from the country.

But analysts and officials said their military victory is far from guaranteed, pointing to the ability and resources of the Afghan defence forces, who remain in control of major cities.

Here is how the two forces compare:


The total strength of the Afghan national security forces — including the army, special forces, the air force, police, and intelligence — was more than 307,000 at the end of April, the US Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said in a report last week.

The combat forces available on any given day are likely around 180,000, according to an estimate by Jonathan Schroden of military think tank CNA.

The precise strength of the Taliban, on the other hand, is not accurately known. UN Security Council monitors last year said the group had between 55,000 and 85,000 fighters.


Foreign assistance is critical for Afghanistan, one of the poorest nations in the world.

Its military has required $5-6 billion a year, according to the US Congressional Research Service. Washington has usually provided around 75 percent of it, and has pledged continued support.

Taliban finances are unclear. Their revenues are estimated between $300 million to $1.5 billion a year, according to UN monitors.

They generate funds from the country's huge narcotics industry, through extortion of businesses, other criminal activities, and by imposing taxes in the areas under their control, the monitors said.

"Based on information available... it is clear that the Taliban are not struggling with respect to recruitment, funding, weapons or ammunition," they added.

Weapons and equipment

The United States spent tens of billions of dollars to raise and equip the Afghan military after it toppled the previous Taliban regime in 2001.

Afghan forces possess a technological advantage over the Taliban, using a wide variety of Western-made weapons, including modern assault rifles, night-vision goggles, armoured vehicles, artillery and small surveillance drones.

They also have something the Taliban cannot match: an air force. The Afghan military has an available fleet of 167 aircraft, including attack helicopters, SIGAR reported.

The Taliban on the other hand have mainly used the small arms and light weapons that flooded Afghanistan over decades of conflict — such as Soviet-designed AK-47 assault rifles — while also procuring them from regional black markets, analysts say.

In addition to sniper rifles and machine guns, the Taliban have also deployed rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and other small rockets, while also trying to use some anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons with mixed success, Taliban expert Antonio Giustozzi wrote in a 2019 book on the group.

Suicide bombers and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have been among the deadliest weapons the Taliban have used against Afghan and foreign forces.

The Taliban have also captured and used Western-made weapons and equipment supplied to the Afghan military, including night-vision devices, assault rifles and vehicles.

Cohesion and morale

Afghan forces have had their confidence tested for years, suffering high casualties, corruption, desertions, and now the departure of foreign troops and the end of US air support.

Poor planning and leadership have also been blamed for low morale.

The Taliban, on the other hand, have displayed greater cohesion despite reports of internal rifts in recent years, analysts say, pointing to religious zeal as well as the promise of material gains as contributing factors.