The Taliban have long-range plans, too. While their attempts to actually hold seized provincial capitals have failed â often because of massive intervention by American air power, aided by special operations troops â many provincial centers remain little more than islands, surrounded by hostile countryside.
Taliban fighters can create roadblocks and ambushes in almost any part of the country, disrupting commerce and exacting an ever-growing human toll. Most of the 3,000 civilians killed annually are victims of the insurgents. And with Taliban control of most of Helmand Province, where 80 percent of Afghanistanâs opium is produced, Taliban coffers are full, both from taxing the drug and trafficking in it.
The insurgents, too, suffer high casualties; one senior American military official put their losses at 10,000 a year. Only five years ago, American military intelligence officials put the Talibanâs entire strength at 20,000 men, yet they seem to have no trouble replenishing their numbers.
Ask the Taliban about that, and they have a ready answer.
Hajji Naqibullah, an insurgent commander from Sangin District, cited Hajji Amanullah, who had 13 members of his family killed in battle, all replaced by his nephews. And Mullah Abdul Salam had four sons killed but his fifth volunteered, and is now a local commander.
Hajji Naqibullah said three of his own cousins were killed during the fight in Sangin, where more American and British soldiers died than anywhere else in Afghanistan, and which fell to the insurgents in March after a yearlong campaign. The three were brothers, and their widowed mother had one son left, who joined after they died. âHis mother is now living with widows and orphans,â Hajji Naqibullah said.
Somewhere in Kandahar Province Monday morning, the Talibanâs military commander for the south, a member of the groupâs ruling Quetta Shura, tuned in at 5:30 a.m. to the BBCâs Pashto service to hear a translation of Mr. Trumpâs speech. Like many Taliban leaders, he said, he had hoped to hear Mr. Trump make good on early vows to quit Afghanistan.
âThis is not good for the people of Afghanistan,â said the commander, who did not want his name or even precise location identified for security reasons.
âHe should realize Afghanistan is not like it was during the Bush and Obama administrations,â he said. âAnd we are not going to surrender, we are not going to give up, weâll fight this war for another 16 years.â