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Outside, the emergency rescue team of the Civil Defence Force (CDF) scoured through the rubble. With little training and limited equipment from Britain, America and elsewhere, theirs is a task as grim as it is dangerous. When there is an attack on residential areas, they race in to search for survivors and - as often as not - to recover bodies. In the last year, eight crew members have been killed as they brave bombs and bullets to rescue others.

What does "as often as not" mean here?

I also would appreciate your help, determining what the word "theirs" refers to.

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According to Collins Dictionary, as often as not means “quite frequently”.

Theirs is a pronoun, the possessive form of they and in your context means “their task”.

You may say the task is theirs or as it is written on text theirs is a task.

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As often as not, if taken literally, means "at least half of the time": in circumstances where something could happen, it does happen as often as it does not happen.

As an idiom, it is generally used to refer to something that happens frequently or regularly, even if it does not actually happen half or more of the time.

The initial subject of the paragraph is "The Emergency Rescue Team"; theirs refers directly back to this team (there is no other subject of a primary phrase between "emergency rescue team" and "theirs").

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  • Taken literally, it could be argued as often as not means "exactly half of the time". – Hugo Aug 23 '16 at 6:35

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