KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban believe they will return to power after the U.S.-led coalition ends its combat role in Afghanistan in 2014, NATO officials said Wednesday, based on a classified report on the interrogation of thousands of insurgent prisoners.
The captured Taliban fighters also believed they were receiving support from Pakistan and that they were doing well on the battlefield, the officials said.
But the officials cautioned that the report, compiled shortly after the capture of Taliban fighters, was a summary of those interrogations and not based on an intelligence analysis.
"Obviously they are telling us what their idea is about the goings on of their campaign," said Brig. Gen. Carsten Jacobson, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF. "It is what they either do believe or what they want us to believe."
He said most of the captured fighters think that "they are still having a successful role" on the ground but that perception was wrong and NATO was not planning to change its strategy because of it in any way.
"The insurgency is clearly on the back foot. We have been pressurizing them over the summer, we have taken vast amounts of land out of their hands and we have detained a high number" of militants, Jacobson said.
Over the past two years the militants have taken a pounding in their southern heartland, and foreign troops have escalated a campaign against them in eastern Afghanistan. Hundreds of their low- and mid-level Taliban commanders have also been picked up in night raids carried out by Afghan and coalition forces.
But their leaders and many of their fighters are located in safe havens just across the border in Pakistan's lawless tribal belt. The U.S. and its allies have asked Pakistan to crack down on the safe haves in those areas, but relations between the two countries' militaries have reached rock bottom following a NATO cross-border attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last November.
"There is an expression in the report that they are basing themselves on the support from Pakistan," Jacobson said, but added that the report "is a compilation of investigations, or interrogations straight after detainement, so we can not really put that high a value on what they are saying. They are talking (about) their perception of the campaign, what they believe about how the campaign is going, and what they want us to believe about how their campaign is going."
He added that "we have always said that Pakistan has to cooperate with Afghanistan and the international coalition" in the war against terrorism. He said "safe havens, operations across the border have been a challenge over the last weeks and months" and that it was in everyone's interest to work together.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar told reporters in Kabul, where she was on a one-day visit, that the claims were not new and could be disregarded.
"This is old wine in an even older bottle. I don't think these claims are new. These claims have been made for many, many years," she said.
Just-retired Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen last year called the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani insurgent network, based in safe havens across the border in Pakistan, a "veritable arm" of the Pakistani intelligence agency. Mullen also alleged that Pakistani intelligence supported militants who last September mounted a 20-hour rocket attack on the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul
In Brussels, a NATO official said the prisoners also claimed that the Taliban retain wide public support throughout Afghanistan, particularly in the countryside.
The official, however, also cautioned that the document was not based on any intelligence analysis of the situation on the ground, but is a summary of thousands of interrogation reports.
"It's a very lopsided perspective because some of them are motivated to portray the picture in their favor," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with NATO regulations.
Lekic reported from Brussels.