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

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Update for Tuesday, August 22, 2017


In a nationally televised address, the president says some words. He was purportedly announcing his new strategy for Afghanistan, but he neglected to say what it is:

After what he described as a lengthy and exhaustive deliberation culminating in a meeting with his war cabinet at Camp David, Mr. Trump said that he had been convinced that “a hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum for terrorists, including ISIS and Al Qaeda.” Speaking to a military audience at a base outside Washington, Mr. Trump declared, “In the end, we will win.”

But he did not define what victory would look like, nor did he explain how his path would be different from what he labeled the failed strategies of previous presidents.
He did, however, say that he would send more troops, although he did not say how many, nor did he say exactly what they would do. He also made an open-ended commitment for them to remain, since 16 years hasn't been long enough. He said nice things about India and not so nice things about Pakistan, although he did not say what he would do to change Pakistan's behavior.

In case you want to know what those U.S. troops are going to do in Afghanistan, possibly forever, UN ambassador Nikki Haley says you won't know, it's a secret.

She said the military operation there will be different than in the past 16 years. "What you’re not going to hear are the details" about U.S. tactics in the South Asian country, Haley said. "In the past we’ve had administrations that have given out everything we’re doing, when we’re doing it and how we’re doing it. You’re not going to hear that now."

It should be noted that not all Republicans are behind this. Sen. Rand Paul writes:

The Trump administration is increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan and, by doing so, keeping us involved even longer in a 16-year-old war that has long since gone past its time. The mission in Afghanistan has lost its purpose, and I think it is a terrible idea to send any more troops into that war. It’s time to come home now.
Conservative commentator Daniel Larison isn't too pleased either:

Unless the U.S. intends to make Afghanistan its permanent ward and wishes to be at war there forever, there is no compelling reason for a continued American military presence. Nothing in Trump’s speech provided such a reason. He embraced the sunk cost fallacy (“our nation must seek an honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made”), and ignored that throwing away more lives on a failed war is far worse than cutting our losses. He indulged the safe haven myth, according to which the U.S. must police countries on the other side of the earth without end for fear that they might give shelter to terrorists if we do not. These are all very familiar and cliched assumptions by now, and they are wrong. We can’t rationally weigh costs and benefits of a war that can’t end unless it somehow redeems the losses already suffered, and Afghanistan is never going to be made secure enough at an acceptable cost to eliminate the possibility that some part of its territory might play host to jihadists. Trump calls his approach “principled realism,” but as usual it is neither principled nor realist.




Monday, August 21, 2017

Update for Monday, August 21, 2017

Thousands of civilians flee as advance beings on Tal Afar. The UN reports that they are fleeing across the desert for hours and there is a severe lack of water, food and shelter in the blistering heat.

Troops are advancing on the city from the west, so far apparently rapidly.

Zaid al-Ali discusses the surprising evolution of Muqtada al-Sadr, who now presents himself -- and acts as -- an Iraqi nationalist who espouses independence from Tehran and reconciliation with the Sunni Arab monarchies. He has also publicly condemned corruption and called for Iraqi unity. Ali writes "It is impossible to tell whether Muqtada Sadr's about-turn in favour of moderation and political negotiation rather than confrontation and violence is the result of a genuine change of heart, or whether he is merely trying to survive in a challenging environment. Regardless, he has been consistent in his approach over the past few years and it would be safe to assume that he is unlikely to waver in the near future. "

We'll learn tonight what the new "strategy" will be in Afghanistan. While all indications are that it will include about a 50% increase in troop levels and an open-ended commitment, the speech will be delivered by a man who in the past has repeatedly called for withdrawal. Although he moderated that stance on the campaign trail, he did run as a non-interventionist. I hope you didn't believe him.





Friday, August 18, 2017

Update for Friday, August 18, 2017


U.S. soldier killed in Nangarhar on Wednesday is identified as Staff Sgt. Aaron Butler, 27, of Monticello Utah. He was a Special Forces soldier assigned to the Utah National Guard’s B Company, 1st Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group. He was killed, and 11 others injured, when trying to clear a building that was wired with explosives.

The National Security Council will meet with the president at Camp David, to come to a decision on the future strategy for Afghanistan. Military leaders want to increase the U.S. troop commitment, but it appears that some in the White House oppose them.

Iraq

Airstrike by unidentified forces kills 2 civilians and injures another in a village in Anbar.

Announcement from Operation Inherent Resolve on recent air strike activity.  They claim to have destroyed only military targets. Activity in Iraq and Syria is occurring at the pace of about 15-20 sorties per day.

Kurdistan officials are holding fast to a Sept. 25 date for the independence referendum, although they could conceivably delay if Baghdad guarantees agreement to a later date.

BBC reports on current conditions in Mosul. It's still too dangerous for many to return to west Mosul due to booby traps and unexploded ordinance. Neighbors no longer trust each other.

The Pentagon hopes to declassify the location of known unexploded ordinance in Mosul to aid in the recovery effort.

PM Abadi concedes that Iraqi forces committed atrocities in Mosul and promises prosecution.








Thursday, August 17, 2017

Update for Thursday, August 17, 2017

One U.S. soldier is killed in action, several wounded in a battle in Achin, Nangarhar. Additional information from Major General Jefferson Burton, commander of the Utah Army and Air National Guard is that the number of soldiers injured is 11 and that all were members of the Utah National Guard, of whom three are not residents of that state. We are awaiting information on the severity of the injuries but the statement implies that all 11 are being transported to Germany.

Afghan intelligence says it has arrested a Pakistani agent of the Inters Services Intelligence who was planning an attack on a prison. He is said to be involved with the Taliban and the Haqqani Network. If this is true it calls into further question the $1 billion a year the U.S. still gives in civilian and military aid to Pakistan. Here's a bit more from TOLO.

Taliban attacks in Zabul kill 11 police.




Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Update for Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Two U.S. soldiers are killed in an accidental explosion of ordinance while firing at an IS position in northern Iraq. (Exact location is not disclosed.) Sgt. Roshain E. Brooks, 30, and Spc. Allen L. Stigler Jr., 22, were assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. Five other soldiers injured in the incident are expected to survive.

Thousands of civilians flee as airstrikes ramp up on IS positions in Tal Afar  in preparation for an assault on the town. Those still trapped are facing severe shortages of food and water.

Shiite militias backed by Iran will take part in the assault.

Afghanistan

Three employees of Catholic Relief Services are murdered in Ghor.

Attack on a military convoy in Kunduz kills 4 Afghan soldiers  according to one source, kills one according to another.

Afghan army source claims Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid is critically injured in operation in Faryab.








Friday, August 11, 2017

Update for Friday, August 11, 2017

U.S. air strike said to kill 11 civilians in Nangarhar. "“On Thursday afternoon, the American forces bombarded a civilian private vehicle... when they were travelling inside the district,” he told AFP. “Unfortunately, in the airstrike we have casualties. Eleven people were killed and one wounded. All the victims, which included women and children, were civilians and they were from one family. “The victims were beyond recognition, and they were placed inside the sacks and were buried late last night,” he added." Afghan MoD claims the dead were all militants.

Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission confirms that attack on Mirza Olang was a joint Taliban-IS operation. (Note that there is probably no real operational connection between Afghan militants who use the IS brand and the group in Iraq and Syria. As the Reuters report says, "But in a region where different bands of fighters often switch between different militant groups, it can be difficult to establish allegiances with any certainty.")

Army says it has launched an operation to retake the village.

Al Jazeera reports on the 2 million widows left by the Afghan war, who are often reduced to beggary.

John McCain wants to escalate the U.S. war in Afghanistan. Of course he never met a war he didn't like.






Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Update for Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Militia backed by Iran on the Iraq-Syria border blames U.S. for an attack that killed 36 of its fighters, including some Iranian Revolutionary Guards. U.S. denies responsibility, and IS claims responsibility. Iraqi PM Abadi also says that preliminary investigation indicates IS was responsible.

Exodus of physicians and other highly educated professionals from Iraq causes shortage, threatens the country's future.

An Iraqi Civil Defense commander says some 3,000 corpses remain buried in rubble in Mosul.

Next target appears to be Tal Afar as coalition air strikes soften up defenses and a French artillery battalion prepares to advance on the city.

An Iraqi armored division also reaches the town.

In yet another indication of ethnic tensions, Kurdistan president Barzani claims most of the Turkmen residents of Tal Afar are loyal to IS. The participation of Iranian-backed Shia militia in the fight for Tal Afar remains controversial. Barzani also wishes for Iraqi government forces, rather than the militia, to exclusively conduct the operation.

Iraq sentences 27 to death for the Speicher massacre in which IS killed as many as 1,700 captured Iraqi soldiers.

One hundred additional U.S. Marines are deployed to Afghanistan to bolster forces in Helmand.

Taliban capture a village in Sar-e-Pul. Details of the attack are unclear and disputed, with some officials claiming that the the Taliban and IS cooperated in the assault. Fifty civilians are said to have been massacred in the assault .Some civilian prisoners who have been released seem to corroborate this. Locals criticize the slow response by the security forces.

If indeed the Taliban and IS are cooperating it would appear even stranger that Iran is supporting the Taliban. Iran has strongly condemned the attack in Sar-e-Pul, and separately denies any link to the Taliban or armed groups in Afghanistan.

I can't even . . .  Trump administration considers a plan to contract out the war in Afghanistan to mercenaries. The idea is being pushed by Blackwater founder Erik Prince, who compares it to Britains colonization of India through the British East India Company.

Jake Johnson at Common Dreams comments on this idea.

In an op-ed for USA Today published Monday, Prince elaborated on his war plan, which Manson notes would be very similar to his approach in Iraq, where he had significant influence on U.S. policy.
Prince, the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, argues that Trump should "restructure" the war—a process he suggests would resemble "bankruptcy reorganization"—by "aligning U.S. efforts under a presidential envoy," which in a previous op-ed he called a "viceroy."
Critics have warned that while Prince's plan may save money, it will potentially open the door to deadly abuses by unaccountable forces, like those seen in Iraq.
"If contractors are replacing soldiers and they are on the frontline they could kill or be killed, there could be kidnaps or insider attacks—what happens if they commit a crime or bodies have to be sent back; there would be a large number of legal complications," one official told the Financial Times.
Ronald Neumann, who served as the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007, echoed these concerns in an interview with the Navy Times.
"There's a bad record of contractors and human rights abuses," Neumann said. "There's no legal structure to govern this."