Petraeus’s imaginary Taliban

In Nikolai Gogol’s novel Dead Souls, his protagonist Chichikov seeks to purchase serfs who have died but are still registered against their owners as taxable assets. By relieving the owners of the tax burden, Chichikov obtains ownership of the dead serfs for nominal sums. He hopes thereby to inflate his apparent wealth and use it as collateral for an enormous loan which would provide the wealth and status he aspires to.

It appears that General David Petraeus, commander of the allied forces in Afghanistan, has been doing a variation on Chichikov. Last December, he reported that raids by Special Operations Forces had resulted in 4,100 Taliban captured and 2,000 killed in the previous six months.

The military has now admitted the 4,100 figure referred to the number of Afghans detained, at least 80 per cent of which were determined to be innocent civilians and released within two weeks. (One wonders where the hearts and minds of these 80 per cent innocent detainees have migrated to.) Apparently Petraeus was aware of this little discrepancy at the time.

Now the question arises, if the number reported captured was grossly exaggerated, how valid is the number reported killed? Are the 2,000 souls dead or just imaginary? Gogol would be amused.

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