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

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Update for Sunday, April 25, 2015

Friend Chet directs our attention to a report of 3 U.S. soldiers seriously injured by an explosion in spite of their being in an MRAP:

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, April 22, 2015 -- A team of airmen assigned to the 455th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron here traveled to Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan,Sunday to provide in-flight medical care to three servicemembers.
The U.S. Army soldiers sustained multiple injuries after their mine resistant ambush protected vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device. . . .

Because the three service members Sunday experienced brain injuries, "there's a potential of swelling which could cause life-threatening medical emergencies. So our primary responsibility was to monitor their neuro status in relation to the stress of the flight, as well as monitor their pain and give them scheduled medications."
CenCom doesn't usually report non-fatal injuries. The point of this article was to brag about the Air Force medical service. But this reminds us that yes, Afghanistan is still dangerous for U.S. forces and this is undoubtedly not the only significant wounding event this year.

Of course it's a lot worse for Afghans. Today a mortar attack hit a house and killed 5 members of a family and wounded 11 in Laghman province. Ten people were kidnapped on the Kabul-Jalalabad highway by persons unknown. An explosion in Kandahar kills 2 people.

And so, with growing insecurity, MPs are calling for revocation of the bilateral security agreement:

Following unprecedented rise in insecurity countrywide, particularly in northern provinces, a number of lawmakers on Saturday urged the government to revoke the bilateral security agreement (BSA) with the United States, as according to them, security situation has deteriorated after inking of the security deal with Washington.

They said that the northern provinces will fall into hands of militants if the government was reluctant and did not take proper security measures in the areas. “Security situation is worsening countywide, especially in Badakhshan,” said Abdul Latif Pidram, an MP from northeastern Badakhshan province. He nudged the government to cancel the BSA because the security pact could not bring security to the country and the people. “Violence and terror attacks increased and our people became more insecure after signing of the security deal with the US,” he said.

They don't say what they would replace it with. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Update for Monday, April 20, 2015

Now this is interesting. Der Spiegel reports that IS is the product of a calculated strategy led by a former Baathist intelligence officer. The implication is that Islamist ideology is being used to manipulate people by a leadership that has purely secular objectives -- to regain power lost when the U.S. invaded Iraq. The mastermind was Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi, who used the pseudonym Haji Bakr. He was killed in a firefight in the Syrian town of Tal Rifaat in January, 2014. Documents in his possession were secretly kept their and have now been seen by Der Spiegel reporters. Money quotes:

What Bakr put on paper, page by page, with carefully outlined boxes for individual responsibilities, was nothing less than a blueprint for a takeover. It was not a manifesto of faith, but a technically precise plan for an "Islamic Intelligence State" -- a caliphate run by an organization that resembled East Germany's notorious Stasi domestic intelligence agency. . . .

Sharia, the courts, prescribed piety -- all of this served a single goal: surveillance and control. Even the word that Bakr used for the conversion of true Muslims, takwin, is not a religious but a technical term that translates as "implementation," a prosaic word otherwise used in geology or construction. .. .

There is a simple reason why there is no mention in Bakr's writings of prophecies relating to the establishment of an Islamic State allegedly ordained by God: He believed that fanatical religious convictions alone were not enough to achieve victory. But he did believe that the faith of others could be exploited. 
Not that these revelations will change anything, I suppose. Faith is impervious to facts. But it does clarify where the responsibility for this historic disaster truly lies.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Update for Saturday, April 18, 2015

Suicide bombing in Jalalabad kills 35, injures more than 100. (The death toll is variously reported as 33, 34, or 35, a confusion which is reflected in the linked DPA report.) A former spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, Shahidullah Shahid, now purporting to speak for the Islamic State, claims responsibility on behalf of that group, naming the bomber as one Abu Mohammed. The group calling itself IS in Afghanistan consists of a disenchanted faction of the Taliban. It is not clear whether they have any allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi or have any material support from the organization in Iraq and Syria; nor that there are foreign fighters with allegiance to IS in Afghanistan in any substantial numbers. Nevertheless, the fragmentation of the Taliban and the rise of what are likely irreconcilable factions makes the prospects for peace more tenuous.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, intensified fighting in Anbar has left thousands of refugees from Ramadi stranded near Baghdad. The government has barred them from entering the city due to security concerns.

"Tens of thousands of displaced civilians have escaped from Ramadi in the past few days, but on arrival at Baghdad, they are denied entry unless they have a sponsor in the capital," Masrur Aswad, a member of the non-governmental group the Higher Commission for Human Rights, said. "Now the displaced are staying in the open air on the edges of Baghdad without having a shelter and basic needs," he said in a press statement.
Note that these refugees are Sunni Arabs who no doubt will continue to perceive the Shiite dominated government as failing to protect them or represent their interests.

Government forces have regained control of most of the Baiji oil refinery, which IS fighters overran earlier this week. Reinforcements are heading for Ramadi as well and the city is less imperiled than it was yesterday.

In Tikrit, recently re-captured by government forces and Shiite militias, a mass grave has been discovered containing the remains of some of the 1,700 Shiite soldiers massacred by IS when they seized the city last June.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Update for Thursday, April 16, 2015

Today, we are still in Iraq, where IS has launched an offensive in Anbar and captured 3 Ramadi villages. Government forces retain control of the city center, but a provincial council member has told the BBC that the insurgents are close to the government compound. Some 2,000 families hav fled toward Baghdad and are currently without shelter.

Ned Parker, Reuters Bureau Chief, was forced to flee Iraq after reporting on atrocities committed by Shiite militias in Tikrit. Parker was threatened on social media and television. He says that PM Abadi has defended him in a statement in English, but criticized reporting from Tikrit in Arabic. His original report is here. It describes the killing of a captured fighter, looting, and arson, by the Shiite forces.

Our friend Chet informs us that DoD has announced the death of an airman "supporting operation Inherent Resolve" in a non-combat incident at a base in "southwest Asia." That means the Middle East; the U.S. is discrete about its use of bases in Arab countries for operations in Afghanistan. the deceased is Tech. Sgt. Anthony E. Salazar, 40, of Hermosa Beach, California, 577th Expeditionary Prime Base Engineer Emergency Force Squadron, 1st Expeditionary Civil Engineer Group, U.S. Air Forces Central Command. The incident is under investigation.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Update for Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Those of you who remember Today in Iraq will know that the Nisour Square massacre in 2007 preoccupied us for a long time. We never believed that there would be justice in the incident, but a federal judge has sentenced 4 of the perpetrators to what amounts to life in prison. They continue to maintain their innocence and insist that they acted in self defense, but the evidence is clear that nobody shot at them. The original investigation was botched, perhaps deliberately, and the Bush Justice Department tried to find reasons not to prosecute, but the trial finally happened.

The Bush Administration paid Blackwater something like $1 billion to provide mercenary services in Iraq. Why hire mercenaries instead of having the military do the job it exists to do? That's an interesting question. Unfortunately, this was only one of innumerable instances of mercenaries murdering Iraqis. But it happened to result in prosecution.

Meanwhile, PM Abadi is in Washington asking for money and weapons. The administration has indicated he'll likely get what he wants. Obama has already pleged $200 million in humanitarian aid.

But what as the result of the previous U.S. investment in the Iraqi military? It was completely squandered, as soldiers involved in the former round of training have discovered upon their return.

Colonel Schwemmer said he was stunned at the state in which he found the Iraqi soldiers when he arrived here. “It’s pretty incredible,” he said. “I was kind of surprised. What training did they have after we left?”
Apparently, not much. The current, woeful state of the Iraqi military raises the question not so much of whether the Americans left too soon, but whether a new round of deployments for training will have any more effect than the last.
Car bombs kill 20 people in and around Baghdad.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Update for Sunday, April 12, 2015

It's been a rough weekend. A Taliban attack in Jurm, Badakhshahn results in death, capture or injury to 33 ANA soldiers. Khaama doesn't clarify how many were killed but at least 14 were captured and of those, 4 are said to have been beheaded. MoD spokesman says 20 militants were also killed. TOLO says 20 ANA killed, which with 14 captured actually adds up to 34.

Five aid workers with Save the Children, captured in March, are found dead, their bodies riddled with bullets, in Uruzgan. They were apparently killed because their captors' demand for a prisoner exchange was rejected.

Bomb in Siagard, Parwan province injures 11 on Saturday.

100 schoolboys are sickened, apparently by tainted beans, in Herat. It is unclear if this was a deliberate act.

A police officer is killed and 2 are injured by an explosion in Kandahar city.

In another incident in the same city, 2 civilians are injured.

Three Taliban killed by a "foreign" drone in Kunar. (Gee, I wonder who those foreigners are?)

Scores of families are in debt peonage in Nangarhar.

Corruption in Ministry of Defense fuel contracts is said to exceed $200 million. Whistleblowers claim senior government officials are involved.

The UN says civilians are being killed at an increasing rate due to the intensification of ground combat. Overall, 655 civilians were killed and 1,155 injured in the first quarter of this year.