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, February 10, 2016

Update for Wednesday, February 10, 2016

[Sorry for not posting for a while, been kinda busy. -- C]

Afghan police officer opens fire on NATO forces near the entrance to the Ministry of Commerce, and is killed by return fire.

U.S Director of National Intelligence James Clapper warns that Afghanistan is at risk of "political breakdown." [It is not clear exactly what he means, as this would seem to be a question of degree only. -- C]

President Ashraf Ghani's Special Representative on Reform and Good Governance, Ahmad Ziad Massoud, says the government has no clear plan to defeat militants. I'm not sure what his actual relationship with the president is, as this would be an odd speech for a presidential surrogate.

The U.S. is sending hundreds of troops to Helmand Province to bolster beleaguered government forces. "Security forces in the southern province have been plagued by high desertion and casualty rates, corruption, and leadership problems, and the army corps recently saw more than 90 general officers replaced in a major shakeup." While U.S. forces are ostensibly only in an advisory role, special forces have increasingly been drawn into close combat support.

An international group says Afghanistan is one of the world's three most dangerous countries for journalists, along with Iraq and Mexico. (I assume they left out Syria because there aren't any journalists there to speak of. -- C)

Insurgents said to be gaining ground in Uruzgan, in areas formerly secured by Australian troops.

Director of Public Health in Khost is injured in a failed kidnapping attempt.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Update for Tuesday, February 2, 2016

[As you can see, I have changed the title of the blog once again, now that the U.S. is once again engaged in combat in Iraq.]

I have no idea why they waited so long, but a U.S. drone strike has finally destroyed the IS "Voice of the Caliphate" radio station in Nangarhar. Reportedly, 21 people were killed.

Taliban suicide bombing in Kabul on Monday kills 20 police, injures 29 people. The bomber blew himself up while standing in a line to enter a police facility.

Gen. Campbell will testify before the House Armed Services Committee today, where Republican members of congress are expected to criticize the administration's stated plan to reduce U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan.

Afghan army said to launch an operation in Baghlan to restore power to Kabul after Taliban destroyed transmission lines from Uzbekistan.

In a puzzling incident, the secretary to the governor of Kunduz is killed in a gun battle with police.

In Iraqbombings continue to occur in Baghdad with regularity, with 6 killed and two dozen injured in various incidents today.

As Iraqi forces and Shiite militias beseige Fallujah, tens of thousands of trapped civilians are running short of food and medicine. Residents have told Reuters by telephone that people have died of starvation.

Sohaib al-Rawi, the governor of Anbar province where Falluja is located, appealed to the coalition to air-drop humanitarian supplies to the trapped civilians. He said this was the only way to deliver aid after Islamic State mined the entrances to the city and stopped people leaving. "No force can enter and secure (the delivery) ... There is no option but for airplanes to transport aid," he said in an interview with al-Hadath TV late on Monday, adding the situation was deteriorating by the day.

With their salaries unpaid for months, peshmerga fighters are starting to desert.

A meeting convenes in Rome of members of the anti-IS coalitionU.S. Secretary of State John Kerry calls for more financial support for the effort.

King Abdullah says Jordan is at the breaking point over the refugee crisis.

Iraq has awarded a contract to an Italian firm to repair the Mosul dam. This was expected. However, it appears the deal still has not been formally signed and it is not clear when work will begin. 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Update for Sunday, January 31, 2016

Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction reports that government controls only 72% of territory. Afghan government spokespersons dispute the analysis, but concede they have faced challenges with the withdrawal of NATO forces from combat.

U.S. SecDef Ashton Carter expects a difficult year and for U.S. forces to remain for a long time, as if they haven't already.

Abdullah is in India where he will meet with PM Modi and is expected to ask for more military assistance.

Journalist killed in Nangarhar may have been a victim of self-styled IS. Remember that this is really a breakaway faction of the Taliban. Whether they have operational links with the organization based in Raqqa, Syria is unclear.

Andrew Bacevich, in The Nation, discusses the endless cycle of failure that has become the U.S. military posture. It's all about vested interests, not finding a way to act effectively in the world.

Iraq has less than half of the $1.65 billion is says it needs for humanitarian relief, and the UN makes an emergency appeal for $861 million to fill the gap.

Human Rights Watch accuses Shiite militias of atrocities in Muqdadiya following bombings claimed by IS.

A member of Iraq's Commission of Integrity accuses all politicians, including himself, of corruption. Well, at lest he's honest about his dishonesty.

Balad Air Base, supposedly handed back to Iraq after the U.S. declared the war over, is once again a major U.S. base. The Air Force has given a contract worth $271 million to Sallyport Global Holdings for security and support services at Balad over the next year.

Oh yeah, the Mosul Dam. The whole question of winning back control of Mosul would become moot if the city ceases to exist.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Update for Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Taliban blow up electric power pylons, cutting the supply of electricity from Uzbekistan to Kabul. More than 60% of Kabul's electricity is imported, so large areas of the capital are blacked out. It will take weeks to restore power. Electricity is essential for heat and cooking. The sabotage occurred in Baghlan province where fighting is underway.

WaPo reports that U.S. military commanders expect U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan for decades. You read that right.

And, in a major development, Bloomberg reports that the Kurdistan Regional Government will hold a referendum on independence. They say this doesn't mean secession if necessarily going to happen, but that the people will decide. However, the result is a foregone conclusion. This suggests that Ankara continues to be tolerant of Kurdish independence despite the resumption of hostilities with the PKK, because the landlocked country cannot function without access to world commerce through Turkey. While there is nothing Baghdad can do to prevent secession, it remains to be seen whether Kurdistan will gain widespread recognition from the world community. This could be a dangerous move, especially as Kurdistan's economy is in shambles due to low oil prices, the cost of war with IS, and the million or so refugees on its soil. Kurdistan will need substantial international assistance. It is unclear what input they have received from the U.S. on this move; Kurdistan is the most reliable partner of the U.S. in the fight against IS.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Update for Monday, January 25, 2016

Just a couple of items I want to draw attention to today.

First, in Iraq, Gen. Dunford discusses the posture of U.S. troops in the planned assault on Mosul. It appears the U.S. is considering embedding troops with the operational brigades, which seems to be a euphemism for engaging in ground combat, whether proactively or defensively. We've heard vague noises about this before. The assault will not being for some months as Iraqi and Kurdish forces,with U.S. air support, work to isolate Mosul from the Islamic State in Syria.

The Czech Republic will donate rifles and ammuntion to the Peshmerga. However, their real need is for heavy weapons.

Charles Glass, in Harper's, has an in-depth look at the war from the perspective of the Peshmerga, and also visits the southern front's Shiite militias, Iraqi national army, and Sunni tribal units. The fragmentation and hostility within the opponents of IS is a real obstacle to defeating it.

Jason Lyle, in Vox, discusses the situation in Afghanistan. He sees the Taliban making major gains against the corrupt and ineffectual Afghan government, and does not believe they can be driven to really participate in peace talks without much more vigorous U.S. involvement in the fighting, and real cooperation from Pakistan. (The latter seems unlikely, the former would seem to depend on the U.S. political scene.)

Friday, January 22, 2016

Update for Friday, January 22, 2016

Big Muddy: SecDef Ashton Carter says U.S. will put "boots on the ground" in Iraq. Yes, we're tired of hearing that cliche and yes, of course there are already U.S. troops in Iraq. But what he means is that they will have a combat role -- which they do already but apparently this means it will expand.

Not sure what to make of this. PM Abadi isn't sure the three missing Americans were actually abducted.

U.S. will sell $2 billion worth of advanced weapons to Iraq. (Hopefully IS won't capture them.)

Masoud Barzani says he believes Kurdish independence is imminent.

U.S. will admit civilian casualties from air strikes against IS, specifically a total of 21. As The Independent notes, "It would be all but impossible to confirm or contradict the figures cited by the Pentagon. It is also unclear how they confirmed whether or not civilians were killed in their strikes."

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Update for Thursday, January 21, 2016

Taliban suicide attack on a bus carrying employees of a TV production company associated with Tolo kills 7. As you may recall, the Taliban had threatened Tolo over its coverage of their occupation of Kunduz. As of 12:37 ET, Tolo's web sites appear to be down -- which may just be a coincidence. I'll keep trying. Tolo is back up.

Denunciation of the attack is widespread.

Pakistan claims attack on Bacha Khan university that killed 20 was directed from Afghanistan where Pakistani Taliban have taken refuge, but Afghan officials deny it.

U.S. forces are authorized to target IS in Nangarhar. If you thought they didn't already have such authority, the explanation is that U.S. forces are only authorized to attack Taliban in defense of themselves or Afghan forces. "IS" in Afghanistan is really a breakaway Taliban faction. This gives U.S. forces the authority to attack them because of their affiliation, even if there is no imminent threat.

John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, testifies before a Senate committee on the millions of wasted U.S. dollars.