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

Friday, December 9, 2016

Update for Friday, December 9, 2016

There are multiple claims that an air strike by Iraqi forces on the town of Qaim killed about 60 civilians on Wednesday. The Iraqi military denies this, saying all the dead were foreign IS fighters.

Human Rights Watch calls for investigation of U.S. air strike on a Mosul hospital on Dec. 6. The U.S. says it is "reviewing" the incident but does not pledge an investigation. Air Force Col. John Dorrian tells reporters that "The coalition has 'not seen any indications at this point that civilians were harmed in the strike', but conceded it is 'very difficult to ascertain with full and total fidelity' whether civilians were killed in the strike."

Kurdistan official Masrour Barzani visits Washington DC, meets VP Joe Biden and Senators.

A U.S. official, speaking anonymously, claims U.S. and coalition air strikes have killed 50,000 IS fighters.

Cold weather has increased the suffering of 90,000 people displaced by the Mosul battle.

Iraqi forces retreat from Salaam hospital in Mosul in the face of a counterattack.


A soldier injured in the attack at Bagram on Nov. 12 has died of his injuries. Sgt. First Class Allan E. Brown, 46, of Takoma Park, Maryland,died Dec. 6 at Walter Reed National Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland, of injuries sustained from an improvised explosive device in Bagram, Afghanistan, that occurred on Nov. 12. He was assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Special Troops Battalion, 1st Sustainment Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter visits Afghanistan.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Update for Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Reuters reports that the original plan for the assault on Mosul was to leave an escape route open to the west, so that IS fighters and civilians could flee to Syria. That would allow Iraq to retake the city with fewer casualties. However, Iran persuaded the Iraqis to allow Shiite militia to close the escape route, forcing IS to fight to the death. (Assuming surrender is not in their range of options.) The result is the very hard fight we see now.

Iraqi forces capture additional territory in Mosul, but an overnight counterattack by IS in the southeast of the city is said to have inflicted heavy casualties.

Civilians flee Tal Abta west of Mosul as miiltias launch an assault on the town.

Desperate residents of Mosul brawl over newly delivered aid.

Canadian officials ponder their future role in Iraq and Syria once IS is driven from control of territory and presumably becomes a guerilla organization.


NYT reports that despite official Saudi support for the Afghan government, Saudi Arabia is a  major source of funding for the Taliban.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Update for Friday, December 2, 2016


Mujib Mashal and Eric Scmitt in the NYT offer a grim overview of the situation in Afghanistan. As readers know, we do not get a reliable daily accounting of casualties among the Afghan security forces, but they report 30 to 50 deaths per day, with the Afghan government controlling only 60% of the country, the Taliban 10%, and 30% contested. Various militants groups other than the Taliban are active in the country. Given the vague and inconsistent pronouncements by the U.S. president elect on Afghanistan, it remains to be seen what the U.S. will do in 2017 but we have to note that the generals he has selected for his national security team, including Secretary of Defense, are likely to be quite hawkish. Stay tuned.

Taliban wearing police uniforms kill 5 Afghan soldiers and injure 3 in southern Kandahar.

Twenty three civilians, six police, and 29 militants said to be killed in fighting in Kandahar province.

Militants targeting a civilian residence kill 4 children in Herat. No further explanation.

Iraqi commanders considered changing strategy to encourage civilians to flee Mosul but decided against it because of fears of massacres by IS and lack of resources to absorb refugees. The debate took place amid fear of a lengthy war of attrition.

U.S. military says Iraqi forces now hold 20% of Mosul, and IS on the eastern side of the Tigris is isolated.

Dominance of Shiite militias near Tal Afar raises concern of sectarian conflict once IS is defeated.

Iraqis are now battling 19 oil well fires near Qayyara.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Update for Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016

A humanitarian catastrophe looms in Mosul where nearly half a million people are without water, food is running short, and mortar and gunfire continue to claim civilian lives.

Iraqi forces continue to make slow gains in the city but rain has slowed progress while IS counterattack occurs southeast of the city.

Drone footage shows the devastation caused by burning oil wells near Quyyara. Here is a discussion of the damage. (Although I'm not sure it's fair to blame the Iraqi government for not having put out the fires as of yet.)

Commentary on the difficulties posed by the Shiite militias. This is a long-form analysis presenting some of the relevant history. Mixed opinions about the effect of the recent move to legitimize them and integrate them into the armed forces.

Reports of IS atrocities against civilians in areas they control continue. Here is an individual account.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Update for Friday, November 25, 2016

As I suggested recently, the Iraq theater is not separable from Syria and I will have to start paying attention to events there. (The border is artificial anyway.) A member of the U.S. military has been killed by an explosion near Ayn Issa, Syria. No further details as of now. (The town is just north of Raqqa, the IS capital, deep inside Syria, indicating that U.S. forces are deployed within the combat zone.)

Iraq is preparing to assault the now besieged town of Tal Afar  with a force of Sunni and Shiite Turkmen. The Iranian-backed militia which captured the surrounding region and cut off the town will remain outside.

IS continues to target civilians in areas of Mosul that have been recaptured by the Iraqi army. About 100 casualties are arriving daily at the hospital in Irbil.

The reported casualty total from the truck bomb attack on Shiite pilgrims continues to vary, but Iranian news agency reports that 71 bodies will be repatriated to Iran.

Meanwhile, food and water are running short.