WASHINGTON – During his intensive initial round of media interviews as commander in Afghanistan in August 2010, Gen. David Petraeus released figures to the news media that claimed spectacular success for raids by Special Operations Forces: in a 90-day period from May through July, SOF units had captured 1,355 rank and file Taliban, killed another 1,031, and killed or captured 365 middle or high-ranking Taliban.
The timing of Petraeus’s claim of Taliban fighters captured or killed, moreover, indicates that he knew that four out of five of those he was claiming as “captured Taliban rank and file” were not Taliban fighters at all. The claims of huge numbers of Taliban captured and killed continued through the rest of 2010. In December, Petraeus’s command said a total of 4,100 Taliban rank and file had been captured in the previous six months and 2,000 had been killed.
Those figures were critical to creating a new media narrative hailing the success of SOF operations as reversing what had been a losing U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.
But it turns out that more than 80 percent of those called captured Taliban fighters were released within days of having been picked up, because they were found to have been innocent civilians, according to official U.S. military data.