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, August 7, 2011

News of the Day for Sunday, August 7, 2011

Reported Security Incidents

Iskandariyah

Six civilians are killed and 14 injured by bombs planted near two homes. The motive for the attack is unknown.

Sticky bomb injures the driver of a minibus.

Baghdad

A man is killed in a carjacking. (Not clear if this is a politically motivated crime. -- C)

One billion Iraqi dinars are stolen from the private Baghdad Bank on Saturday. A spokesman for the Baghdad Operations Command says it was an inside job. (Again, not clear if there is a political motive. -- C)

Kirkuk

Roadside bomb attack on a police patrol injures one officer on Saturday.

Other News of the Day

PM Nuri al-Maliki fires electricity minister Raad Shallal over what he claims are irregularities in contracts with a Canadian and a German company. This could set back Iraq's efforts to develop an adequate electricity supply, and so address a major source of public discontent. At the same time, the action is being question by some because Shallal is a member of the opposition Sunni-based Iraqiya bloc.

Middle East Online discusses the flourishing business of kidnapping for ransom in Iraq. "Iraqi professionals and small businessmen who cannot afford bodyguards, and whom kidnappers can count on to cough up large sums for ransom, have become the favoured targets of kidnappers. Iraqi authorities claim that insurgents are behind the kidnappings, demanding ransom to finance "terrorist" activities. But they also acknowledge that many of the abductions are simply criminal."

Iraqis near the Syrian border, who share kinship ties with their Syrian neighbors, express support for the Syrian uprising. Tensions are growing over the possibility that Iraqis will try to get material support across the border, and as smugglers and infiltrators attempt to cross:

Officials in Qaim say Syria's internal strife has distracted its border forces, and Iraqi troops are now increasingly clashing with smugglers and gunmen along the frontier. They fear insurgents will use Syria's turmoil to try to slip into Iraq.

Iraqi troops have fought as many as eight skirmishes a day with unidentified gunmen for the past month as smugglers and infiltrators try to exploit the unrest in Syria, said Brigadier General Haqi Ismail, Iraqi western border force commander.

Reporters without Borders complains of harassment of journalists by Iraqi security forces. "Physical attacks on journalists, confiscation of their material and orders preventing them working are all common despite Reporters Without Borders' appeals to the Iraqi government," it said. (The story describes numerous incidents.)

Not exactly new news, but Muqtada al-Sadr repeats his opposition to any continuing U.S. troop presence after this year. "‘We will treat anyone who stays in Iraq as an oppressive occupier that should be resisted through military means,’ Sadr, who divides his time between Iran and Najaf, said in a letter released by his office."

Afghanistan Update

An Afghan official says there is ongoing fighting near the scene of the Chinook helicopter crash in Wardak in which 30 Americans and 8 Afghans died. Otherwise, there is little new information but the BBC does report the latest details. As I speculated yesterday, "The presence of at least 17 of the Seals has led to speculation that they were involved in a highly significant operation, such as targeting a high-ranking figure in the insurgency." Other U.S. dead include the helicopter crew, unspecified Air Force personnel, and a dog handler (Army?). Witnesses confirm the helicopter was shot down, but the U.S. has not made an official statement about the cause of the crash.

A NATO fuel convoy is attacked in the town of Shahr-e Safa in Zabul Province. The Taliban claim to have torched 28 vehicles; Afghan officials say at least 7 tankers were destroyed. One truck driver was killed.

International Crisis Group calls the nation-building effort in Afghanistan a failure. The lede:

After a decade of major security, development and humanitarian assistance, the international community has failed to achieve a politically stable and economically viable Afghanistan. Despite billions of dollars in aid, state institutions remain fragile and unable to provide good governance, deliver basic services to the majority of the population or guarantee human security. As the insurgency spreads to areas regarded as relatively safe till now, and policymakers in Washington and other Western capitals seek a way out of an unpopular war, the international community still lacks a coherent policy to strengthen the state ahead of the withdrawal of most foreign forces by December 2014. The impact of international assistance will remain limited unless donors, particularly the largest, the U.S., stop subordinating programming to counter-insurgency objectives, devise better mechanisms to monitor implementation, adequately address corruption and wastage of aid funds, and ensure that recipient communities identify needs and shape assistance policies.

Kabul suffers a severe water shortage. Excerpt:

Most water bodies in and around Kabul have either become dry or in the verge of becoming one, and the erratic potable water supply isn't helping the city's 3.5 million people either. A natural lake called Col-e-Hashmat Khan in southern Kabul was once a favourite bird hunting spot, now it is gradually turning dry. It is today surrounded by mud houses, shops and huts. Locals use is it for washing and quencing thirst.

"Water cannot come to home so we come here to get the water," said Dil Agha, an Afghan teenager, who fetch water from a well in a slum in southern Kabul. The 13-year-old boy who lives with his family in a nearby hill told Xinhua that they face acute shortage of drinking water. "It costs me too much to buy water and take shower at home. It is very difficult to carry water to my home. I come here in scorching hot weather to take water home."

According to media reports, only 48 percent of the country's 26 million population have access to safe drinking water, and just 37 percent of them could use improved sanitation facilities.

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