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

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Update for Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Navy SEAL killed in action near Irbil is identified as Charles Keating IV of Phoenix, Arizona. The linked article has a substantial biography. This from CNN has additional biographical details and also describes the attack:

ISIS used multiple vehicles, suicide car bombs and bulldozers to break through a checkpoint at the front line and drive 3 to 5 km (1.9 to 3.1 miles) to the Peshmerga base where SEALs are temporarily visiting and were located as advisers, a U.S. defense official told CNN. The gun battle was around the town of Telskof in northern Iraq, the official added. The U.S. responded with F-15s and drones that dropped more than 20 bombs, according to a U.S. official.

Three oil wells near Kirkuk are detonated by unknown attackers.

British government now says the Chilcott inquiry into that nation's role in the 2003 invasion will finally be published after the referendum on leaving the European Union in June. We shall see.

Meanwhile, Britain will send an unspecified number of additional troops to Iraq.

Attack on a federal police car in Baghdad kills 1, injures 2.

IS imposes a news blackout in Mosul as Iraqi forces continue their slow advance toward the city. Apparently they fear uprisings.

Iraqi forces also continue their slow advance toward the besieged city of Fallujah.

Muqtada al-Sadr has visited Iran, apparently to apologize after some of his supporters called for Iran to withdraw its troops from Iraq. (There is an obvious tension between al-Sadr's Iraqi nationalist pose and his ties to Iran.)

Afghanistan:  The New York Times reports on a bountiful opium harvest in Helmand. The Taliban have largely suspended their offensive in the province in order to supervise the harvest, which provides them with their main source of funding.

President Ghani vows to suppress drug trafficking. Okay, sure.

And, just a quick roundup of some of the latest violence. Four police killed, 2 injured in attack on security posts in Paktia.  Tribal elder killed in FaryabThree buses torched in BamyanSixty students at a girls' school poisoned in TakharAfghan intelligence foils a planned attack in Kabul by Haqqani networkFive militants killed in gun battle with ANA in Maidan Wardak. Nothing is said about government casualties. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Update for Tuesday, May 3, 2016

A U.S. service member is killed by enemy fire near Erbil. While CentCom has not identified the military branch of the deceased, given the location it is likely army special forces. Update: Sorry, Navy SEAL. The death result from direct fire after IS fighters got behind peshmerga front lines.

The Iraqi government is holding some 1,000 people in appalling conditions, without charges, in Anbar. They were essentially arrested because they were found in villages that had been held by IS. The Shiite-led Iraqi government continues to regard all Sunni Arabs in IS-held territory as suspects, making eventual reconciliation unlikely.

Iraqi forces relieve the siege of Haditha, after 18 months.

Human rights watch strongly criticizes the Iraqi government's closure of al Jazeera's Iraq bureau.

Security in the capital is extremely tight as Shiite pilgrims mark the martyrdom of Imam Moussa al-Kadhim. In spite of the tight security,  an attack on Monday killed 18 pilgrims.

In Afghanistan (I have to link to this because believe it or not it is the biggest news out of the country), a little boy who became famous after he was photographed wearing a homemade Lionel Messi jersey has been forced to leave the country with his family due to threats.

Low-level fighting continues around the country, I'll post tomorrow a representative sample of what is being reported.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Update for Saturday, April 30, 2016

Iraq's political crisis deepens as Sadrist protesters enter the Green Zone and storm the parliament chamber over failure to make political reforms. Many members of parliament fled, others are hiding in fear of the mob, although only fairly minor violence has been reported. All roads into the capital are closed. [I should note that although Muqtada al-Sadr leads a sectarian militia that was accused of atrocities against Sunnis during the civil war, he claims to be an Iraqi nationalist and that his current protest is a condemnation of the sectarianism of the Shiite-dominated government. What his long-term intentions may be is unclear.]

Suicide truck bomb attack on a market in Nahrawan, southeast Baghdad, kills 19 and injures 48. Although this attack caused many more casualties than the recent attack in Brussels, it will of course be largely ignored in the U.S. and Europe. [Some reports say the target was a nearby Shiite pilgrimage procession, but recent reports say the marketplace was the target.]

Update on the Kunduz hospital attack: Matthew Rosenberg in the NYT has details on the heavily redacted report released yesterday by the Pentagon. All I can say is, even if this is true, if this is the standard the U.S. military uses to decide whether to destroy a building full of human beings,  "intention" has nothing to do with it. This is a war crime. You don't blow people up if you don't know who they are.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Update for Friday, April 29, 2016

Perpetrators of the attack on the MSF hospital in Kunduz that killed 42 civilians will receive sternly worded letters. Yes, this means their military careers are over, but that's the worst of it. The Pentagon has apparently released a heavily redacted version of its internal investigation of the incident, which is 3,000 pages long. As soon as some close reading of it is available, I'll put it up here. But there doesn't seem to be any news beyond what has already been leaked. As The Guardian reports:

According to the then-commander of US forces in Afghanistan, John Campbell, elite US forces operating out of Kunduz called in an airstrike on a building seized by the Taliban miles from the hospital. But the AC-130 launched early, flew off course, dodging what the inquiry determined was a surface-to-air missile, and experienced a series of on-board communications and sensor system failures largely cutting it off from the ground during the pre-dawn mission. After a further sensor failure, crew mistakenly became convinced the hospital was the area it was ordered to attack through visually identifying the likeliest physical location. A higher headquarters, based hundreds of miles away at Bagram airfield, failed to recognize the coordinates the crew provided for strike permission as belonging to the hospital.
In other words, it is not a violation of military law to destroy a building and kill the people inside it without knowing for sure what it is and who the people are. Mistakes were made.

Update: I jumped to the conclusion that the 16 would likely see their military careers come to an end. Not so. Stripes is reporting that some of them will undergo retraining or counseling and may return to their former jobs including 3 air crew members.  Wow. Just wow.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Update for Thursday, April 28, 2016

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden makes an unannounced visit to Baghdad where he will hold "meetings with (the) Iraqi leadership focused on encouraging Iraqi national unity and continued momentum in the fight against ISIL," according to a statement. Exactly what Biden can contribute to resolution of Iraq's political crisis is not explicitly stated.

Meanwhile, Iraqi authorities have shut down al Jazeera's Baghdad bureau and forbidden its reporters from working in the country. The authorities cite only unspecified "violations of the official codes of conduct." [The company's Qatari sponsors are of course at odds with the Iranian sponsors of the Baghdad government. Just sayin'. --- C]

It seems IS is adapting to loss of oil revenue by opening fish farms and car dealerships. No telling how lucrative this will be.

In Afghanistana prosecutor is murdered in Heratan Australian aid worker is kidnapped in Jalalabad, and 3 police officers are killed in an "insider attack" in Laghman

The Afghan government continues to question the motives and actions of Pakistan regarding the Afghan Taliban as a Taliban delegation from its Qatar office visits Islamabad, shortly after Afghan president Ghani rejects the possibility of talks with some Taliban factions.

U.S. special envoy Richard Olson also accuses Pakistan of harboring "terrorist groups," presumably referring to Taliban and Haqqani network.

Afghanistan plans to complain to the UN Security Council about Pakistan.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Update for Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Taliban explode a truck bomb near the Kabul headquarters of the agency that protects high-ranking politicians, then enter the building and shoot occupants, killing 28 people and injuring more than 300. The most recent account puts the death toll at 30, and says there was a single gunman in addition to the suicide bomber.

Yet another poisoning attack on schoolgirls, this time in Takhar.

Russian ambassador to Afghanistan says the situation in the country is dire, that the Taliban threaten the existence of the Afghan state. However, Russia is still willing to accept Taliban participation in the government if they fulfill the conditions for national reconciliation.

However, the former Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan says there is no progress in the peace process. (I link to IRNA and Sputnik only when they represent viewpoints, not for factual information. -- C)

Pakistan foreign ministry claims it sincerely supports the Afghan peace process, but they are compelled to make this assertion because they have so far failed to deliver their clients, the Afghan Taliban, to the talks.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Update for Monday, April 18, 2016

Available details are scant, but a statement by the Kurdish regional government says U.S. and Kurdish special forces killed a senior IS official and two of his aides in a "helicopter raid." Reuters also reports that U.S. special forces captured an unidentified individual in a separate raid a day earlier.

Al Jazeera reports on serious ethnic conflict in Tuz Khurmatu, where Kurds and Turkmen live in separate ghettos amid constant threats of violence.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter is in Iraq to discuss escalating the U.S. role in the conflict.

PM Abadi calls for an emergency meeting of parliament to resolve the political crisis, as demonstrations led by Muqtada al-Sadr continue.

Update:  SecDef Carter now says specfically that the U.S. will send 217 additional troops to Iraq including special forces and Apache attack helicopters in what is still labeled a "train and advise" mission although in fact U.S. forces are already engaged in combat, and I don't think those helicopters are going to be advising anybody. "Carter said the Mosul effort will bring U.S. troops “closer to the action” by remaining close to Iraqi forces as they advance toward the city." The U.S. will also provide $415 million in financial assistance to the peshmerga. The publicly declared number of U.S. troops in Iraq will now be 4,100. (The true number is actually higher as the Pentagon does not count troops on short-term deployment.)