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

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Update for Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Well, you could see it coming. Gen. John Campbell, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, says he wants to keep troops there "as long as possible." [I wonder how long that is?] "In 2016, Campbell said, Afghan forces will need to devise a better system to drive down attrition rates, take to the fight to the Taliban instead of manning checkpoints, root out bad commanders and do a better jobs of recruiting." [Well, they've had 12 years to work on this.]

NATO air strike hits two Afghan army positions in Logar, killng 7 Afghan soldiers. District governor says the incident is likely a mistake due to "bad coordination."

Afghan minister of public health says 40% of children in the country are malnourished. He specifically blames imported foods which are unfortified with micronutrients. [The back story here is that diets heavily dependent on grain are incomplete. Wheat flour in the U.S. is routinely fortified with folic acid and iron.]

Security forces in Helmand province have said negligence on the part of senior security force members in Sangin resulted in the fall of parts of the district to the Taliban.

U.S. soldiers took bribes to award trucking contracts worth millions. Two have plead guilty. An Afghan business owner has now been charged in the case.

Russia will provide weapons to Afghan security forces.

IS holds hundreds of civilians in captivity in Nangarhar, their fate unknown. The motive is principally ransom. It appears that those who are not ransomed are killed. [Note: Obviously this means the group also controls territory.]

In Iraq, the defense minister says Ramadi is 80% destroyed. The devastation includes 260 schools, which would require half a billion dollars to rebuild.

UNICEF says an entire generation in Iraq is at risk due to lack of education and health care. Malnutrition is also widespread and water supplies are deteriorating. "More than 2 million children in Iraq are out of school, up to 3 million more have had their education disrupted by the war, and nearly one in five schools have been damaged, destroyed or used for other purposes, the U.N. children's fund UNICEF says. Of the schools that are still in use, classes are often overcrowded and lessons taught in shifts."

Mass grave with 120 bodies, mostly Iraqi security forces, is found in Nineveh province

The dispute between Iraq and Turkey over the presence of Turkish troops near Mosul continues, with Iraq now threatening unspecified military action. [This is really about the antagonism between Russia and Turkey, with Iraq as a proxy. -- C]

Pentagon claims to have killed an IS leader in Syria who had ties to a planner of the Paris massacre.






Monday, December 28, 2015

Update for Monday, December 28, 2015

Suicide attack near Kabul airport kills 1, injures 33, including 18 children. All of the victims are reportedly civilians. The intended target was apparently a minibus that transports foreigner troops to and from the airport, but NATO says none of its personnel were affected. Most of the injured children were students at a religious school.

A woman administering polio vaccine is murdered in Kandahar, and a second public health worker is seriously injured.

New Ministry of Defense complex, built by the U.S. at a cost of $160 million, is formally opened. The U.S. spent an additional $33 million on furniture and $12 million on information technology.

NYT reports U.S. plans to maintain a special operations base in Afghanistan for "years to come."

Meetings are scheduled among Afghan, Pakistani, U.S. and Chinese officials to try to revive the peace talks with the Taliban. [This will be difficult because at present there is no such thing as "the Taliban." -- C]

In Iraq, video shows the recaptured city of Ramadi essentially destroyed. It will be a long time before people can move back.


Sunday, December 27, 2015

Update for Sunday, December 27, 2015


In a disturbing case of mimicry, members of the militia of warlord Haji Zahir, who is also deputy speaker of parliament, decapitate 4 captured fighters who claim loyalty to the Islamic State in Nangarhar. (Again, these are a former Taliban faction who have adopted the brand name. Whether they have any real operational relationship with the entity in Syria and Iraq is unclear.) This was apparently in retaliation for a similar action by the IS militants. It is also a reminder that Afghanistan is not really a unified nation state as normally understood in modern terms, but more of a feudal society with the Kabul government replacing the role of the king.

Despite being expelIed from Kunduz city, Taliban remain active nearby and resident remain frightened among continued food shortages.

Militants kill 6 members of a family in eastern Kunar in a home invasion. The motive is not explained.

Bomb targeting a police patrol in Lashkar Gah kills 2 police and a bystander.

A meeting of elders in Nangarhar decries insecurity and warns of protests if the government does not respond. Schools and hospitals in some districts are closed.

Al Jazeera reports that 21 government soldiers have been killed in Helmand in the past 48 hours as fighting remains intense near Sangin.

In Iraq government forces and allied militias finally claim victory in Ramadi,  seizing control of the government complex, although apparently some IS fighters remain in the city. The Iraqi army also claims advances near Fallujah, while peshmerga raid an IS base in Hawija and claim to have killed several fighters, although it is unclear whether their mission to free prisoners was successful. There are reports, that the U.S. denies, that U.S special forces were involved.







Saturday, December 26, 2015

Update for Saturday, December 26, 2015

Fighting continues in Sangin where, according to troops in the field, the situation continues to be perilous. Elsewhere in Helmand -- Musa Qala and Nawzad -- the Taliban control substantial territory and  possess heavy weapons. Afghan troops are unable to advance. A TOLO correspondent embedded with troops in Sangin says fierce fighting is going on with Taliban ensconced in residential areas.

Government forces have launched an offensive in Gormach, Faryab, and claim substantial gains. As usual, a spokesman does not provide information about Afghan government casualties.

NYT's Alissa J. Rubin reports that the people responsible for the mob murder of Farkhunda in Kabul have for the most escaped justice.

Indian PM Narendra Modi meets with president Ghani to discuss security cooperation among other issues. The PM's statement is implicitly,  critical of Pakistan. "Afghanistan will succeed only when terrorism no longer flows across the border when nurseries and sanctuaries of terrorism are shut and, their patrons are no longer in business."

In Iraq,  government and allied Sunni tribal forces continue to make slow, difficult advances in the center of Ramadi. According to a U.S. military spokesman, they have advanced several hundred meters toward the government complex. The attackers have had to change their plan of advance due to mines.

The UN reports more than 11,000 Iraqis killed, and more than 18,000 injured in 2015 by violence including IEDs and car bombs. 

Turkey has apparently acceded to Iraq complaints and has withdrawn most of its forces from Bashiqa,
but says that trainers will remain.

Shafaq reports fighting between PKK and Turkish forces in Turkey, further dimming hopes for a renewed truce. However, the relationship between the KRG and Turkey continues to develop positively as Kurdistan prime minister Nechirvan Barzani will visit Ankara.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Update for Thursday, December 24, 2015


After U.S. airstrikes, and re-supply of defenders by helicopter, Sangin withstands Taliban siege. British forces have also moved into the area, which they previously occupied during the height of NATO combat operations in the country.

There are conflicting claims about the overall security situation in Helmand.

Large scale Taliban attack on security posts in Zabul is successfully resisted, with apparently 3 ANA soldiers killed. A local commander claims 14 Taliban dead. As always, claims about casualties conflict.

U.S. drone strike said to kill 3 Taliban in Nangarhar. (Note that this sort of activity goes largely unreported in the U.S.)

In Iraq, the advance of government forces into Ramadi continues but is slowed by booby traps, snipers and suicide bombers. Some 50 civilian families have managed to flee to safety but that is a fraction of those believed to be present. U.S. led coalition is providing intense close air support.

Coalition air strike hits a meeting of IS leaders near Mosul, with a claim of 30 killed. The attack is said to have been based on intelligence provided by peshmerga. But the bombs aren't that smart. Reports and video footage of civilian casualties from U.S. air strikes in Mosul.

Iraqi forces also claim gains near Tikrit.

Bombs in Khalis and Baghdad kill 15 civilians.

Report finds that IS has lost about 10% of its territory in 2015. If you look at the map you will see that most of the gains were by Kurdish forces.






Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Update for Tuesday, December 22, 2015


Casualties in the suicide attack near Bagram are being identified.

Air Force Major Adrianna Vorderbruggen is the first openly gay woman to be killed in action. "Facebook postings on Tuesday by Vorderbruggen’s loved ones mourned her death and sent condolences to her wife Heather and son Jacob. The family lives near Washington DC, where the couple was married in June 2012, the year after the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for gay service members was repealed"

Reuters lists the remaining dead  as:

  • New York City Detective Joseph Lemm, a 15-year veteran of the NYPD who also volunteered in the U.S. Air National Guard and was on his third deployment to war zones.
  • Serviceman Chester McBride Jr., who was remembered by the principal of Statesboro High School as "a young man of high character with a great smile." 
  • Serviceman Michael Anthony Cinco of Rio Grande Valley, Texas.
  • Staff Sergeant Peter Taub, whose family lives in the Washington, D.C., area.
  • Staff Sergeant Louis Bonacasa from New York.
 Remember that the much larger number of Afghan casualties generally remain anonymous.

The siege of Sangin continues, with U.S. and British forces reportedly in the area. However, the situation appears desperate with hold-out government forces outnumbered and poorly equipped. "Helmand province’s deputy governor, Mohammad Jan Rasoolyar, has resorted to attempting to contact President Ghani on Facebook to beg for help. “The command and control system is a mess,” he wrote. He later told the Associated Press: “I can’t hold my tongue any more.”

In Iraq, Iraqi forces are advancing in Ramadi in a push to eliminate the IS holdouts in the city center. In an important change in policy, no Shiite militias are participating in the operation. Some 4-10,000 civilians remain trapped in the city along with the IS forces. It is unclear how many of them will be able to escape.

 
 

Monday, December 21, 2015

Update for Monday, December 21, 2015


A suicide attack on a patrol near Bagram air base has killed 6 NATO troops and injured 3. NATO, in accordance with policy, has not stated the nationality of the casualties but a spokesman for the governor of Parwan province has suggested that they were Americans. There was apparently also an unstated number of Afghan troops injured or killed. We will provide more information as it becomes available.

Update: Reuters is reporting that all 6 killed were American, although there is as yet no official announcement as of 12:45 ET.

An Afghan-American woman is killed in Kabul. Lisa Akbari, who had worked for the U.S. army and was apparently currently working for an NGO, was attacked by someone who is said to have "ties to terrorism."

Update: The killer is identified as a cleric, Sayed Ahmad, who was later shot and injured by police, under unclear circumstances. He is said to have lived in the same apartment building as the victim. She was apparently an army veteran, not a civilian contractor, but currently working for a Japanese NGO.

Taliban overrun Sangin district in Helmand. Deputy governor Mohammad Jan Rasulyar has posted on social media that "Helmand stands on the brink [of falling to the Taliban] … Ninety men have been killed in Gereshk and Sangin districts in the last two days," claiming that president Ghani's office has not communicated with local leadership and appears unaware of the gravity of the situation. About 170 people are trapped in the police compound and will not be able to hold out much longer.

In Iraq, Turkey is withdrawing troops from the Mosul area in an effort appease the Baghdad government, although some apparently remain and it is not clear that the dispute is entirely over.

IS is said to be preventing civilians from leaving the area of Ramadi it still controls as Iraqi forces prepare an assault.

In what may be a big deal, Kurdistan president Massoud Barzani has called on the two major parties in the region to organize a referendum on independence. (It would certainly pass.) As I have noted before, the rapprochement of the KRG with Ankara and its repudiation of the PKK are best seen as steps toward this goal.








Friday, December 18, 2015

Update for Friday, December 18, 2015


I delayed posting today, waiting for greater clarity on what appear to have been some friendly fire casualties of Iraqi forces resulting from U.S. close air support. Earlier reports claimed much larger numbers of casualties. We'll see how this sorts out.

Some reports have spun this as indicating strength on the part of IS, but in fact it appears that a wide-front assault on peshmerga territory near Mosul failed badly. The story I've linked to emphasizes the role of Canadian forces in the battle, which clearly places them as ground combatants. However, air strikes appear to have accounted for 180 IS dead, along with an unknown number killed by peshmerga fighters. The Kurds claim to have killed 42 IS fighters near Khazar. The attack on the Turkish base appears to have been the first volley in this attempted IS offensive. It appears that IS has no hope of prevailing in an open battlefield operation such as this given allied air power.

The Pentagon will give more arms and equipment to the peshmerga. I'm not sure about the politics of this as peshmerga forces have already advanced well beyond the borders of the KRG and it is obvious the Baghdad is getting nervous about the U.S.-Kurdish alliance which is independent of the Baghdad government.




Thursday, December 17, 2015

Update for Thursday, December 17, 2015


A new development in the dispute between Ankara and Baghdad over the Turkish troop presence at the Bashiqa training base near Mosul as an IS rocket hits the base, injuring four Turkish soldiers and killing two Iraqis, presumably Kurds. The Turks say they counterattacked, destroying IS targets, and state that this event shows that their presence there is justified.

Meanwhile, an Italian company has won the contract to repair the Mosul dam, and Italy is sending 450 troops to protect the operation. For those who do not know, IS briefly seized the dam as Iraqi forces in the area collapsed, and it was retaken by peshmerga. The dam is considered dangerous because it is built on gypsum which is continually dissolving and undermining the structure. If it were to tail, Baghdad would be inundated.

Peshmerga claim continuing gains in the Sinjar area, while Iraqi forces claim gains near Fallujah. IS does appear to be gradually losing ground in Iraq, but the discord among Baghdad, Irbil, and Ankara (with Tehran and Moscow also in the mix)  is concerning for the ultimate outcome.

In Afghanistan,  a Pentagon report to congress says violence is on the rise and that security is fragile.

Heavy fighting continues in Helmand with reported Taliban gains.

IS launches a radio station in Nangarhar, "Voice of the Caliphate." [Hmm. You'd think that would be easy enough to take out with a drone. -- C]

I'm not quite sure I get the logic of this but a report says USAID development programs in Afghanistan actually increase support for the Taliban in places where there is a Taliban presence. Apparently the Taliban gets credit for them.

Brother of Afghan ambassador to India killed in a mosque in Kandahar while praying.

Navy SEALs are accused of beating a detainee to death in 2012, and their commanders of a cover-up. More broadly, U.S. special forces have tolerated and enabled abuse of civilians by Afghan Local Police, driving people into the arms of the Taliban.






Monday, December 14, 2015

Update for Monday, December 14, 2015


In case you were wondering, no, the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan has not ended, and the deteriorating situation in Helmand province, according to the New York Times, is drawing in the U.S. more deeply.

A Western diplomat said last week that United States Special Operations forces had been engaged in combat in Helmand for weeks, and that there were more American forces fighting there than at any time since President Obama last year announced a formal end to combat operations in Afghanistan. The extent of the American role has been kept largely secret, with senior Afghan officials in the area saying they are under orders not to divulge the level of cooperation, especially by Special Operations forces on the ground.
Right. And exactly who are they keeping the secret from?

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Update for Saturday, December 12, 2015


Doctors without borders concludes that the death toll from the U.S. assault on its hospital in Kunduz was at least 42, after an investigation that included looking through the rubble for human remains. They have identified the dead as 14 staff, 24 patients, and four relatives of patients. At the same time, the United Nations Assistance Mission has concluded that the total civilian death toll in the battle for Kunduz was 289. The statement said “The vast majority of these casualties resulted from ground fighting that could not be attributed solely to one party.” The U.S. has yet to release its internal investigation of the hospital attack, and has provided no information about responsible parties or possible disciplinary action. The explanation offered publicly has not seemed credible to many observers, but an independent investigation cannot take place without U.S  and Afghan permission.

Taliban attack a guest house near the Spanish embassy, resulting in a 9-hour siege in which 10 people are killed including 2 Spanish police tasked with embassy protection. Normally U.S. soldiers are housed in the building but apparently that was not the case at the time.

District governor assassinated in Baghlan.

Security forces capture 9 foreign nationals in Jalalabad, one of whom then detonates a suicide vest killing herself, 3 children among the detainees, and an intelligence officer. "Out of respect, the woman was not searched by intelligence staff after her capture." The foreigners are said to speak Russian.

In Iraq, 6 border guards are killed by a suicide bombers at a post on the Saudi border. IS takes responsibility.

The dispute with Turkey continues, with Iraq asking the UN Security Council to intervene to demand that Turkey withdraw its troops from northern Iraq. Turkish president Erdogan continues to insist that Abadi asked for the troops.

“During a visit to Turkey in 2014, [Iraqi PM Haider al-] Abadi demanded [Turkish troops] for training," he said. "After these demands, we set up the Bashiqa camp. They are aware of all of this.”
“They [Turkish troops] are more a training team rather than a combative force,” said Erdogan, adding that the training program was part of the fight against Daesh.
“I believe this [Iraq’s complaint to the UN] is based on Russia and Iran’s moves in the region," he added.


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Update for Thursday, December 10, 2015


Omar Al Saleh, in al Jazeera, discusses the row over the Turkish troop presence in Iraq .in the context of Iraq's overall sovereignty. He notes that the complaint by Abadi is somewhat disingenuous given the presence of Iranian and U.S. troops, which do not answer to Iraqi command, and Turkeys long campaign within Iraq against the PKK. The weakness of the Iraqi state is the real story here.

More clarity about the campaign in Ramadi as Iraqi force display a huge haul of weapons captured from IS in the city. There now appear to be only about 300 IS fighters trapped in one part of the city and cut off from reinforcement or resupply. An  additional, and important piece of information, is that some 8,500 Sunni Arab fighters from Anbar participated in the campaign.

[Muhannad Haimour, the spokesman for the Anbar governor's office] said the decision to arm Sunni tribal fighters from Ramadi against ISIS - which claims to be a Sunni group - was a key factor that changed the sluggish pace of the battle. He said: 'They didn't feel like they had enough support from the coalition and the central government, but all of that changed a few months ago.' There are now 8,500 members from Anbar organised, trained, armed and receiving salaries.

KRG president Barzani returns from Turkey and urges Turkey to continue negotiations with its own Kurdish parties to reach an accord.



Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Update for Wednesday, December 9, 2015


After apparently trying unsuccessfully to enter Kandhar airport, Taliban seize a nearby residential neighborhood, with fighting resulting in the death of 37 civilians and scores more injuries. Militants are still holed up and fighting continues, with the airport largely closed as a precaution.

In Iraq meanwhile, in a further sign of improving relations between Kurdistan and Turkey, Kurdish president Massoud Barzani is in Ankara for an official visit. At the same time, however, Turkey has bombed PKK positions in Iraqi Kurdistan. Although I can find no immediate comment on this from the KRG, the KRG has previously repudiated the PKK and it is conceivable that this happened with the tacit consent of the KRG.

This essay in Business Insider essentially concurs with my conclusion that the spat between Turkey and Iraq over Turkish forces presence near Mosul is really a surrogate for the Turkish quarrel with Russia. Here's a key excerpt:

Russia has been sharing "security and intelligence" information about the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) with Iraq since September — when Russian, Syrian, and Iranian military advisers began building a coordination cell in Baghdad in an effort to bolster the Iranian-backed Shia militias fighting ISIS in northern Iraq.

With Iran's implicit blessing, Russian president Vladimir Putin has therefore taken on a greater role in Iraq — a role that comes with certain political and military expectations.
Note that this leaves the U.S. on the outside looking in, even as additional U.S. special forces enter Iraq and the U.S. continues the air campaign against IS. I don't normally link to Iranian state news outlets because they are unreliable, but they are reporting that a member of the Iraqi parliament is demanding that the security agreement with the U.S. be cancelled. It doesn't seem likely that Abadi can be best buddies with Iran, Russia, and the U.S. all at the same time, especially if he's allied with Russia in confronting NATO member Turkey. This is a big mess.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Update for Tuesday, December 8, 2015


The row between Turkey and Iraq continues over the presence of Turkish troops near Mosul, where they are supporting Kurdish fighters. Turkey has stopped deploying additional forces to the area but says the 100 or so troops there now will remain. It's hard to sort out what this is really all about but it seems to go back to the hostility between Russia and Turkey. (Russian news services are all over the story, taking the Iraqi side, as here.) Recall that Iran is a main supporter of the Assad regime. Under Shiite government, Iraq is also now allied with Assad, and Russia's intervention on Assad's behalf now draws the three powers closer. Nobody likes IS, but that is not enough to overcome the split over Assad. One more sign that any remaining U.S. influence in Iraq is pretty much done for. (And we still have the billion dollar embassy with the swimming pools.)

Iraq claims major gains in Ramadi and predicts expelling IS from the city "very soon," without giving any specific time frame. It is not clear to what extent this was accomplished by the Iraqi army vs. Shiite militias, or how many Sunni Arab forces are involved.

Amnesty International crashes through an open door to observe that IS has largely armed itself with weapons captured from Iraqi military stockpiles, which AI thinks were excessive, blaming Iraq's international suppliers including the U.S.

In AfghanistanTaliban attack Kandahar airport, apparently with little result. 


Monday, December 7, 2015

Update for Monday, December 7, 2015


Here is story with two interesting dimensions. Iraqi PM Abadi has ordered Turkish troops out of Iraq, with the Turks claiming they were there by invitation all along, and all they have done is rotate in a new unit. I'm not sure what this is all about between Abadi and the Turks, but what is most interesting is why the Turkish troops are there. They are in the Mosul area, training and equipping peshmerga. As the linked article says,

The Turkish military recently released details of a training program for Kurdish Peshmerga fighters that it has been operating in Iraq. The army statement came after Friday's deployment of around 150 Turkish troops to replace training forces already in Mosul. Along with the troops, 20 to 25 tanks were also dispatched to the area.

Turkish army sources said Saturday that they had been training fighters in four provinces of northern Iraq with the ultimate aim of fighting Daesh . . .
According to the Turkish military, Peshmerga forces have received training in the use of heavy machine guns, mortars and artillery. They have also received first-aid training.
More than 2,500 Peshmerga fighters, including officers, have participated in the Turkish training program, the military added.
I have said before that there appears to have been a significant rapprochement between Turkey and the KRG, but this is really a dramatic development. It should also put an end to claims that Turkey isn't really interested in fighting IS. On the other hand, Turkey's attitude toward the Kurds in Syria appears to be considerably less friendly.

 Syria has also complained about the Turkish troop presence in Iraq, I'm guessing because they don't want to see a more militarily capable Kurdistan, as well as just having hostile relations with Ankara. However, Damascus is never going to get its Kurdish region back. Again, the regional and global politics of this situation are hugely complex and make confronting IS very difficult.

Are the U.S. troops in Iraq "non-combat"? I'm not sure what that means since they are in a hostile place. Marines in Iraq get new mortars.

Four new M252A2 81mm mortars were fielded to Marines with Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines just prior to their deployment to al Asad air base, enabling them to move faster, see farther and better carry out their force protection mission. The Marines arrived there in October as part of the new rotation of Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force — Crisis Response — Central Command. They're tasked with protecting the air base in Iraq’s Anbar province as local troops take on the Islamic State group. . . .

Other than one illumination mission required to light up the Iraqi night, they’ve yet to engage enemy forces, but Schafer said they remain prepared. “We do gun drills for about two to three hours every day, just keeping ourselves sharp and getting ready for whatever missions we have coming down,” he said.








Friday, December 4, 2015

Update for Friday, December 4, 2015


U.S. special forces participate in a raid on a Taliban prison in Helmand province which frees 40 members of Afghan security forces. The U.S. announcement gives main credit to Afghan forces and does not specify the role of U.S. forces. However, this is a reminder that U.S. special forces do continue to have a combat role in Afghanistan.

There are unconfirmed reports that Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Akhtar Mansour was killed in a factional fight in Pakistan. Regardless of whether this turns out to be true, infighting within the Taliban seems to be growing more intense.

A mortar round fired by the Afghan National Army hits a mosque in Maidan Wardak, killing 14 people.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, this is kind of interesting. Following the U.S. announcement that it will deploy 100 special forces to combat IS in Iraq and Syria, Prime Minister Abadi says he did not request any such "foreign forces" and considers their deployment a "hostile act." (The sentiment evidently does not apply to Iranians.)

The statement, issued by the Prime Minister’s Office, also said that “the Iraqi government completely rejects such action and would deal with the presence of foreign ground troops to Iraq as though their presence were a hostile act and a violation of Iraq's national sovereignty.”
Al-Abadi also said: “The Iraqi government is committed to not allowing ground troops on Iraqi land, and it did not ask any party, neither regional or from the coalition forces, to deploy ground forces in Iraq.”

The PM's sentiments aside, there is a widespread belief among both Sunni and Shiite Iraqis that the U.S. secretly backs IS. "The perception among Iraqis that the United States is somehow in cahoots with the militants it claims to be fighting appears, however, to be widespread across the country’s Sunni-Shiite sectarian divide, and it speaks to more than just the troubling legacy of mistrust that has clouded the United States’ relationship with Iraq since the 2003 invasion and the subsequent withdrawal eight years later."

Shiite and Kurdish forces that recapture territory from IS continue to abuse the local Sunni Arab population. This is a basic structural problem in the fight against IS which cannot be fixed unless the Iraqi government wants to fix it, by equipping and empowering Sunni Arab fighters and giving fair treatment to its Sunni Arab population. (I fear it may be too late for that.)

Monday, November 30, 2015

Update for Monday, November 30, 2015

Analysts question the U.S. explanation for the assault on MSF hospital in Kunduz. Nothing you didn't read here first, but:

[A] catalogue of errors General Campbell listed that ultimately resulted in the AC-130 gunship firing on the hospital went against safeguards that had "long been standard operating procedure," Kate Clark of Afghanistan Analysts Network said. "The question remains whether the disregard of these procedures was intentional," she wrote, underscoring the need for an independent international inquiry into the strike which killed 30 people and which observers have said could amount to a war crime.

Analysts have also pointed to unanswered questions in the report — particularly regarding what Afghan forces on the ground were doing throughout the attack — and said some of the systems failures described were beyond comprehension.. . .
Among the claims made by General Campbell that analysts stumbled over was his statement that targeting systems on board the AC-130 had been "degraded" after the plane changed its flight path believing it had been targeted by a missile. This reduced the crew — who had taken off early, without a proper mission brief or the no-strike list — to searching for the "closest large building" near to where the AC-130's systems were telling them to fire.

Meanwhile, U.S. embassy in Kabul warns of an "imminent attack", but gives no details. "Citing the country's "extremely unstable" security situation, the State Department continues to advise American civilians against traveling to Afghanistan"

A less than usually ridiculous body count announcement as MoD says 8 ANA soldiers killed in past 24 hours in various locations  with 4 Taliban dead. As usual, Taliban claim a higher number of government casualties.

In Iraq, in a sign that the long-awaited assault on Ramadi may be imminent, the government urges civilians to leave the city. Of course they are not exactly free to do so, with IS imposing a $6,000 exit fee. (But that may be a sign that they are in difficult financial straits, as one would expect them to forbid departure entirely.)

Friday, November 27, 2015

Update for Friday, November 27, 2015


Jonathan Steele, in NYRB, has an in-dept piece on the Syrian Kurds which adds detail to my analysis of a couple of days ago. Like me, Steele believes that ultimately there will have to be a devolutionary solution in Syria which will de facto give the Syrian Kurds a state. He seems to find it less likely than I do that it would end up merging with Iraqi Kurdistan and erasing the existing Syria-Iraq border, because the political parties in the two enclaves are different and the Syrian Kurds are generally more left-leaning. Syrian federalism and Kurdish autonomy would, as I said, also require detente with the Turks. Steele seems to think the peace negotiations with the PKK can be revived. However, the Syrian Kurdish state -- called Rojava -- would further unnerve the Turks because it would probably unite territory which is currently divided by the Euphrates and a zone to its west, which would give the Kurds control of 90% or more of Turkey's southern border.

Refugees from Mosul and elsewhere in Iraq remain in desperate circumstances in camps in Kurdistan as winter sets in.

Progress toward the long-delayed assault in Ramadi  as Iraqi forces take the Palestine bridge across the Euphrates and now surround the city. The Kurdish capture of Sinjar has also cut the IS supply route from Raqqa to Mosul. If Iraqi forces can retake Ramadi, the plan is to move on to Mosul which would essentially eliminate IS as a functioning state in Iraqi territory. However, as I have said many times, military success will not lead to stability without a political solution in Iraq, of which so far there is little sign. IS in Syria will also be a much harder nut to crack, because the only military force capable of real progress is that of the Assad regime, which NATO opposes.


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Second update for Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The U.S. military has released its explanation for the assault on the MSF hospital in Kunduz. Of course it was all just a big mistake. To summarize:

  • Afghan forces requested an airstrike, saying they were under fire. However, they did not provide map coordinates of the building they wanted to be attacked, they just "described its location."
  • U.S. special forces passed on the description to the crew of the AC-130.
  • The plane had been diverted from another mission and its crew was not familiar with Kunduz, and had not been briefed on the location of the hospital.
  • The location description was apparently vague or inaccurate (it referred to an open field), so the crew decided to attack the hospital building.
  • U.S. ground forces were not within visual range of the attack.
  • An on-board targeting computer that might have stored the coordinate of the hospital as off-limits wasn't working.
Okaaay.

  • No explanation as to why the AC-130 attacked even though there was no evidence of a firefight. (They would have seen it with infrared surveillance if it was happening.)
  • No explanation of why the crew did not confirm the identity of the target when the information they had turned out to be incorrect.
  • No explanation of why the attack continued for an hour despite frantic calls by hospital personnel to U.S., Afghan, United Nations and Red Cross officials. 
Gen. Campbell says some individuals have been "suspended" from their duties.  I have no further comment on this right now.


 

Update for Wednesday, November 25, 2015


The shoot-down of a Russian jet by Turkey prompts me to review the complicated geopolitics of the Syria-Iraq battle space. Keith Bradsher of the NYT explains what's behind the shoot-down. I'll summarize what he has to say then build out to the bigger picture.

As Bradsher explains, Turkey has been committed to removal of the Assad regime in Syria. So they didn't like it when the Russians intervened on his behalf. They like it even less that the Russians have specifically attacked Turkmen in the north of Syria who are ethnically akin to the Anatolian Turks. Finally, there is a border dispute with Syria which the Russian jets have been irritating. So Erdogan decided to punch Putin.

What he doesn't mention is the situation between Turkey and the Kurds, which is not really related to the dispute with Russia. During most of the time while the U.S. occupied Iraq, Turkey was routinely bombing villages in Iraqi Kurdistan controlled by the PKK, an irredentist movement with designs on Turkish territory inhabited by Kurds. A couple of years ago, however, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) achieved a rapprochement with Ankara. The Kurds repudiated the PKK and suppressed its activities; Turkey granted cultural and political rights to its Kurdish population. Kurds were even elected to the Turkish parliament. This was of course an essential step toward the Kurds' ambition for autonomy, which Turkey would not previously have tolerated. Unfortunately, due largely to Turkish domestic politics, the accommodation between Turkey and the KRG has become rocky.

The Turks are more uncomfortable, however, with the Kurds in northern Syria, where the PKK continues to operate. They don't like NATO's assistance to the Syrian Kurds vs. the self-styled Islamic State, because it means a more capable Kurdish military force on its border, with which Turkey does not have a tolerant relationship. The Turks were very reluctant to allow support for the recapture of Kobani from their territory, and generally reluctant to take on IS. They do now allow the U.S. to operate against IS from their Incirlik airbase, however.

The Baghdad government is also disturbed by the enhancement of KRG military capabilities. Kurdistan long ago seized territory around Kirkuk which has previously been controlled by the Baghdad government, and has now seized Sinjar, and vowed to keep it. So Baghdad has blocked arms shipments to Kurdistan through its airport.

The U.S. and its NATO partners, however, find the Kurds much more reliable partners against IS than the Baghdad army, which is corrupt, ineffectual, and partnered with Shiite militias backed by Iran. The Kurds are also culturally more allied with the West. I should note, however, that the development of the Peshmerga from an insurgent militia to a national army is not complete. Units actually have allegiance to one of the two major political factions that govern Kurdistan. They will fight alongside each other, but rivalries have sometimes slowed military action.

So, while the IS manages to unify Baghdad, Iran, NATO (with some Turkish reluctance), the Kurds, and Russia in opposition, these players do not easily collaborate. Most important, there is no capable Sunni Arab force to take the territory now held by IS, and the relevant population within Iraq will not accede to Baghdad rule, nor will the Syrian population accede to Assad. So there isn't any alternative state to gain their loyalty.

That is why many people are now arguing that a negotiated end to the Syrian civil war is necessary, that will leave the Assad regime in place in control of its rump territory, but create a federal arrangement that gives non-Allawite ethnic groups autonomy, as the Iraqi Kurds have now. There would probably need to be a similar arrangement for the Iraqi Sunni Arabs, and perhaps this even means that the Iraq-Syria border goes away in what is now IS territory. The point is, IS occupies precisely the Sunni Arab territory that will not be governed by the existing recognized nations. Perhaps Iraqi Kurdistan would also expand into what is now Syria, although the Turks probably won't like that. The Iranians aren't happy about increased Kurdish autonomy and power either, as they have their own restive Kurdish population.

But the bottom line is, we aren't getting rid of IS without a political agreement that gets past these fault lines. In the past, we were very reluctant to give up on the vision of a secular, unified Iraq. But that's long gone. Syria and Iraq don't work as states any longer.  

Also, and very important, see Gaius Publicus summarizing David Stockman on how the U.S. is principally responsible for bringing about this state of affairs.



Sunday, November 22, 2015

Update for Sunday, November 21, 2015

Sorry I haven't posted for a week -- been busy, also no huge developments, but the usual slog of war.

However, a classified report prepared for upcoming talks of NATO ministers apparently calls for increased involvement in Afghanistan, including more forward deployment of "trainers" in conflict areas. It also calls for sharing intelligence with Afghan forces, to "help prevent incidents such as recent Taliban attacks for which local authorities were unprepared." Really? NATO up till now has not been warning Afghan forces when it knows of impending attacks?  Hmm.

Militants have recently been targeting the Hazara minority. Taliban have taken 8 Hazara prisoner, in this case accusing them of stealing sheep. While this may be a personal dispute, recently 7 other Hazara were murdered by unknown assailants. The Hazara are Shiites, considered apostates by Sunni extremists.

A kidnapping on the Kandabar-Zabul highway also appears to have targeted Hazara.

An eleven year old child is arrested in Kunduz province who is said to have been preparing for a suicide attack. Police say he was kidnapped years ago and trained as a suicide bomber, and that the Taliban are preparing other children for the role. (Could be true, could be propaganda. -- C)

A report commissioned by president Ghani finds failures of leadership behind Taliban capture of Kunduz.

Thousands of families are displaced by violence in Nangarhar by militants using the IS brand name. (Again, the real nature of their association with the IS in Syria and Iraq is unclear. These are former Taliban.)

Chris Sands and Fazelminallah Qazizai find that political divisions following the recent national election have created governmental paralysis and allowed insurgent gains. More and more Afghans are fleeing the country as chaos seems to loom.






Saturday, November 14, 2015

Update for Saturday, November 14, 2015


I expect that most people contemplating the massacre in Paris last night are puzzled by the motive. The Islamic State can hardly expect to strengthen its grip on territory, or to expand, by provoking a militarily powerful nation to counterattack, as France almost surely will. I commend to your attention this article in the Atlantic by Graeme Wood. It's fairly long, but go ahead and read the whole thing.

He actually makes a mistake at one point by predicting that IS won't carry out attacks on foreign soil (the Charlie Hebdo attack was sponsored by al Qaeda). But the events last night actually do make sense in terms of his analysis. The most important thing we need to understand is IS adherents really do believe that they are fulfilling apocalyptic prophecies, which in fact include their near-destruction at the hands of "Rome," which today mean essentially what we all the West, the European Christendom as it has expanded to North America and elsewhere. They want to provoke conflict, in other words. Here is a key pull from Wood's essay:

In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” . . .

Our ignorance of the Islamic State is in some ways understandable: It is a hermit kingdom; few have gone there and returned. Baghdadi has spoken on camera only once. But his address, and the Islamic State’s countless other propaganda videos and encyclicals, are online, and the caliphate’s supporters have toiled mightily to make their project knowable. We can gather that their state rejects peace as a matter of principle; that it hungers for genocide; that its religious views make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of change, even if that change might ensure its survival; and that it considers itself a harbinger of—and headline player in—the imminent end of the world.
 So do read it. This is not an enemy that behaves according to the logic of others.  Its actions make no sense in most people's terms. It is essential to understand its internal logic.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Update for Friday, November 13, 2015

Kurdistan president Massud Barzani says Peshmerga fighters have taken the town of Sinjar. As you may recall, this was the Yazidi town whose capture by IS precipitated a humanitarian crisis that led to the U.S. led air campaign against IS. The Yazidi speak a Kurdish language. The Kurdistan government made a substantial effort to rescue thousands of Yazidi who were stranded on a mountain after fleeing the IS advance, and the recapture of the town is viewed as redemptive. Note there are now Yazidi fighters among the peshmerga. IS put up no resistance -- it is possible they are grouping for a counterattack. The U.S. is more cautious about the situation.

Two separate bomb attacks aimed at Shiites in Baghdad kill 18.

The Iraqi military says the long-delayed advance on Ramadi has begun, but nearby observers say it has not. We shall see if the Iraqi army has any meaningful capacity.

I was asked to review Language of War, Language of Peace, by Raja Shehadeh. You can read another review here. I have not had much to say about Palestine here, not because I'm not interested but because it has been largely off topic. At one time Palestine was a major irritant to U.S. relations with the Arab countries, because the U.S. is seen, quite correctly, as enabling the Israeli occupation and creeping dispossession through the settlement process. As you may remember, a sub-rationale for the U.S. invasion of Iraq was that the successor government to Saddam Hussein would be friendly to Israel. I have no idea what the basis was for such a belief, which has turned out to be completely absurd. However, the Arab countries now have more pressing concerns, including both IS and the rivalry with Iran, and they have largely abandoned Palestine.

Shehadeh's book is based on lectures given in memory of Edward Said, and I have to say that it isn't a very good way in to the Israel-Palestine problem for people who aren't already deeply familiar with it. There isn't much language of peace in it either. Shehadeh still hopes for an eventual two-state solution, but the book is just about his despair and anger over the current situation. It's a recitation of injustices, abuses and betrayals, with little to point to in the way of hope. And it assumes the reader knows the background of history, through which the chapters flit with no clear narrative thread or temporal coherence. So, read it if you want to know how the man feels.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Update for Saturday, November 7, 2015

There has been a bit of news in the past week but I've saved it up.

MSF releases report from its internal review of the assault on the Kunduz hospital, reiterating that "there were no weapons, armed combatants or fighting inside the compound in Kunduz before the bombing started. It said the GPS coordinates for the hospital provided to all armed groups were accurate." The report brings the death toll to 30, with additional people maimed, and states that individuals were shot as they attempted to flee.

The various investigations of the perpetrators by themselves continue to be delayed. However, we are starting to see the justifications leaked to right-wing web sites, e.g. that there were senior Taliban commanders being treated (as MSF freely states), that the hospital had discharged civilians against medical advice to make room for wounded Taliban (no comment on that from MSF but no idea where they would have gotten such information) and that the flag on the roof was not among the internationally recognized symbols for a medical facility. We shall see.

Relief has arrived to earthquake-stricken northwest Afghanistan, but now people will have to survive the winter in temporary structures. Relief efforts continue to be slowed by fighting and the reluctance of relief agencies to enter Taliban-controlled areas.


Aid organizations are having difficulty recruiting staff in Afghanistan as the security situation deteriorates.

You have probably heard about the 19 year old girl who was stoned to death in Ghor province for refusing to marry the younger brother of a Taliban commander. Note, however, that the Wolesi Jirga has called for the arrest of the perpetrators and called upon Mullahs to speak out against forced marriage.

A religious scholar who preached against the Taliban is murdered in Ghazni.

Afganistan to obtain Russian-made attack helicopters from India, a move which is likely to annoy Pakistan.

Khalilullah Ferozi, who was convicted of embezzlement in the Kabul bank scandal, has been released from prison and now has a contract with the government as part of a $900 million project.

"Release of a criminal from prison is against the law," law professor Nasrullah Stanekzai said. "Mitigating the charges of a criminal or signing a contract with him is against the law." The shocking news led to mounting criticism of government – whose main slogan was to eradicate corruption and begin it with addressing the Kabul Bank case.
Fighting continues in Helmand with back and forth territorial gains.

Various body count claims by government forces with, as usual, zero mention of government casualties.




Sunday, November 1, 2015

A link

Ahmed Rashid, writing for al Jazeera, provides a good overview of the current state of the Afghan insurgency. As I have noted many times, the so-called "Islamic State" in Afghanistan is really a breakaway faction of Taliban that has adopted the brand name. Afghan islamists have absolutely no interest in pledging allegiance to Arab leaders. And the dispute is not really ideological in any case, it's a struggle over resources such as the heroin trade. Another faction is the reconstituted al Qaeda, again more of a brand name than representing any particular ideological faction or association with leadership in the Middle East.

While these rivalries might be seen as weakening the insurgency, they also make any prospect for a negotiated end to the conflict far more difficult. But the important thing for us to remember is that the Taliban have no ambitions beyond Afghanistan. They aren't interested in global jihad or a restored caliphate or any of that. They want an Islamic regime in Afghanistan.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Update for Saturday, October 31, 2015

NY Times reports an increasingly desperate situation for government forces in Helmand and Uruzgan. "The details of the battles sweeping up to important district centers were as grim as the death toll. In telephone interviews, Afghan soldiers and their officers described feeling abandoned by their government, often left with only scant supplies of ammunition and fuel, their situation increasingly desperate in the face of Taliban fighters who seem to have grown in number." The soldiers report a lack of heavy weapons, a lack of air support, and a lack of medevac resources. They report watching their comrades bleed to death because they cannot be evacuated. Analysts say that despite their superior numbers, the government forces are hampered by corruption which often deprives units of supplies and ammunition. Helmand province is the heart of the opium growing region and therefore represents a substantial economic prize for the insurgents.

A rocket strikes a mosque in Kandahar province, killing six. Daesh (IS) militants are blamed. The intended target was apparently a security post.

Air strike in Ghazni kills 12, said to be insurgents. (As we know, there is no effort to verify the identity of people killed in these attacks. Any "military aged male" is assumed to be a legitimate target.)

Taliban block roads to 6 districts in Paktia, leaving the residents cut off.

The Netherlands prepares to prosecute Sadeq Alamyar, accused of an atrocity in Karala, Kunar province in 1979 in which 1,000 men and boys were murdered. This is a reminder of how long the Afghan people have suffered from conflict.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Update for Friday, October 30, 2015


It looks like we may need to change the name of the blog once again, this time to Today in Iraq and Afghanistan (and Syria?) as U.S. special forces will now be deployed to Kurdish territory in Syria, and while the Obama administration insists that "we are not in combat" in Iraq, Col. Steve Warren in Baghdad tells reporters:

"We’re in combat,” he said, speaking via video feed to reporters at the Pentagon. “That’s why we all carry guns.  That’s why we all get combat patches when we leave here. That’s why we all receive imminent danger pay. So, of course it’s combat.” Officials say the ground mission is primarily an advisory, not combat, one, but say American personnel are bound to encounter combat or kinetic situations from time to time, as they did in Hawijah. How often that occurs may depend on whether Obama approves proposed steps that would expand U.S. operations in Iraq and Syria, including embedding American troops with Iraqi units closer to the front lines.
Waist deep in the Big Muddy.

Meanwhile, a rocket attack on a former U.S. military base housing the Iranian dissident group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq kills 23. This is a somewhat complicated story for those new to Iraqi affairs, but the organization -- which was an armed insurgency -- was harbored by Saddam Hussein whose government was hostile to Iran. After the U.S. invasion, when a Shiite led government took power, it no longer wanted to protect the group but the international community has prevented them from acting against it. (They were moved from their previous location to the former Camp Liberty.) Despite its hostility to the Iranian regime, the U.S. classified the MEK as a terrorist organization (whatever that means). In any event, their fate is still undecided. Meanwhile, no-one has taken responsibility for the attack.

UNICEF says 2 million children in Iraq currently have no schooling.

People continue to flee IS-held territory to Kurdistan.

In Afghanistan, relief is still slow to arrive to remote regions affected by the recent earthquake.

"As of Friday, the government assessment teams and rescue personnel have failed to reach all affected districts in Kunar. The quake destroyed scores of houses. Villagers are staying in open spaces amid fears of aftershocks. They are in urgent need of food and warm clothes. The weather is very cold during the night. We also need food and blankets," Habid added. "People in remote areas are digging debris to find remnants of food for children."
Now this is just weird. The United States Agency for International Development can’t pinpoint the location of nearly two dozen health facilities it funds in western Afghanistan, potentially putting them at risk for attack, and obviously meaning there is no meaningful oversight of the use of the funds.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction conducted site inspections at 23 of the 63 health facilities USAID funds in the province of Herat. It found only 12 of the facilities it visited were within one kilometer of the location provided by USAID, according to a new report. Seven facilities were more than five kilometers away.  The watchdog’s review of information about the other 40 medical facilities in the province was only able to confirm the existence of 19 of the sites. “For the remaining 21 facilities, USAID provided old or unclear photographs which did not demonstrate the physical location or existence of the purported facility,” the report said.
 The Guardian reports that the exodus from Afghanistan is growing as people lose hope for the future.


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Special Post for Tuesday, October 27, 2015


Obama considers escalating the U.S. role in ground combat in Syria and Iraq. That means fighting with Iranian backed Shiite militias in Iraq, and against them in Syria, among other interesting puzzles.

We were knee deep in the Big Muddy, the big fool said to push on.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Update for Monday, October 26, 2015

A massive earthquake has struck northwest Afghanistan, which was felt over a wide area of central and south Asia. There are reports of substantial numbers of deaths in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but communications with the most affected region are out. It will be some time before we have any sort of a picture of the damage and possible political aftermath. I will post as I can today when there is more information.

Information about the quake is still just trickling out. Of course the reported death toll is still rising but there isn't much point in following the play by play as it ticks up. We'll actually know something later. Meanwhile, I've been reluctant to link to leaks from the Kunduz hospital bombing because they are probably self-serving, but someone has been leaking to AP and it may be instructive as to where they are trying to go with this. The excuse of the day seems to be that the green berets who called in the strike thought the hospital had been overrun by Taliban, was under their control, harbored heavy weapons, and was the base for firing against U.S. troops. There is a hint dropped that maybe they confused the MSF facility with an Afghan ministry of health facility that had been overrun.

I'll give the anonymous AP reporters credit -- they are properly skeptical, on numerous very good grounds. They can't say it, but I can. This is bullshit. Read the story if you are interested, it seems to me reasonably informative. Of course the self-investigation has been delayed once again. If we ever learn the truth, I doubt there will be accountability.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Update for Thursday, October 22, 2015


A U.S. commando is killed in combat in Iraq, in a joint operation with Kurdish forces near Hawija. The operation freed prisoners and also resulted in the capture of some IS fighters.

Update: U.S. soldier killed in action is identified  as army Master Sergeant Joshua L. Wheeler of Roland, Oklahoma, assigned to U.S. Army Special Operations Command in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.



More information on the raid near Hawija in which a U.S. soldier died. The Kurdistan government requested U.S. assistance in the raid, apparently after receiving intelligence that the captives faced imminent risk of execution. They also apparently believed there were Kurds among the prisoners, but they were all Arab members of the Iraqi security forces, local residents, or IS fighters suspected of spying. In addition to the dead American, 4 peshmerga fighters were injured in the action. Five IS fighters were captured and an unstated number killed.

U.S. has deployed A-10s to Incirlik to participate in strikes against IS.

Meanwhile, returning to Afghanistan, former staff sergeant Robert Bales, who murdered 16 Afghan villagers, gives an interview to GQ in which he is sorry for letting down his buddies but still thinks he did the right thing by murdering Afghans. Seriously. Not that it matters, the only way he's coming out of prison is feet first. (We hope.)

Afghan forces are said to counterattack to recover the town of Babaji from the Taliban, who overran it on Friday. Most civilians were able to flee but some remain trapped. They are near the city of Lashkar Gah which is considered threatened. The Taliban are armed with Russian heavy machine guns, rocket launchers, and mortars.

Kunduz provincial council is concerned about the weapons the Taliban captured when they overran the city,.



Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Update for Tuesday, October 20, 2015


The state of the war continues to be highly volatile, with Lashkar Gah said to be under serious Taliban pressure and civilians fleeing. Highway One between Kandahar and Herat is also threatened.

Accounts of this incident vary somewhat, but the standard report is that 18 police are missing and presumed captured after Taliban overrun a remote district in Faryab. Warlord Rashid Dostum, who is a Vice President but who has his own militia and is not affiliated with the Afghan military, is put in charge of operations in the area.

UN and Afghan officials express concern about use of child soldiers by Taliban.

Taliban dissidents trying to unite around an alternative to Mullah Mansour.

Three UN security guards are injured by an explosion in Jalalabad.

In an unusual incident, A U.S. F-16 fighter jet was damaged by small arms fire in Paktia on October 13.  It was forced to jettison fuel tanks and weapons before returning safely to Bagram. In order for this to have happened, it must have been flying very low and slow, suggesting it was providing close air support, perhaps to U.S. special operations forces.

Not doing himself any good, Afghan defense minister Masoom Stanekzai continues to claim that the MSF hospital in Kunduz was a Taliban sanctuary, implying that the U.S. attack on the hospital was justified. (The scenario that the Pentagon has been leaking, which I have refrained from linking to, is that Afghans called in the strike and the U.S. commanders who authorized it failed to confirm the nature of the target. That might spare somebody a court martial for mass murder, but not for dereliction of duty.)

Germany, Turkey and Italy will go along with the U.S. and keep troops in Afghanistan.







Thursday, October 15, 2015

Update for Thursday, October 15, 2015


It looks like this blog will be around for a while, as President Obama announces U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan, and will engage in combat against al Qaeda. [Apparently bombing Taliban and hospitals is not "combat."] The current force level of 9,800 will be maintained through "most of next year," with a reduction to 5,000 to follow. However, no date for full withdrawal is proposed.

Oh, about those "non-combat" drone strikes. The Intercept has another leaker who provides details on the drone war. [Warning: Annoying GIF at the link that may cause an epileptic seizure.] For those who prefer a summary, The Hill hits the high points:

According to documents leaked to The Intercept, the Operation Haymaker campaign killed 219 people between January 2012 and February 2013, but only 35 were the intended targets. 
During one five-month stretch of the campaign, nearly nine out of 10 people who died in airstrikes were not direct targets, The Intercept reported. 
All 200 deaths, however, were declared "EKIA," or “enemy killed in action," even though there was no definitive evidence they were enemy targets. 
“If there is no evidence that proves a person killed in a strike was either not a [military-age male], or was a MAM but not an unlawful enemy combatant, then there is no question,” said the source who leaked the documents to The Intercept. “They label them EKIA. 
“Anyone caught in the vicinity is guilty by association,” the source continued. When “a drone strike kills more than one person, there is no guarantee that those persons deserved their fate. … So it’s a phenomenal gamble.”
Collateral damage, don't you know.

And MSF has a new complaint, that a U.S. tank forced its way into the bombed out Kunduz hospital, evidently in order to investigate. However, 

MSF was not informed in advance and did not give permission for the intrusion. "The incident violated an agreement with investigators that MSF "would be given notice before each step of the procedure involving the organization's personnel and assets."
"Their unannounced and forced entry damaged property, destroyed potential evidence and caused stress and fear," it said in a statement, adding that an MSF team had arrived at the hospital earlier in the day.

MSF has also raised the death toll from the bombing to 24, saying that 2 missing staff members are presumed dead.

Tom Engelhart on the massive failure of intelligence that led to the Kunduz debacle.

NYT's Allisa Rubin on the Taliban's war on women in Kunduz. "In a methodical campaign, the Taliban relentlessly hounded women with any sort of public profile, looted a high school and destroyed the offices of many of the organizations that protected and supported women in Kunduz." Many leaders of women's programs and causes in Kunduz will not return due to threats.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

News of the Day for Wednesday, October 14, 2015

It turns out that 14 years is not nearly long enough. White House officials tell the New York Times Obama is likely to abandon his plan to withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan. (I linked to New York magazine's cover of this because of the NYT subscription policy which may exclude some readers.) He is apparently giving in to pressure from many in the foreign policy establishment. According to the report, he is contemplating reducing U.S. forces to 5,000 from the current 9,800, tasked mostly with fighting al Qaeda and the Islamic State. [Again, really a breakaway faction of the Taliban.]

Returning residents of Kunduz continue to face food shortage.

Taliban overrun two police posts in Helmand province and kill 29 border police, including 8 who were taken prisoner.

UN official warns of a deteriorating humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, saying current relief funding is half of what is needed, with 130,000 people newly displaced this year.

The Taliban have threatened TOLO and 1TV over their reporting on Taliban atrocities, most notably reports of rapes in Kunduz. The linked story reports the Wolesi Jirga condemning these threats. They also continue to accuse Pakistan of being behind the Afghan Taliban.  Here is an interview with Tolo founder Saad Mohseni about the threats. [I frequently link to Tolo. They support secular, constitutional government in Afghanistan but are not afraid to criticize government corruption and failure. One unquestionable gain for Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban has been a flourishing independent media.] Bakhtar weighs in with a defense of free press. Here is a statement by the International Federation of Journalists.

Contrary to several earlier reports, and somewhat inexplicably, a new survey says that opium production has sharply decreased. [The source and reliability of the data is not given, however. It is very difficult to accurately track illegal activities, obviously.]

The Kabul-Kandahar highway continues to be blocked, stranding hundreds.

UPDATE: Andrew Quilty, in Foreign Policy, presents a photo essay of the destroyed MSF hospital. Note that he observed the burned remains of numerous people, presumably many of those so far unaccounted for. The death toll is undoubtedly well above the 23 confirmed so far. Note also, this is what happens any time a building is attacked by an AC-130. We just usually don't get to see it.



 


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Update for Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Taliban announce what they are calling a strategic withdrawal from Kunduz, purportedly to avoid further civilian casualties. In fact they had been largely pushed to the city's outskirts already. Electricity is slowly being restored but apparently water supply remains problematic. Many displaced people still cannot return because the Taliban have blocked highways from Baghlan.

A joint U.S.-Afghan operation in Kandahar province dismantles 2 al Qaeda bases. Apparently U.S. ground forces were involved in the operation but details are not made public. According to U.S. Brigadier General William Shofner, the operation resulted in the seizure of substantial amounts of weapons and intelligence.

Taliban so far have failed to enter Ghazni but fighting continues on the periphery and the Taliban continue to block the Kabul-Kandahar highway.

Suicide bomber kills 1 police officer, injures another in Kandahar province.

New York Times editorial board asks if Pentagon is telling the truth about Afghanistan. (I've already given my answer.)

Monday, October 12, 2015

Update for Monday, October 12, 2015

A Royal Air Force Westland/Aerospatiale SA 330E Puma HC.2 medium transport helicopter crashed attempting to land at the Resolute Support Mission HQ in Kabul, killing 5 of the 10 people on board. Recent information is that the dead are 2 British personnel from the 230 and 33 Squadrons, Royal Air Force; and 2 U.S. service members and 1 French civilian. Officials state that the incident was not due to hostile action.

A United Nations employee is murdered in Kandahar in a street ambush. As the victim, Torpikai Alfat , was a woman, a provincial official speculates that this is part of the Taliban's ongoing campaign to terrorize working women.

Two police are killed and 2 injured by an IED attack on their vehicle in Wata Pur, Kundar.

A UN report, which has not been publicly released, finds the Taliban insurgency more widespread than at any time since their downfall in 2011. Among the key points:

  • United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has over the past two weeks evacuated four of its 13 provincial offices around the country.
  • Highway One, a ring road connecting all of Afghanistan's main cities, has long suffered repeated Taliban ambushes and roadblocks in southern Afghanistan. Government officials generally avoid much of the route.
  • In many districts that are normally [probably meant "nominall" -- C] under government control, like Musa Qala in Helmand Province and Charchino in Uruzgan Province, government forces hold only the government buildings in the district center and are under constant siege by the insurgents.
 This contrasts with Gen. Campbell's recent testimony before  Congress, in which he said specifically that Afghan forces hold Musa Qala and other districts that are not really under government control.

Taliban close the Kabul-Kandahar highway near Ghazni City, and issue threats:

Noorullah, a resident of Ghazni City who left for Kandahar in the morning, was stopped along with other passengers by the insurgents in Shahbaz area. Hundreds of the guerrillas had gathered to intercept a large number of vehicles on both side of roads, but there was no sign of the presence of security forces in the locality, he claimed.
A resident of Andar district said: “We were going to Ghazni City but the Taliban stopped us on our way. They told us to inform our relatives in the city to leave because they wanted to attack the city.”

Most shops in the city are closed, and officials refuse to discuss the situation with media. Reuters has further discussion of the Ghazni situation.

I do not know the truth of these accusations by retired State Department employee Peter Van Buren, but as you await the investigation of the U.S. attack on the hospital in Kunduz -- the investigation of the perpetrators by themselves, that is, keep in mind the following factual points.

  • The Taliban commit atrocities -- as do Afghan government forces, to a lesser degree. But that is beside the point, we're talking about the U.S.
  • An attack by an AC-130 is not like an attack by a jet bomber, which drops bombs from high in the air which land in a general area. The AC-130 precisely hits what it targets. In this case, it hit the same building, quite precisely, in 5 separate attacks.
  • We do not know what the crew of the gunship thought the building was, or far more importantly what their commanders thought it was they had ordered the gunship to attack. However, the U.S. command possessed the information that it was a hospital, and it's hard to see what else they might have thought it was.
  • It is clear, from statements by Afghan government officials, that they requested the strike on the hospital because they knew, or believed, that senior Taliban personnel were there. (In fact they have bragged about it.) This may well be true, but if so, they were receiving treatment for their injuries, alongside civilians and Afghan government forces, and they were unarmed. 
Draw your own conclusions.