Unbeatable: Social Resources, Military Adaptation, and the Afghan Taliban (May 2018)
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Following the 9/11 attacks, the Afghan Taliban were obliterated in a lightning war prosecuted by the United States. Their Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan ceased to exist as a physical entity, and the Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, fled to Pakistan. Within five years, however, the Taliban had regrouped and returned in large numbers to southern and eastern Afghanistan. By 2016, they had overrun at least a third of the country. How did the Taliban come back so successfully from utter defeat? This article draws on the literatures on civil wars and on military adaptation to identify and unpack two sets of factors that explain the relative success of insurgencies: the availability of social resources and the elements that drive and enable military adaptation. Using a large number of original interviews with Taliban leaders, cadre, and field commanders, I demonstrate how these factors combined to make the Taliban essentially unbeatable.