Are the Taliban winning?

U.S. Marines launch an offensive as the Pentagon rejects a report suggesting insurgents have the upper hand

What happened

U.S. Marines stormed into a Taliban-held town in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday. The assault was part of an offensive aiming to gain control of insurgent strongholds ahead of next week's presidential elections. A spokesman for Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said the Taliban are gaining strength in some areas, but he denied the suggestion in a Monday Wall Street Journal article that insurgents are winning the war. (CBS News)

What the commentators said

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"The Taliban are not winning," said Peter Bergen in Foreign Policy, "nor are they enjoying the upper hand." In fact, as Gen. Stanley McChrystal actually said in his interview with The Wall Street Journal, the insurgents are merely pressing hard in some areas and the U.S. is moving to reverse the enemy's gains. The bottom line is that "the Taliban are a rather small force of up to perhaps 20,000 fighters" that can't hold so much as a small town.

"We may well be losing," said David Adesnik in The Moderate Voice, but Stanley McChrystal apparently said nothing of the kind to The Wall Street Journal. The "professional journalists" at the Journal apparently let their bias and their own pessimism leak into their portrayal of McChrystal's interview. "This kind of thing really frustrates me," because it's precisely the type of shoddy reporting that made it so easy for people to shrug off "pessimistic reports out of Iraq."

Of course the Pentagon won't say flat out that the Taliban are winning, said Spencer Ackerman in The Washington Independent. But the Journal was on firm ground with its headline saying the insurgents are now winning. But recognizing that "isn’t the same thing as saying failure is inevitable or the war is lost or the whole thing is hopeless." Instead of complaining about a headline, the Obama administration should be developing clearer goals and ways to achieve them.

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