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, July 29, 2016

Update for Friday, July 29, 2016

International Committee of the Red Cross warns that an additional 1 million Iraqis may be displaced in coming weeks as the campaign to retake Mosul and fighting in other areas intensify. There are already 3 million internally displaced people in the country and aid supplies are running short.

This does not strike me as a good idea. Iraq will incorporate Shiite militias into its armed forces, paying their salaries, allowing them to use military bases, and officially bringing them under military command. However, the sectarian nature of the force will not be changed. The militias have been credibly accused of atrocities against Sunni Arab civilians.

And it isn't getting any better. Member of Parliament Raad Al-Dahlaki accuses the Shiite militias of bombing refugee camps, an accusation with which the UN High Commissioner for Refugees concurs.

I have to acknowledge the eloquent words of Khizr Kahn, whose son died heroically as a U.S. soldier in Iraq, before the Democratic National Convention.

U.S. military admits to killing 14 civilians in air strikes in Iraq and Syria from may 2015 through April of this year. This is a small fraction of those reported by other sources.

Five U.S. troops are reported to have been injured in fighting in Afghanistan recently, three of them seriously enough to be evacuated. They were accompanying Afghan forces in Nangarhar.

SIGAR reports that the Afghan government has lost control of territory from January to May, and now controls just 65.6% of the country.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Update for Saturday, July 23, 2016

This is breaking news as I write at 9:30 ET, so we have to piece together the story from fragmentary accounts, but the death toll now stands at 61, with hundreds injured, in a bomb attack on a peaceful demonstration by members of the Hazara minority. The Taliban have disavowed the attack, and IS has claimed responsibility. The Hazara, who are Shiite muslims, were demanding that a proposed power line be routed through their territory, which centers on Bamiyan.

I'm sure we'll be seeing candlelight vigils in every U.S. city.

In Iraq meanwhile, bombs targeting civilians fleeing Shirqat kill 13 and injure 9. The grip of IS on the town has been weakening, giving civilians the opportunity to flee.

This is a (weird)  indication of how convoluted the situation is in Iraq. Iraqi forces are digging a miles-long trench north of Fallujah, apparently to prevent government-allied (presumably Shiite) militias from entering the city, following allegations of looting and abuse of civilians. There are fears that the project will hinder repopulation of the city. More detail on the difficult situation in Fallujah from AP.

The power struggle among Iraqi Shiite factions may be spilling into the streets with their respective militias.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Update for Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Oops. U.S. air strikes in Syria kill at least 56 civilians near Aleppo today, after killing 60 civilians near Manbij yesterday. Collateral damage, don't you know.

It's a good thing climate change is a hoax engineered by the Chinese or we might have to blame somebody for 120 degree Farehnheit temperatures in Baghdad today, with hotter temperatures expected tomorrow. A holiday from work has been proclaimed. Oh yeah, lots of people don't have electricity.

Aid agencies are trying to prepare for the expected exodus from Mosul but time and money are running short.

PM Abadi has accepted the resignation of 6 ministers.

Turkey resumes the air campaign against the PKK after the failed coup.

Ministers from 30 nations are meeting in Washington, D.C. today to discuss combatting IS. The focus appears to be the military campaign in Iraq, particularly the coming assault on Mosul.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Update for Monday, July 18, 2016

Special "Things Aren't Always What They Seem" edition.

I could speak for myself about this but I'll let MARK MAZZETTI and ERIC SCHMITT of the New York Times do it. What does it mean to label the horrific incident in Nice "terrorism"? The perpetrator was not religious, in fact he was a drunkard who never went to mosque and never prayed, had never expressed Islamist or jihadi opinions, and had no known connection to any relevant organization. Deranged people have driven into crowds before, and of course there was that German pilot who flew the plane into a mountain in France. Nobody called those incidents terrorism. But the perpetrator in Nice happened to have been born in Tunisia and was of Muslim heritage, even though he was himself evidently an apostate. So it's terrorism. Maybe it's just a lunatic. Possibly the existence of IS provided a hook on which to hang his delusions, although there is no direct evidence of that. That does seem to be the basic description of the Orlando night club shooter.

Then there is that bizarre coup attempt in Turkey. As Dan Rodrik discusses, the top ranks of the Turkish military are entirely loyal to Erdogan. The coup plotters were astonishingly inept and never had any chance of success. Erdogan's attempt to blame the exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen is preposterous. The consequence of these strange events is of course that Erdogan will tighten his grip on power and further erode democracy in Turkey. Cui bono?

Back to Iraq. Muqtada al Sadr has been calling for political reform in Iraq, which seems nice. Now he also wants his followers to attack U.S. troops.

Iraqi army moves on a village near Qayarrah in furtherance of the campaign to take Mosul.

In Afghanistan, Taliban attack a bazaar near Kunduz, with one police officer and three militants said to be killed as fighting continues. Khaama reports additional battles in the area with more Taliban casualties but no mention of additional government casualties.

MoD says four ANA troops killed since Sunday without specifying the circumstances.

Attack on a police outpost in Badghis said to result in death of 9 attackers, again no mention of police casualties.

Fighting in Ghazni said to result in death of 12 Taliban and one police officer. As always, these highly lopsided casualty totals are not independently confirmed.

Air strikes in Helmand said to kill 16 militants. This report does not say whether the strikes were carried out by U.S. or Afghan forces. (Afghanistan now has some attack helicopters.)

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Update for Thursday, July 14, 2016

U.S. signs a deal to give $415 million directly to peshmerga for weapons, supplies and pay. Apparently the Baghdad government approves of this deal. That represents a significant change because they have complained in the past that aid should go through the central government. This does represent a step toward de facto recognition of Kurdish autonomy, in my view.

The U.S. claimed to have killed Omar al-Shishani, IS "Minister of War," a few weeks ago. Apparently they have managed to kill him again, this time for real, according to IS-linked sources. His death occurred in Sharqat which as we noted earlier was besieged. It now appears that IS control of Sharqat is collapsing amid infighting as the group tries to prevent fighters from fleeing. IS leadership may be resigned to losing control of any territory and going underground.

The Iraqi government held a military parade in Baghdad to celebrate recent victories, even as terror bombings against civilian targets and attacks on police in the city continue.

Muqtada al-Sadr continues to sponsor demonstrations against corruption, even as the government calls for them to stop for security reasons.

U.S. is bombing IS targets near Mosul.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Update for Monday, July 11, 2016

In an unannounced visit to Baghdad, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter says U.S. will deploy 560 additional troops to Iraq to support the offensive against Mosul. It appears at least some of them will be at the recently recaptured Qayyarah airbase, which will be the staging area for the assault.

Reports that IS forces are abandoning Hawija, a city in Kirkuk province.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Update for Sunday, July 10, 2016

Iraq Interior Minister Interior Minister Mohammed al-Ghabban's resignation is accepted by PM Abadi on Friday, following bombings in Baghdad and the shrine of Imam al-Sayed Mohammed bin Ali in Balad. Abadi also fires Baghdad Operations commander Abdul Amir al-Shammari, and other officials.

The Balad attack killed 50 people.

Asharq al Awsat provides the interesting insight into Iraqi politics that Abadi requires the approval of the Badr organization to appoint a successor to Ghabban. (The Badr organization is a Shiite political party that succeeds the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a militia sponsored by Iran. The former Badr brigade, it's military arm, is now part of the "popular mobilization" Shiite militias that fight alongside the Iraqi army.)

Iraq says it has captured the Qayara air base, a step in the campaign to recapture Mosul.

An Israeli diplomat in the U.S. says that Israel would recognize independent Kurdistan. 

Tony Blair continues to face serious repercussions over the Chilcot report, although oddly George W. Bush does not. In fact the report has been largely ignored in the U.S., although it is just as much about the U.S. as it is about the U.K. Former Deputy PM John Prescott says the war was illegal and that Blair deceived him and the rest of the cabinet.

Sarah Helm, the wife of Blair's chief of staff, claims to have overheard the following phone call between Bush and Blair two weeks before the invasion, as reported by the tabloid Daily Mail. I leave it to the reader to decide on the veracity of this, but it's certainly amusing. "Cojones" is Spanish slang for testicles.

Bush: Hello, hello.
Blair: Hi, how are you?
Bush: I’m fine. Fine. But, hey, most important, how are you… you’re being so courageous. Really, really brave. Your body language. Truly. I watched you on TV. Terrific. Real leadership will be remembered. Believe me.
Blair: Yeah, well. It’s hard sometimes. Believe me. But you’re doing pretty well yourself.
Bush: What me? I’m just ready to kick ass.
(Blair laughs nervously, then says French President Jacques Chirac is ‘causing trouble’ over Blair’s hopes of a second UN resolution backing war.)
Bush: Yeah, but what did the French ever do for anyone? What wars did they win since the French Revolution?
Blair: Yeah, right. Right.
(More jokes about the French. Blair tries again.)
Blair: So, er… where do we go from here?
Bush: I’d like to do the second [UN] resolution Friday. We need closure… call in the chips with Chile, the Mexicans… close it down.
(Pause. Sound of breathing. Bush says new intelligence suggests Saddam is about to ‘offload’ weapons of mass destruction (WMD).)
Blair: Yeah. Well, er, let me explain how we see it… I want to take the Europeans with me so Friday might be a little early…
(Long silence. They deride Hans Blix, the UN weapons inspector who had not found any WMD and wanted war delayed. Bush mocks ‘that no count’ Blix.)
Bush: And you know what? We could put a bug in on this and make sure Chirac gets to hear it. When that son of a bitch [Saddam] hits Europe, they’ll be saying: ‘Where were George and Tony?’
Blair: We’ve got to make people understand we aren’t going to war because we want to but because there is no alternative.
Bush: Yeah. I’ve got a big speech coming up tomorrow so I’ll put some words in on that… but I have to do something about my body language. Your body language is great. How do you do it?
Blair: Yeah.
(Blair’s attempt to get through to Bush on the timing of the new resolution, and hence the war, has failed. He knows it. Before he hangs up, Bush tries to bolster Blair.)
Bush: Y’know, Tony, the American people will never forget what you’re doing. People say to me, you know, is Prime Minister Blair really with you all the way? Do you have faith in him? And I say yes, because I recognise leadership when I see it. And true courage. He won’t let us down.
Blair (laughing): Well, it might be my epitaph.
Bush (laughing): Like, RIP here lies a man of courage, you mean?
Blair (nervously): Yeah, right.
(Blair pleads with Bush for ‘words’ on a possible Israel-Palestine peace deal but an impatient Bush wants to go.)
Bush: I’ve got to hop off to Texas. Hang on in there. And – cojones.
 Blair may face a vote of Contempt of Parliament.

UNICEF says more than half a million Iraqi children are working rather than in school due to displacement and economic desperation.

Regarding Afghanistan, following the NATO summit in Poland NATO commits to funding Afghan security through 2020Canada pledges $440 million in military and civilian aidThe UK commits to keeping 450 troops in the country through 2017. South Korea, which had observer status at the summit, pledges $135 million. Note that Afghanistan is completely dependent on foreign support for its military.

U.S. drone attack said to kill 16 mililtants in NangarharSeparate attack attributed to NATO, but probably meaning U.S., kills 5 in Kunar.

U.S. General John Nicholson says Afghan forces are suffering rising casualties due to Taliban attacks on fixed positions.