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, January 29, 2019

Update for Tuesday, January 29, 2019

U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad says the U.S. and Taliban have agreed on the "draft of a framework" for a peace accord. While there has been a lot of excitement about this, I would have to say, don't hold your breath. For one thing, the Afghan government has had no part of this. For another, there is a pretty fundamental disagreement, which is that the Taliban are conditioning a ceasefire on a full withdrawal of U.S. troops, which obviously the U.S. will not agree to.

Afghan women are concerned about the preservation of gains women have made should the Taliban gain power in a peace deal.

Young, urban Afghans in general are concerned about reverses of social liberalization.

NATO pledges to remain with the U.S. in Afghanistan. Secretary General Stoltenberg also says that while NATO will not remain "longer than necessary," it will not allow Afghanistan to become a haven for international terrorists, which he describes as NATO's main objective in the country.

In an address to the nation, president Ghani asserts that the Afghan government must control the peace process.

New York Times reporters discuss the prospects for a peace agreement with various experts, who have concerns about the eventual outcome:

While current and former American diplomats and military officials voiced cautious optimism about the negotiations, they questioned whether the Taliban and the administration in Kabul would ever agree to a power-sharing arrangement, given that the Taliban still refuse even to speak to the government of President Ashraf Ghani. Some fear that the Taliban will seek to overthrow the government once the Americans are gone.

Do yuh think?

Many observers, including this one, see these developments as a concession of failure by the U.S. [Sooner or later you have to own up to it. -- C]

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Update for Thursday, January 24, 2019

DoD identifies U.S. service member killed in action in Afghanistan on Tuesday as Army Green Beret Sgt. First Class Joshua Beale of Carollton, VA. He was assigned to Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group, out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He was killed by small arms fire in Uruzgan province, "while on an operation to counter Taliban efforts." Note that we have been told publicly that U.S. forces are not engaged in combat operations against the Taliban, but only against IS and Al Qaeda, and that the U.S. has only an advise and assist mission against the Taliban. Evidently this is not true.

An air strike in Helmand province is said to kill 16 civilians, most of them women and children. It is not clear whether the operation was by Afghan or coalition forces, but one observer attributes it to the U.S.

Talks between U.S. and Taliban officials in Qatar entered a fourth day raising hopes for agreement on a cease fire and negotiations between the Taliban and the government.

Abdullah says the U.S. has reassured him that no final decision has been made on troop withdrawals and that any withdrawal will not affect combat capacity.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Update for Friday, January 18, 2019

U.S. Army Ranger Sgt. Cameron A. Meddock, 26, of Spearman, Texas, died Thursday at the U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany,Germany, as a result of injuries sustained from small arms fire during combat on Jan. 13, 2019, in Jawand District, Badghis Province, Afghanistan. Meddock was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.

The 75th Ranger battalion is engaged in counter-terrorism activity, unlike most U.S. forces in Afghanistan which are on a train and advise mission.

Three of the four Americans killed in a suicide attack in Manjib, Syria on Wednesday have been identified. They are Special Forces Chief Warrant Officer Jonathan Farmer; Shannon Kent, a sailor assigned to Cryptologic Warfare Activity 66; and Scott Wirtz, an operations support specialist with the Defense Intelligence Agency. The fourth, a civilian contractor, has not been identified. Note that this shows that the usually publicized number of 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria is misleading. We now know that there are additional intelligence personnel and civilian contractors there. What is meant by a "contractor" in this case is unclear but the individual could be a mercenary.

The NY Times reports that Americans routinely visited a specific restaurant in Manjib, allowing the attackers (IS has claimed responsibility) to predict their whereabouts and plan the attack. They were eating in the restaurant when the attack occurred. Some 19 civilian bystanders also died.

Violent protests again occur in Basra.

U.S. Army War College issues a history of the engagement in Iraq. Excerpt:

The study highlights numerous failures during the 8-year conflict, including a lack of awareness among military leaders of the sectarian, social and political dynamics in the country that would fuel much of the violence. The critique, which is more than 1,000 pages long and contains hundreds of declassified documents, also says efforts to train Iraq’s military were insufficient and led to a force that was over-reliant on the U.S.
The decisions by commanders, often made in consensus, “seemed reasonable at the time they were made, but nonetheless added up over time to a failure to achieve our strategic objectives,” the study said. “Examining the reasoning behind these decisions and the systemic failures that produced them should be the first task in analyzing the Iraq War’s lessons.”
Of course, never going there in the first place would have been even better.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Update for Monday, December 31, 2018

Mujib Mashal reports for the New York Times that CIA-sponsored Afghan special forces in Khost and Nangarhar routinely commit atrocities including torture and murder. Do read. Here's an excerpt.

[T]he units have also operated unconstrained by battlefield rules designed to protect civilians, conducting night raids, torture and killings with near impunity, in a covert campaign that some Afghan and American officials say is undermining the wider American effort to strengthen Afghan institutions.
Those abuses are actively pushing people toward the Taliban, the officials say. And with only a relatively small American troop contingent left — and that perhaps set to drop further on President Trump’s orders — the strike forces are increasingly the way that a large number of rural Afghans experience the American presence.
Those fighting forces, also referred to as counterterrorism pursuit teams, are recruited, trained and equipped by C.I.A. agents or contractors who work closely with them on their bases, according to several current and former senior Afghan security officials, and the members are paid nearly three times as much as regular Afghan soldiers. . . .

Air strike in Paktia kills a High Peace Committee member and five of his family. Unclear if Afghan or foreign forces conducted the strike.

Retired General McChrystal, former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, says U.S. president Trump is untruthful and immoral.

Taliban representatives met with Iranian officials in Tehran on Sunday as Iran seeks to advance peace negotiations.

In Iraq, Iraqi aircraft attacked an IS site in Syria, reportedly killing 30 IS leaders. Purportedly the Syrian government has given permission for such operations.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Update for Thursday, December 27, 2018

Iraqi politicians react with fury to U.S. president's clandestine visit to a U.S. military base in Iraq. The visit was not pre-arranged with the Iraqi government and many members of parliament condemned it as a violation of diplomatic norms and Iraqi sovereignty. Some have called for a special session of parliament to vote on the expulsion of U.S. troops.

Qais al-Khazali, the leader of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq group, expressed the Iraqis’ resolve to purge the country of American forces.

“Iraqis will respond with a parliamentary decision to oust your (US) military forces. And if they do not leave, we have the experience and the ability to remove them by other means that your forces are familiar with,” he tweeted.

Sabah al-Saadi, the leader of the Islah parliamentary bloc, also called for an emergency session of the parliament “to discuss this blatant violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and to stop these aggressive actions by Trump who should know his limits: The US occupation of Iraq is over.”

Similarly, the Bina parliamentary bloc denounced Trump’s trip to Iraq, saying, it was “a flagrant and clear violation of diplomatic norms and shows his disdain and hostility in his dealings with the Iraqi government.”
Trump revealed the location of SEAL team 5 and showed the faces of its members  in a video he posted on-line. "[E]xperts noticed that details of this video could put the US SEAL team in danger amid concern that President Trump revealed top-secret information. . . . Current and former Pentagon officials have since admitted that revealing the location of a deployment of SEAL Team Five violates operational security."

Trump apparently violated DoD rules by signing MAGA hats for troops.

"What commander allowed that to really happen?” [CNN correspondent]Barbara Starr asked Wednesday night. “This is very much against military policy and regulation,” Starr said. “Troops are not supposed to be involved in political activities, the U.S. military is not a political force.” . . .And CNN military analyst retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling said that Trump put military personnel “in a very bad position” with his comments to the troops, which were criticized as being akin to a “campaign rally.”
Two artillery shells land near the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, no damage reported.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Update for Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Attack on a government office compound in Kabul kills 43, injures 10. (The headline of this story appears to be wrong, but these are the numbers from the body of the report.) No claim of responsibility as yet, but Abdullah blames the Taliban. This comes as the announcement of a troop drawdown by the U.S president has rattled officials, although General Miller says he has yet to receive any orders to withdraw troops.

JCS Chair Dunford says the reports of a U.S. withdrawal are "rumors,"  which seems an odd way of describing the Commander in Chief's Twitter feed. In any case he also says he has received no orders.

Afghanistan's presidential election, originally scheduled for April, will be postponed for several months, ostensibly to address technical problems that emerged in the recent parliamentary elections.

The Afghan government says it will send a delegation to Jeddah where the U.S. and Taliban representatives have been engaging in peace negotiations. However, the Taliban have so far refused to talk directly with the Kabul government.

The Iranian government says it has been talking with the Taliban as an Iranian representative visits Kabul. The subject matter of the discussions was not disclosed.

The Afghan military says it has repulsed an attack in Faryab. Two Afghan soldiers were killed in the fighting and two shops caught fire, while 12 militants are said to have been killed.

In Iraq, after the CinC announced the withdrawal from Syria, the U.S. has established two new bases in Anbar. These are said to be intended to protect against incursion of IS forces from Syria.

A year after the reconquest of Mosul, rebuilding is slow and militants remain in hiding.

IS no longer holds any significant territories, but deadly attacks continue throughout the country. Last month, a school bus rolled over an explosive on a road south of Mosul, killing four children and wounding seven. A car bomb killed three people at a restaurant in the city, and security forces say they still conduct near-daily operations seeking militants in hiding. . . .

Aid workers estimate a year and a half after the IS defeat in Mosul, roughly 1,500 bodies of militants and civilians are still buried under the crushed buildings. Two million people remain displaced, many unable to return to these destroyed homes.

IS claims responsibility for a deadly bombing in Tal Afar.

IS kidnaps 18 people in Kirkuk province.

Protests continue in Basra over poor services and unemployment.