The bottom line is clear: Our vital interests in Afghanistan are limited and military victory is not the key to achieving them. On the contrary, waging a lengthy counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan may well do more to aid Taliban recruiting than to dismantle the group, help spread conflict further into Pakistan, unify radical groups that might otherwise be quarreling amongst themselves, threaten the long-term health of the U.S. economy, and prevent the U.S. government from turning its full attention to other pressing problems. -- Afghanistan Study Group

Monday, April 23, 2018

Update for Monday, April 23, 2018

U.S. begins construction of new consulate in Iraqi Kurdistan, said to be one of the largest in the world. (Take a look at the mock ups, it's a spectacular campus with multiple large buildings. It is not entirely clear what the thinking is behind this, as the population of Iraqi Kurdistan is less than 6 million and it's GDP is less than $24 billion. In other words it's a pretty small country.)

Iraq has been bombing IS targets in Syria, and now claims to have killed the IS second in command. (That's not a good job to have, it seems.) This is presumably done with the approval of the Assad regime, despite claims that IS has already been defeated.

IS threatens to attack polling stations during up-coming Iraqi national elections.

French president Macron does not want U.S. to remove its troops from Syria.

In Afghanistan, a suicide bomb attack on a voter registration center in Kabul killed 57 people yesterday. The attack was claimed by IS.

Considerable violence all around the country as an air strike in Kunduz is said to kill 6 Taliban; IS beheads three medical workers in Nangarhar; nine soldiers and seven police killed in separate attacks in Badghis; Taliban murder two civilians in Urozgan;   Taliban abduct four bus passengers in Ghor; and more.

Former president Karzai blames U.S. policies for deteriorating security in Afghanistan:

“After 2005 begin to saw bombs coming, suicide bombers coming, and insecurity coming, and also we learned that the U.S. was doing things that we found strange and it were shocking to us, that why they are barging to Afghan homes at the time, why they are taking prisons into Bagram and other American bases, why they are bombing Afghan villages,” he said.  
“I was in talk with the U.S. in closed doors for years to stop its bad believers and to recognize that extremism and terrorism are not in Afghanistan but beyond our borders in Pakistan,” he added.
Referring to the recent deadly suicide bombing in the capital Kabul that left dozens of people killed, Karzai said that with the presence of the U.S., it was questionable that Daesh has taken responsibility for the attack.
“How come ISIS (Daesh) is there, this is exactly the point we are making, ISIS did not emerge during the Taliban government, ISIS did not emerge during my government when I was in a massive confrontation with the US. ISIS emerged in the past four years and during the maximum presence of the US military and intelligence in Afghanistan,” said Karzai.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Special update for Saturday, April 14, 2018

I have often argued that the massive distinction conventional morality wants to make between chemical weapons and explosives is ridiculous. I personally don't care if you gas me or blow me to pieces, and I can't imagine why you would care either. Malak Chabkoun, writing for Al Jazeera, puts it in perspective. I recommend reading the whole thing, because she makes several cogent points. Here's are some excerpts:

It is positively ridiculous to hear grown men and women pontificating on the horror of gas attacks against Syrian civilians without the mere mention of the multitude of other ways Syrians are being killed by the regime, Russia and Iran. . . .

To be fair, the Obama administration is primarily responsible for this rhetoric of limiting the Syria red line to chemical weapons (and even then, not enforcing it), as well as for handing the Syrian "file" over to Russia and Iran. . . .

US-led airstrikes on so-called ISIL targets, which began in 2014 and number over 15,000 and counting, have killed thousands of Syrian civilians, including children, as well as contributed to the decimation of Syrian cities such as al-Raqqa and Deir el-Zor. . . .
The U.S. administration obviously doesn't care about the Syrian people. It doesn't accept refugees from that country and has recently suspended humanitarian aid. These missile strikes, on three military targets, were carefully calibrated to avoid any Russian interests in the country and will have no effect on Assad's military capacity. This is all for show; meanwhile the suffering of the Syrian people continues, and they get no succor from the U.S. or Europeans.

Alliance News is a British financial news service, which may seem a bit off target but they offer a good analysis. For the record, I do not favor increased U.S. or European military involvement in Syria, and hardly anyone does, including most of the more hawkish elements in the foreign policy community. But people who are thoughtful about the situation understand that the public discourse is based on the wrong distinctions. Excerpt:

"Anything short of decisive diplomatic follow-up will render this assault the most meaningless of gestures," said Frederic Hof, a former US diplomatic envoy to Syria who has consistently taken a hard line on the Syrian government. "If Assad remains free to indulge in mass homicide, Washington will again be inadvertently drawing a red line on sarin while flashing a green light for everything else," Hof said. While the use of chemical weapons is in clear defiance of international law, chlorine bombs and even nerve agents like sarin are not the main killers in Syria. Conventional warfare, including airstrikes and intense shelling, kill far more people. Hundreds of thousands have died in Syria's civil war, ongoing since 2011, most of them from bombs and bullets.
Speaking for myself, the gravest concern for Americans should be that the warmaking power, which the constitution vests solely in congress, has been arrogated by the presidency. This action was clearly unconstitutional, as it cannot by any stretch be based in the Authorization to Use Military Force which justifies the endless war in Afghanistan and military action against IS; nor is it in any way construable as self defense. It is also in clear violation of international law. However much we may condemn the Assad regime and its many atrocities, the only way forward is to respect the law and work toward a functional international order. This is not that way.


Monday, April 9, 2018

Update for Monday, April 9, 2018

U.S. air strike kills an IS leader in Faryab province. This story is a window into the complex and murky nature of the various insurgencies in Afghanistan. Qari Hikmatullah was originally from Uzbekistan and served for many years as a Taliban commander before breaking away and adopting the IS brand name for his faction. He has since survived assassination attempts by Taliban. His organization includes Uzbekis and mostly controls territory with a majority of ethnic Uzbeks. We must keep in mind that the Afghan conflict is not binary, between the Taliban and the Kabul government. It is fueled by ethnic and sectarian fault lines, competition for opium profits and other economic resources, and personal warlordism. Much of the territory which is ostensibly government controlled really consists of fiefdoms of leaders who have chosen to align with the government; while a patchwork of insurgent factions control territory with varying degrees of coordination and central leadership. The factions with the IS label have little or nothing to do with the organization in Syria and Iraq.

Canada contributes $26 million to a "women's police town" in Kabul. Apparently female officers are to be housed in a separate complex. (The story doesn't say so, but one suspects that security is a key concern here.)

U.S. will give Afghanistan Chinook helicopters.

Women in Ghor say they are excluded from public life, with only 27 women among 9,000 government employees.

Abdullah reacts to a report on exploitation of children in Afghanistan. Child labor is commonplace, and there are even child soldiers.


Monday, April 2, 2018

Update for Monday, April 2, 2018

U.S. soldier killed in Syria last week was Delta Force member, Master Sgt. Jonathan J. Dunbar. Dunbar and a British soldier also killed in the incident were on a mission to capture or kill an IS leader. There are currently about 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria. For the most part, the public has been told that they are there to train and advise local forces, but now we know that there are also special forces engaged in combat operations.

Trump freezes $200 million in funds intended for Syrian recovery. This money was to be used to restore services in areas freed from IS control. 

[T]he hold on funding, coupled with Trump's comments this week [about withdrawing from Syria shortly], have raised alarm bells at the State Department that the US could leave precipitously. The department and Pentagon were planning for a gradual shift from a military-led campaign to a diplomatic mission involving rebuilding of areas liberated from ISIS to prevent their return.
Officials already point to a resurgence of ISIS in some areas after Kurdish fighters had to divert their attention to fight Turkish forces conducting operations in northern Syria.
"The hold on this money only compounds the problem," one senior State Department official said. "It's pretty depressing."

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon of the Council on Foreign Relations  discusses the complexities of the U.S. role in Syria. With the fight to wrest territory from IS largely over, the U.S. finds its Kurdish allies now in conflict with Turkey, and fearing abandonment by the U.S. But pulling out of Syria will be seen as emboldening Russia and Iran.

NY Times reporter in Iraq finds travel severely hindered by multiple checkpoints established by numerous armed groups.

Rebecca Gordon for TomDispatch reviews U.S. war crimes in Iraq  and the current ascendancy of the criminals.

In Afghanistan, there are reports of numerous civilians killed in an airstrike in Kunduz. The attack targeted a religious school where Taliban commanders were present for a graduation ceremony.

Taliban are using night vision goggles and other high tech equipment either captured, or sold to them by Afghan government forces.

Another poisoning of schoolgirls in Helmand.










Wednesday, March 28, 2018

History lesson for Wednesday, March 28, 2018

I commend to your attention this highly readable summary of some of the key constituents of the catastrophe the U.S. inflicted on Iraq and the entire Middle East, by Fred Kaplan in Slate.

The decision to ban all members of the Baath party from government positions, and to disband the Iraqi army, left the country with no government, no army, and hundreds of thousands of unemployed men with guns. We all know what happened next.

What we did not know at the time was that the National Security Council principals had voted unanimously to vet government officials but leave most of them in place; and to disband Saddam's Republican Guard but otherwise to keep the army intact. Where did this order come from? Apparently it surprised the ostensible president of the United States at that time, who is today a beloved avuncular amateur painter and affable buffoon.

Kaplan writes:


Why didn’t Bush rescind Bremer’s orders after reading about them in the newspaper? This is another mystery. When journalist Robert Draper posed the question, Bush replied, “The policy had been to keep the [Iraqi] army intact; didn’t happen.” Draper asked how he reacted to Bremer’s reversal. Bush replied, “Yeah, I can’t remember. I’m sure I said, ‘This is the policy, what happened?’ ”
This is the president of the United States, mind you. Kaplan concludes that Richard B. Cheney made the decision, and that Cheney had been duped by  Ahmad Chalabi,  an Iraqi exile who had been whispering in Cheney's ear urging the invasion, and who supplied fake intelligence sources about weapons of mass destruction. Cheney apparently actually believed that Chalabi could step in and form a government, and that he had a functioning militia that could be the core of a new Iraqi army. Neither was true. It was true, however, that Chalabi was an Iranian agent.

So that's what happened. Kaplan concludes:

No one has been held accountable, no one has had to pay a price, except for the 100,000 or so Americans and Iraqis who died—and the untold numbers maimed or otherwise damaged—in the struggle to clean up the mess or simply got trapped in the crossfire.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Update for Monday, March 19, 2018

Today is the 15th anniversary of the start of the illegal war of aggression against Iraq. Meteor Blades at Daily Kos offers an observance.

Incredibly, 43% of Americans polled think the invasion was justified.

Medea Benjamin and Nicholas Davies review death toll for Truthout.

Turkish troops enter Kurdistan in pursuit of PKK.

Campbell McDiarmid reviews the state of Iraq today. Excerpt:

With dead relatives, lost opportunities and a feeling of insecurity, many Iraqis remain less interested in elections and democracy than taking care of their loved ones. "I don't want to be wealthy; I want to have a decent life, I want to be safe, I want my family to be safe," said Zaki, who spent two years in American-run prisons on spurious accusations of supporting the rebellion. The ongoing violence even makes many Iraqis nostalgic for the relative stability under the former strongman.






Sunday, March 18, 2018

Update for Sunday, March 18, 2018

Pentagon identifies the 7 airmen who died in a helicopter crash on Thursday near Al Qa'im in western Iraq. The crash is not believed to be the result of hostile action. (Some witness reports say the helicopter struck power lines.)

Iraqi Parliament speaker Salim al-Jabouri says the Baghdad government supports Turkey's military action against the PKK.

However, KDP head Arafat Karam says that the Kurdish Regional Government would have to approve any such action on its territory, and has not yet done so. (Note, however, that the KRG has repudiated the PKK and has not protested Turkish air strikes against it on its territory in the past.)

A Kurdish MP opposes any Turkish military operations in Iraq  and denounces Turkish president Erdogan.

Ethnic divisions in Tuz Khurmatu are a microcosm of the problems facing Iraq. Excerpt:

In years past, walls went up to protect against car bombs. Then Shiite Turkmens erected walls to guard against Islamic State after its resurgence in 2014. Now even after the jihadis have been driven out of the city, the walls still stand, and Tuz Khurmatu remains a flash point with an unstable melange of sects and ethnicities. Once united to fight Islamic State, Kurds, Turkmens and Arabs resumed viewing each other with hostility and suspicion.
"Without a doubt, Tuz Khurmatu is a case study for Iraq 2.0. It's the most violent, most divided place in the country. You have so many layers of conflict," said Michael Knights, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Residents of eastern Baghdad protest deteriorating government services.

A member of Parliament says the country no longer needs a U.S. military presence and accuses the U.S. of "plotting" to expand its military bases.

IS booby traps continue to kill and injure civilians in Fallujah.