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

Sunday, June 28, 2009

News of the Day for Sunday, June 28, 2009

Iraqi policemen stand guard at a checkpoint in Baghdad June 28, 2009. REUTERS/Bassim Shati (Note the dust masks, low visibility and nearly deserted streets due to the sand storm

Reported Security Incidents


IED attack on U.S. patrol in Sayidiya, no information on casualties as of this time.

Car bomb, apparently targeting a U.S. patrol, kills six civilians in Al-Talbiah. Reuters, however, says the six were only wounded. Xinhua also reports the civilians were wounded, but also says a U.S. vehicle was damaged and does not rule out U.S. casualties.

Reuters also reports a car bomb injured 7 police men at a training center.

Hamrin Dam area, Diyala Province

IED kills a civilian, injures three on the main road of the Hamrin Dam complex. In the same area, gunmen wearing uniforms invade the home of a Sahwa member and kill him. The source attributes the attacks to al Qaeda. Note: In May, Iraqi and U.S. forces arrested 10 people in this area saying "Their detention will disrupt terrorist operations in the Hamrin Dam area." The dam, built during the era of the war with Iran, was controversial because it inundated archaeological sites. -- C

Mentioned in passing in this longer AFP story is a different description of what appears to be one of the above incidents: "On Sunday, at Hamrin west of Baquba insurgents in military fatigues burst into the house of an Iraqi lieutenant colonel. Not finding him, they killed his brother and set off a bomb that wounded two people."


Gunmen kill a preacher inside his mosque.

Other News of the Day

As U.S. forces prepare to withdraw from forward operating bases, an intense sandstorm has closed down Baghdad. According to AP, visibility is only a few meters and dozens of people have arrived at hospitals with breathing problems. The airport is closed.

Meanwhile, PM al-Maliki says Iraqi forces are ready to take over security in cities and towns, although one of the vice presidents (AP's Patrick Quinn doesn't bother to tell us which one, I'm guessing Adil Abdul-Mahdi since it's Shiites who have been targeted by market bombings) warns people to stay away from crowded areas.

Meanwhile, Iraqi security forces are on high alert, with intense security in the capital. 'The alert has gone to all of our forces. There will be no days off. They are at their full strength across the whole country, at 100%,' said Major General Abdul-Karim Khalaf, spokesman for the interior ministry.

AFP's Mehdi Lebouachera reports a festive mood in Baquba as U.S. forces prepare to withdraw. Note, however, the U.S. troops are providing tight security for the celebration. Hmm. Excerpt:

Baquba, the Iraqi city synonymous in recent years with murders, intercommunal killings and suicide bombings, is celebrating the imminent departure of US troops with balloons and bunting. "It was hell, the dark days of Baquba. When you look back three years ago, it's incredible how the situation has improved," said US Colonel Shawn Reed, head of the infantry regiment in charge of the city's security.

Dignitaries from Diyala, a province northeast of Baghdad known as the orchard of Iraq but also one of the country's most dangerous places, were in attendance at police headquarters on Friday in the city of half a million people. The governor, chief of police, the head of Iraqi military operations, US generals and colonels, all turned up to commemorate the transfer of power, due to take place officially on June 30.

An American army unit completed a security sweep of the premises and closed the surrounding streets to traffic, while troops positioned themselves on rooftops for the gathering.

Announcement of winners of oil field development contracts is delayed by the sandstorm. Note that these are technical service contracts only. Iraq has elected not to auction off any equity interest in its oil resources to foreign companies at this time. Lebouachera provides a good summary of the situation here, including the sharp political disputes over these contracts within Iraq. (He's had a busy day, it seems.) Excerpt:

"For foreign companies, this is like a first step," the source said. "They are saying, 'Let's accept these terms, even though they're not our preferred model, just to stay in the game, and hope conditions improve'." In effect, foreign energy executives may well be targeting the next round of contracts to be offered next year, when Iraq will grant licences for exploitation of 16 other undeveloped fields.

Domestic firms, including SOC, are furious, however, that contracts are being awarded to their foreign counterparts. Along with the Shiite Fadhila party, which lost control of the Ministry of Oil in 2006, the companies have launched a campaign against Shahristani.

SOC insists it can fulfill the same objectives set for international companies, and in less time. "The fields in question represent 85 percent of actual production and 50 percent of reserves," SOC chief executive Fayad Hassan Nima said. "A loss of control would lead to the death of national companies."

Jaber Khalifa Jaber, head of the Iraqi parliament's oil and gas committee and a Fadhila MP, said Iraq is under threat from an "economic occupation". "The companies will just share the oil between the Americans, the French, the British and the Japanese ... just like the Sykes-Picot agreement," he said, referring to the Anglo-French accord that divided up influence in the Middle East in 1916.

Afghanistan Update

Two separate gun battles in Farah province result in reported deaths of 14 insurgents and 7 Afghan police.

Rocket attack in South Waziristan kills a Pakistani officer.

McClatchy's Tom Lasseter reports that a bridge built by the U.S. between Afghanistan and Tajikistan has become a major drug trafficking route. Excerpt:

Today, the bridge across the muddy waters of the Panj River is carrying much more than vegetables and timber: It's paved the way for drug traffickers to transport larger loads of Afghan heroin and opium to Central Asia and beyond to Russia and Western Europe .

Standing near his truck in a dusty patch on the Afghan side of the river, Yar Mohammed said it was easy to drive drugs past the Afghan and Tajik border guards. "It's an issue of money," Mohammed said, to the nods and grins of the small group of truckers gathered around him near the bridge at Nizhny Panj. "If you give them money, you can do whatever you want."

The roots of the global drug trade are often a murky tangle of poverty, addiction, violence and corruption. However, it's clear why the dirt-poor former Soviet Central Asian republic of Tajikistan is on the verge of becoming a narco-state.

After the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the United States and other Western powers looked the other way as opium and heroin production surged to record levels, making Afghanistan by far the world's biggest producer.

And so, seeing that it is losing the battle against the opium poppy, the U.S. is shifting strategy, abandoning eradication efforts. Info from AP's Nicole Winfield:

The U. S. envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, told the Associated Press that poppy eradication — for years a cornerstone of U. S. and U. N. drug trafficking efforts in the country — was not working and was only driving Afghan farmers into the hands of the Taliban. “Eradication is a waste of money,” Holbrooke said on the sidelines of a Group of Eight foreign ministers’ meeting on Afghanistan, during which he briefed regional representatives on the new policy.

“It might destroy some acreage, but it didn’t reduce the amount of money the Taliban got by one dollar. It just helped the Taliban. So we’re going to phase out eradication,” he said. The Afghan foreign minister also attended the G-8 meeting.


The new policy calls for assisting farmers who abandon poppy cultivation. Holbrooke said the international community wasn’t trying to target Afghan farmers, just the Taliban militants who buy their crops. While Holbrooke did not provide the AP with a dollar figure for the new U. S. commitment, he told the G-8 ministers that Washington was increasing its funding for agricultural assistance from tens of millions of dollars a year to hundreds of millions of dollars, said Foreign Minister Franco Frattini of Italy, the current G-8 president.

“We’re essentially phasing out our support for crop eradication and using the money to work on interdiction, rule of law, alternate crops,” Holbrooke told the AP.

Quotes of the Day

They did things that you would not do against animals let alone to humans. They poured cold water on you in winter and hot water in summer. They used dogs against us. They put a pistol or a gun to your head and threatened you with death. They put some kind of medicine in the juice or water to make you sleepless and then they would interrogate you.

-- Dr. Khandan, imprisoned by the U.S. at Bagram

conditions at Bagram meet international standards for care and custody.

-- U.S. DoD spokesman Lt. Col. Mark Wright