UPDATE - 5:41 p.m. - Jay Carney, Biden’s communications chief, emails this statement explaining where the vice president got the 70 percent number: “It is an estimate arrived at after numerous discussions with experts on Afghanistan and the region.”
UPDATE - Wednesday - 10 a.m. - No answer yet from Biden’s office, but I did talk this morning to Anthony Cordesman, the experienced foreign policy expert from the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Cordesman, who is helping the Obama administration with its review of policy in Afgahanistan and along the Afghan/Pakistan border, said he found Biden’s statement credible but also of possibly nebulous relevance.
“Pay is a powerful motive,” he said, adding that part-time fighters make up the bulk of the Taliban’s forces.
He said that there are significant parallels between the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and even Vietnam, when it comes to encountering a local-grown insurgency, and discerning the motivation behind it. While ideology can play a role, Cordesman said, money is also a big factor.
“If there’s no other economic way to make a living then pay is a powerful motivating factor,” he said. “Almost no insurgency has been motivated mainly by ideology.”
He said, however, that the number Biden used was probably obtained during a series of interrogations of captured fighters, or some attempt at research, and that it might not represent the actual number of Taliban who are willing to flip and support the U.S. forces.
As for his involvement in the Obama policy review, Cordesman said that as under the Bush administration when it reviewed its Iraq policy, the Obama White House has “brought in literally everybody in Washington.”
“Saying you’re a consultant to the State Department is almost like saying you ride the metro.”
Vice President Biden today made a fairly remarkable claim, saying that seven out of 10 Taliban fighters oppose the U.S. only because it’s a source of income.
Regardless of whether it’s true, the question is, where did the vice president get this statistic? We are checking.
In the meantime, you can read my story on Biden’s comments in Brussels here.
— Jon Ward, White House reporter, The Washington Times
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