The U.S. military and Afghan security forces face roughly 60,000 Taliban fighters, the Marine three-star general who has been nominated to lead U.S. Central Command told lawmakers on Tuesday.
Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. initially testified during his confirmation hearing that the Taliban have about 20,000 fighters, but he later said he had misspoke.
“I’d like to correct an earlier remark,” McKenzie told U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). “I noted the size of the Taliban in Afghanistan as being 20,000. I believe we’d actually say it’s around 60,000 vice that earlier number.”
Neither Hirono nor the other members of the Senate Armed Services Committee asked McKenzie if the Taliban is growing in strength.
Currently, about 14,000 U.S. troops are deployed to Afghanistan, along with roughly 8,165 troops from other countries, and approximately 312,328 Afghan troops and police, officials said.
The U.S. military command for operations in Afghanistan declined to say how many fighters it believes the Taliban currently have, said Army Maj. Bariki Mallya, a spokesman for Operation Resolute Support.
“Our estimates of the number of Taliban fighters have remained stable over time,” said fellow Resolute Support spokesman Army Col. David Butler. “We are less concerned about numbers and pay more attention to capability and trajectory. The Afghan security forces are working to stay on the offensive against the Taliban and set the conditions for a political settlement.”
But 17 years into the Afghanistan war, the Taliban is actually much larger than the U.S. military admits, said Bill Roggio, a senior fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank in Washington, D.C.
“The Taliban’s strength is likely to number well over 100,000 fighters,” Roggio wrote in a Nov. 26 article for the Long War Journal, which he edits. “US military and intelligence officials who track the Taliban agree. One official told LWJ that the Taliban likely has more than 70,000 fighters and tens of thousands of support personnel and supporters.
Another said that the Taliban “could not possibly do what it has done with merely 40,000 fighters; double or more realistically triple that number, and you are closer to the truth.”