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 27, 2010

News of the Day for Sunday, June 27, 2010

Britain's Prince Harry (R) speaks with U.S. Marine veteran Aaron Mankin, who was injured in 2005 while serving in Iraq, on the deck of the USS Intrepid during his visit to New York June 25, 2010. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Reported Security Incidents


Three separate sticky bomb attacks result in 1 death, 3 injuries. One of the targets was a government vehicle, the other the personal vehicle of a government employee. This account assigns slightly different identities to some of the victims, in particular that one of the vehicles was a police car.


Four people killed in armed robbery of a jewelery shop. It is unclear whether this was a common crime or done to finance an insurgent group. In the late stages of guerrilla wars, the distinction may not be very meaningful. -- C


One police officer killed, 5 injured, in a roadside bomb attack.

al-Idhaim, north of Baaquba

Police arrest four members of the Sufi armed group Al-Naqshabandiya. (Note: Aswat al-Iraq uses the designation "Sufi" for this group, which surprised me for a couple of reasons when I first saw it. The description of al Naqshabandiya when it first appeared was "Al Naqshabandiyah Army is a group made of former Baathists and former Iraqi army officers, operating under the command of Izzet Ibrahim al Doury, mainly around the Baghdad area." Sufism is not known as an organizing principle for violence. However, it turns out that this group apparently has turned to one of the Sufi traditions to legitimize its activities. "It is a common perception that Sufism is a non-violent form of Islam, guiding its adherents away from political confrontation toward a more spiritual facet of the religion. Hence, Sufism was tolerated by totalitarian regimes such as in Iraq and—in some cases—practiced by the statesmen in such regimes. It is apparent from the regular military terminology used in the Naqshbandia magazine that ex-Iraqi military officers are the main core of JRTN and are using the Naqshbandia order to legitimize their insurgency." -- C)

Other News of the Day

Jalal Talabani makes an unannounced visit to Jordan, for talks with King Abdullah. The description of the subject matter of the talks is vague.

American Lung Association strongly urges military to discontinue burning waste in open pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. Jeff Glor reports for CBS News that the main perpetrators are certain military contractors of which you may have heard previously. Former military personnel, who have serious health problems, are now suing them. (Not that we should give a FFOARD about Iraqis and Afghans who may have been exposed.)

The military authorized more than a hundred burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. The largest were operated by private contractors Halliburton and KBR, designed to burn everything from military equipment to medical supplies, batteries and hazardous waste.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center's Dr. Robert Miller of is treating more than a dozen soldiers exposed to burn-pit smoke. "I don't think there's any doubt that the burn pits emit toxins," said Miller. "It's a solid waste burning. It's a practice that's essentially outlawed in the United States."

Iraqi Supreme Court orders the release of journalist Riyadh Qassim, who had been held on terrorism charges. His arrest provoked protest within the Iraqi media; it appears to have been politically motivated. And what do you know, see the next story.

This doesn't exactly come under the category of "news," but Joel Brinkley finds the Iraqi government to be corrupt. (Well knock me over with a feather):

Under American stewardship, Iraq has become one of the half-dozen most corrupt nations on earth. "Significant widespread corruption" afflicts "all levels of government," the State Department says. Nothing can so quickly cripple a democracy as the need by the nation's leaders to protect their cash flow and hide all evidence of their thefts. That leads, at least, to electoral fraud and press censorship. How can corrupt officials survive if the press is free to report on their misdeeds?

"We are controlled and censored," Faris Fadhil Sultan told me. He's a reporter for Al Arabiya television in Iraq. "The government can exert its will on reporters through criminal charges or suspension from work, even kidnapping and killing."

Hadani Ditmars reviews the state of affairs from the point of view of the Iraqi people. Well worth a read. Here's the core of it:

Almost a fifth of Iraq's population are refugees or internally displaced, and almost half live in abject poverty - despite $53 billion in "aid" spent since the 2003 invasion (funds that lined the pockets of foreign military contractors and corrupt officials but left 70 percent of Iraqis without potable water or predictable electricity). A once secular, highly educated and cosmopolitan society has been torn apart by sectarian violence. Extremist militias, empowered by the post-invasion power vacuum, still terrorize women, gays and religious minorities. Few can afford to flee their country, which is racked by ongoing insecurity and ruled by a puppet regime (although whether Iran or America pulls the strings is a matter of some debate) from behind the walls of the green zone.

Yet the stories of the people of Iraq are virtually absent in mainstream media reports. The ongoing humanitarian disaster is ignored while invasion apologists promote a corrupt pseudo-democracy as a perverse example of "mission accomplished." I have been visiting Baghdad since 1997, and most Iraqis seem as cynical about the new regime as they were about the old one. With Iraq now ranked the fifth most corrupt country out of 180 studied by Transparency International, and with no laws on campaign financing, with incumbents who used state funds to further their own campaigns and imprisoned opponents on trumped-up charges of terrorism and with government ministers maintaining their own private militias, democracy remains as elusive as ever.

Not to mention the lack of electricity.

Afghanistan Update

Sakandar Shah Mohammadi, head of Al Berooni School in Qara Bagh district of Ghazni province was beheaded Saturday, the education ministry said in a statement. On the same day, dozens of militants, riding on motorbikes, came to Zardalo area of the district and torched two elementary schools, Muhibullah Khepilwak, district governor, said. One of the schools was a girls' school and the other for boys.

Reuters is now doing security "Fact Boxes" for Afghanistan as they did for many years for Iraq. These are often helpful but they give a false impression of completeness. For what it's worth, here are today's highlights, just so you get the idea:

KABUL - Two service members with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) were killed on Sunday in a small arms attack in eastern Afghanistan, the alliance said.

PAKTIKA - Fifteen insurgents were killed on Saturday by the premature explosion of a bomb they were assembling at a mosque in southeastern Paktika, the Afghan interior ministry said. Eight of the militants killed were Arab, while five were from Paksitan and the other two were Afghans, it said.

HELMAND - A premature explosion of a mine killed four insurgents in southern Helmand on Saturday, the ministry said separately.

URUZGAN - Two Afghan civilians were killed and five wounded on Saturday when a suicide bomber tried to target the acting governor of southern Uruzgan province, the ministry said.

KABUL - An ISAF member died following an improvised explosive device (IED) attack in southern Afghanistan on Saturday, the alliance said in a statement.

KABUL - Two ISAF servicemembers died following separate IED attacks in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday, the alliance said. (Compiled by David Fox)

NATO claims to have killed 8 Taliban, including a commander, in an airstrike in Kunduz; and to have killed 8 more insurgents in an operation in Ghazni.

Two Canadian soldiers killed on Friday are identified. Master Cpl. Kristal Giesebrecht of Wallaceburg, Ontario and Pte. Andrew Miller of Sudbury , Ontario were part of a unit dispatched to deal with a mine found in the doorway of a home when their vehicle detonated an improvised explosive device. Giesebrecht, 34 and Miller, 21 were both medical technicians attached to the 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group.

Michael Georgy of Reuters reports that U.S. soldiers have yet to win hearts and minds in Gurgan village in Kandahar. Excerpt:

As night fell, [Lt. Matthew] Bennett sat down in the light of a kerosene lamp with a group of villagers at a small shop. The questions kept coming. "You said you want to help, us but what about roads and schools?" asked one man. Another man said he felt threatened when U.S. helicopters flew overhead.

Aside from dealing with the Taliban's military tactics and ferocity, NATO soldiers have to contend with a range of other issues in order to win over Afghans. Villagers told Bennett they appreciate American efforts to secure the area but said troops had to pay closer attention to cultural sensitivities. Soldiers manning machinegun turrets on the tops of armoured vehicles had a view of women in houses and something had to be done, they said.

Quote of the Day

Obama sided with McChrystal, Petraeus and Clinton (as well as Defense Secretary Robert Gates), agreeing to triple the U.S. troop levels to about 100,000. In the months that have passed, the levels of American casualties have jumped but the prospects for victory (or some modicum of success) remain stuck in a deepening quagmire.

Now, with some indiscreet comments to Rolling Stone magazine, McChrystal has managed to get plucked from the swamp as if some “deus ex machina” derrick from a Greek tragedy had appeared magically behind stage and lifted the hero out of an impossible situation.

Obama now has turned to what might be called “Petraeus ex machina” to salvage his benighted strategy in Afghanistan, but this new device is unlikely to lift the larger military cause out of grave danger. Instead, many of the U.S. troops committed to this dubious plan seem doomed in what is becoming a real-life tragedy.

Ray McGovern