Winning The War: 30 Insurgents At A Time

Source: Security Crank

Just how often has the U.S. and NATO killed the Taliban in groups of 30 during 2009? The answer may surprise you:

  • Adnkronos, 12/07/2009: “Up to 30 suspected militants were killed in a NATO airstrike on a Taliban hideout in eastern Afghanistan close to the Pakistani border on Monday. The airstrike targeted the village of Sangar Dara in the mountainous Watapur district of Kunar province , the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said.”
  • SF Chronicle, 12/04/2009: “Air strikes in two areas of the Mohmand border region killed 30 suspected militants, a military statement said. It said the strikes were “highly successful” but provided no further details, including whether any civilians were hurt.”
  • Xinhua, 11/04/2009: “The military said that the troops have killed 30 more militants during the last 24 hours, bringing the total fatalities to 400, as the operation in the country’s tribal area steadily progressed towards the Taliban strongholds in South Waziristan.”
  • Xinhua, 08/31/2009: “At least 30 bodies of suspected Taliban fighters were recovered in northwest Pakistan’s insurgency-hit Swat valley on Monday, witnesses said. The Pakistani army said they were killed in fighting with the security forces.”
  • Calgary Times, 07/04/2009: “The attack included an attempted suicide truck bombing of the base in the Zirok district of southeastern Paktika province, local officials said. As many as 30 Taliban insurgents might have been killed when troops called in air strikes, they said.”
  • Khaleej Times, 06/24/2009: “Thirty Taliban militants were killed in clashes with NATO and Afghan forces in separate incidents in southern Afghanistan, officials said Wednesday.”
  • Straits Times, 06/15/2009: “Security officials in the region said that about 30 militants were killed in Mohmand agency, close to the provincial capital Peshawar.”
  • Monsters and Critics, 05/28/2009: “In another incident, the Afghan Defence Ministry said Thursday that its troops, backed by international forces, killed 30 suspected militants in neighbouring Khost province Wednesday after the militants attacked their joint base.”
  • Monsters and Critics, 05/14/2009: “At least 30 Taliban fighters were killed Thursday when government artillery fire destroyed their hideout in north-west Pakistan, residents and officials said, as concerns about the fate of thousands of refugees in the region grew amid an escalating humanitarian crisis. Up to 30 suspected militants were in the compound when it was hit, and the Taliban have moved the dead and injured to an undisclosed location, he said.”
  • Reuters, 01 April 2009: “U.S. and Afghan forces have killed 30 Taliban fighters, including a local commander, in an operation in Afghanistan’s southern province of Helmand, the Interior Ministry said on Wednesday.”
  • IRNA, 02/17/2009: “Suspected US drone fired missiles on a training camp of Taliban militants in a Pakistani tribal region on Monday, killing around 30 people, witnesses and official sources said.”
  • New York Times, 01/01/2009: “On Wednesday, the Taliban came for revenge. A group of about 30 Taliban fighters swooped in on Mullah Salam’s house and opened fire. They killed at least 20 of his bodyguards, Afghan officials said. The Taliban claimed that they killed 32. Two of the attackers died.”

Alright, okay, you get the point. Just in case you thought this was limited to Afghanistan and Pakistan:

  • Reuters, 02/03/2009: “[Yemeni President Ali Abdullah] Saleh urged the leaders not to give refuge to militants and help the state’s fight against al-Qaeda by turning them in. A security official told Reuters authorities had detained 30 suspected militants in a renewed campaign.”

Oh yes, it’s the same Yemen. But look, hopping onto Google News and typing “30 Taliban” or “30 suspected militants” brings up literally dozens of stories each year, stretching back at least to 2005. Indeed, thirty seems to be the magic number when it comes to arresting or killing off Taliban and other militant fighters in Afghanistan.

The Security Crank is not the first one to notice this: mad props for the idea go to Moon of Alabama.
But the much more important point remains: how could we possibly have any idea how the war is going, here or anywhere else, when the bad guys seem only to die in groups of 30? The sheer ubiquity of that number in fatality and casualty counts is astounding, to the point where I don’t even pay attention to a story anymore when they use that magic number 30. It is an indicator either of ignorance or deliberate spin… but no matter the case, whenever you see the number 30 used in reference to the Taliban, you should probably close the tab and move onto something else, because you just won’t get a good sense of what happened there.

Oh, and shame to all you news agencies — all of you, since you’re all guilty — for playing along with such an obvious bit of number fudging. And weren’t we supposed to stop doing body counts anyway? That took all of a minute to reverse.

Update: Use ctrl-f (or CMD if you’re a mac-head) and search for “30″ or “thirty” on this 2009 timeline of events for Pakistan. It’s unreal.