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

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Update for Saturday, August 29, 2015

I'm just going to focus on one issue today, but it's an important one. Former Afghan secret service chief Amrullah Saleh tells Der Spiegel that the Taliban insurgency is sponsored by Pakistan. Straight up. Here's an excerpt:

The Taliban have a reputation for brutality and mercilessness to defend. Their new leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor wants to prove that he can maintain these capabilities. All the major attacks require enormous military and financial resources. They are planned and executed with the aid of ISI, Pakistan's secret service. The aim of the attacks is to establish Mansoor as the new strong man. The violence is intended to show that the Taliban brand still exists, and the message as the same as before -- that the Taliban is united and powerful. . . .

The Taliban can only continue to fight in this way with help from the ISI [Pakistani equivalent of the CIA]. Mansoor will now be provided with the necessary resources in order to solidify his authority and keep opponents within his own ranks in check.
Meanwhile, there's this:

US President Barack Obama has proposed over $1 billion in civilian and military aid to "strategically important" Pakistan for fighting terror, economic development, safety of nuclear installations and improving ties with India among other objectives.

The budgetary proposals released by the state department after Obama sent them to the Congress show a more than six- fold increase in the foreign military financing (FMF) to Pakistan from $42.2 million in 2014 to $265 million in 2016.









I'll retire to bedlam.



Thursday, August 27, 2015

Update for Thursday, August 27, 2015

U.S. personnel killed in yesterday's attack by an Afghan army officer are identified as Air Force special operations troops Capt. Matthew D. Roland of Lexington, Kentucky, and Staff Sgt. Forrest B. Sibley of Pensacola, Florida. Roland was assigned to the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron based at Hurlburt Field, Florida, and Sibley was assigned to the 21st Special Tactics Squadron based at Pope Army Airfield, North Carolina.

The latest version of the incident differs from yesterday's report  in that there was apparently only one attacker, who was injured but not killed by return fire; and that a second Afghan soldier was also injured by return fire. If and when more details come in, you will read it here.

Meanwhile, the death toll of Afghan forces in Musa Kala is now up to 35.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Upate for Wednesday, August 26, 2015


NATO says that two men wearing Afghan army uniforms opened fire on a NATO vehicle, killing two "foreign troops" in Helmand province, and were in turn shot dead by return fire. While NATO has not confirmed further details, the AP, citing various sources, says that the dead foreign troops were U.S. soldiers; that the incident took place in Shorab military base, formerly the UK's Camp Bastion; and that the violence resulted from an argument, suggesting it was not the result of insurgent infiltration. We will provide more information as available.

We noted on Sunday the imminent fall of Musa Kala in Helmand, which has now occurred, with 25 Afghan troops dead and 40 wounded as the Taliban seize control. Haji Karim Atal, the provincial council head, says that security forces have abandoned the district, with civil service personnel and wounded officers sheltered in a "dangerous area." The capital Lashkargah is now threatened.

In Faryab, the Taliban are using schools and hospitals as military bases, preventing children from going to school, according to provincial police. A TOLO reporter who visited a village in Faryab says the Taliban are extracting taxes from the population.

Radio Free Afghanistan (which is a U.S. funded operation, but appears to be playing it straight here) discusses the capture of Musa Kala noting that it is in a major opium growing region, and that the Taliban have also captured the neighboring districts of Nawzad and Baghran. Their success comes despite U.S. airstrikes that killed about 40 fighters.  A local politician says the Taliban enjoy popular support in the area due to the lack of government development projects. More than 400 British troops died in the area before the NATO withdrawal from combat operations. The Telegraph reports that 20 of them died specifically in Musa Kala.


Sunday, August 23, 2015

Update for Sunday, August 23, 2015

Car bomb attack on a vehicle carrying mercenaries kills 12 people including 3 Americans working for DynCorp. Sixty-seven people are said to have been injured by the powerful explosion. The attack occurred near a private hospital in Kabul. A local television station identifies one of the dead Americans  as Barry Sutton, a former Floyd County, Georgia Deputy and SWAT Team member.

This was one of several attacks including a bombing that injured 4 Afghan soldiers elsewhere in Kabul, and a bombing that injured 3 Afghan National Civil Order Police in Nangahar.

Bodies of 3 border police abducted last week are found in Ghazni.

A school principal is murdered in Parwan, north of the capital, the second such incident in a week.

Four Pakistani soldiers are killed near the Afghan border by a rocket which the Pakistanis say came from Afghanistan.

Afghan special forces evacuate 60 villagers from a besieged district of Uruzgan. While the army, and Khamaa, portray this as an accomplishment it is of course the abandonment of territory to the insurgency. Meanwhile, the governor of Musa Qala in Helmand says the Taliban are closing in on the center of the district and pleads for reinforcements. A politician says that 45 Afghan soldiers were killed and 20 surrendered in an attack on a security post.








Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Update for Wednesday, August 19, 2015


While I haven't been posting a day-to-day chronicle of events, today's 96th anniversary of Afghan independence from Britain is an occasion to step back and look at the big picture. It is not good.

The UN reports that the first half of 2015 has seen record civilian casualties with conflict spreading to wider areas and more than 100,000 additional people displaced this year alone.

Clashes between the Taliban and other armed opposition groups are becoming more frequent, and the fragmentation of these groups only means that both the complexity and geographic extent of the conflict will continue to worsen. Having received only 195 million dollars, or 48 percent of its 406 million-dollar funding requirement as of July, the U.N.’s humanitarian response plan is faltering. . .

U.N. officials say they need at least 89 million dollars to adequately meet the needs of refugees, but so far only 22.5 million dollars have been pledged.
Meanwhile, U.S. forces do not trust their Afghan counterparts and keep largely separate from the units they are supposed to be training and advising:

For seven months after the formal end of the NATO combat operation in Afghanistan, US forces have guided their counterparts from the sidelines with a mixture of pride, bewilderment - and suspicion.

The latter is clearly evident in the layout of this temporary base in Nangarhar province, where a snaking barbed-wire fence separates the armies of the two nations.  For "Operation Iron Triangle" which concluded on Saturday, US forces kept very much to themselves - with a squad of guard dogs and a 7.62 Caliber machine-gun at the entry point reinforcing a simple message to Afghan forces: do not enter.

[Spec.] Whitten chews his tobacco and spits. "Sometimes they shoot in the air, we don't really know what for," he says, in a sign of the mistrust that permeates US forces after years of "insider attacks", including the killing of General Harold Greene by a radicalised Afghan soldier a year ago.
Vanessa Gezari tells the tale of the utter failure of a ridiculous army social science program called the Human Terrain System.  I won't even try to summarize this, read it for laughs.

Serious tension between Pakistan and Afghanistan continues as Pakistani shelling kills 8 Afghan police.

Afghan forces abandon Naw Zad district in Helmand province.

And, in a particularly ominous development, former warlord Rashid Dostum, who joined the central government as a Vice President, has given up relying on the government for security in his territory of Jowzjan and raised his own army

Back in his home province of Jowzjan, Mr. Dostum turned his pink palace into a command center and announced that he was coordinating the war efforts there and in the neighboring provinces of Faryab and Sar-i-Pul. Local officials and militia commanders, many of them with fully armed forces despite a costly disarmament campaign, began rallying to his call.

Mr. Dostum’s actions have been publicized here as the bravery of a battle-hardened general. But in what is supposed to be a year that tests the ability of the Afghan security forces to fend off enemy threats on their own, his moves have also raised a serious question: Amid a territory-gobbling insurgent offensive, will the strongmen and former warlords prominent in the Afghan government honor the national security system, or will they remobilize militias that in the 1990s caused the chaos that gave rise to the Taliban in the first place?
So, what does the U.S. get for its blood and treasure? John Quiggin has the answer:

let’s look at the opportunity cost of maintaining a single additional combat soldier in Afghanistan. The direct cost has been estimated at $2.1 million per soldier per year. Indirect support costs (for example, the Pentagon bureaucracy) and the need to provide for future medical care would greatly increase this.
We could look at the opportunity cost in terms of alternative ways of providing aid to Afghanistan. The US development agency USAid provides around $70 million a year in educational and social services aid to Afghanistan, a sum which is claimed to enable one million additional children to enrol in school, among other benefits. Obviously there is plenty of room for more expenditure of this kind, in Afghanistan or elsewhere. So, the opportunity cost of keeping 35 soldiers in the field is school education for a million young people. . . .



Monday, August 10, 2015

Update for Monday, August 10, 2015


In an address to the nation, President Ghani blames Pakistan for harboring the insurgency and says that the recent attacks in Kabul are a "game changer." He says that Pakistan cannot simultaneously broker peace talks while harboring the Afghan Taliban and that relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have come to a critical point.

Ghani said that at the time Pakistan President Nawaz Sharif said the enemies of Afghanistan are the enemies of Pakistan – "now the time has come for him to prove it", he said.
"We have earned the support of the region in our stance against insurgents and the peace process. We are not vanishing, we are integrating," he said.
He said Pakistan has to bring the Taliban to the talks tables and secondly stop harboring the insurgents – this includes barring them access to hospitals and other necessary services, he added.
He said Pakistan needs to have the same policy definition in regard to terrorism for Afghanistan, as it has for itself. . . .
He said that Pakistan's decisions in the upcoming weeks will have a direct impact on Afghanistan's relations with them

[Obviously, Afghanistan is in no position to confront Pakistan militarily. It is not clear what Ghani can do about the situation but it seems to me the international community has been putting up with Pakistan's jive for to long. -- C]

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Update for Sunday, August 9, 2015

U.S soldier killed yesterday in the attack on Camp Integrity is identified as Master Sgt. Peter A. McKenna Jr., 35, of Bristol, Rhode Island, assigned to the 1st Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.‎ Master Sgt. McKenna's death is attributed to small arms fire, meaning he was killed by the attackers after the bomb attack on the gate gained them admittance.

Our friend Chet offers additional information from the local newspaper

Meanwhile, in a somewhat murky story from Kunduz province, a suicide bomber kills 29 people, mostly members of illegal militias. The district administrative chief described the target as a "meeting of criminal groups." The Taliban took responsibility for the attack. Apparently the Taliban and the government had a common enemy here.

Two civilians are killed by a roadside bomb in Kandahar.

Taliban hang a woman in Badakhshan on charges of adultery.

Ten people described as militants are killed by a drone strike in Nangarhar.  Afghan military also claims to have killed 20 militants in two separate battles. As is typical, no government casualties are mentioned.

In contrast to the New York Times, which finds the carnage in Kabul on Friday night to be evidence of the effectiveness of the security forces (really, see yesterday's post), Xinhua offers a somewhat more credible point of view:


"Launching the three deadly attacks right in the heart of Kabul city is unprecedented and has clearly demonstrated the weakness of security organ of the government," Sayed Ibrahim Darwishian, a Kabul University professor and political analyst, told Xinhua on Saturday. . . .

Darwishian and other Afghan political watchers said the Taliban have been emboldened because of lax security in the capital which got worse after the departure of most of the foreign troops from the country late last year. He said that if the security apparatus was adequate and security people were alert, they could have prevented the explosive-laden truck from entering the city.
 Actually you don't need to be a professor at Kabul University to figure that out.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Update for Saturday, August 8, 2015

One U.S. service member is reported dead, and 8 Afghan contractors, in an attack on camp integrity. This is in addition to the 2 attacks reported previously and increases the death toll for Friday night to ore than 50, a toll which is likely to increase. Reuters reports that the attackers first set off a car bomb a the gate, allowing others to enter. While no number of injured has been reported so far, Reuters reports that:

"The helicopters went on for hours ... medevacing people out," a US contractor at a camp nearby said.


The facility is operated by the mercenary corporation Academi, formerly known as Blackwater (though now under different ownership). It is not known whether the attacks were the work of the main Taliban faction led by Mullah Mansour, or rivals. The Taliban took credit for the attack on the police academy and Camp Integrity, but not for the truck bombing that killed dozens of civilians. [If the Afghan government has lost control of security in the capital, it won't survive long -- C]

Meanwhile, a bomb attack on a security post near Jalabad kills 2 including a police officer and a civilian, and injures another police officer and 2 civilians. 

Update: The New York Times has finally, unequivocally lost it. Here is their headline regarding recent events: Afghan forces display effectiveness in fending off attacks. Relevant text:

Shopkeepers sat at the entrances to their stores on Friday after their doors and windows were blown in by a truck bomb that also killed 15 and injured hundreds of civilians in the early hours of the morning in eastern Kabul.
The operation was a success, but the patient died.
    

Friday, August 7, 2015

Update for Friday, August 7, 2015


Two bombings in Kabul overnight. A huge truck bomb near the army base in Shah Shaheed killed 15 people and injured more than 200, apparently all civilians. The blast left a crater 10 meters deep, according to AFP.

Later, a suicide bomber attacked the police academy, causing an as yet unstated number of deaths. No-one has claimed responsibility for either attack as of 12:50 ET.

This follows multiple attacks on police locations on Thursday which killed 9, and the death of 17 Afghan personnel in a helicopter crash, which officials are attributing to a mechanical failure.

U.S. general John Campbell says that Afghanistan is losing 4,000 security personnel per month, mostly to desertion. However, out of a total of more than 300,000 personnel, he does not think this is "unsustainable." [Well, it would be 48,000 in a year, that's got to hurt. -- C]

The Taliban leadership crisis continues, with dissenters contending that Mullah Mansour is a puppet of the Pakistani directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence. [It is not clear what factions may be behind the recent attacks, but clearly the turmoil in the Taliban does not bode well for prospects  for peace. -- C] As Salih Do─čan Writes in Zahman:

One would have thought that the death of Mullah Omar would weaken the Taliban insurgency and Kabul would have the upper hand in the peace talks; however, the group had accelerated attacks in Afghanistan after NATO concluded its combat mission by the end 2014 and they inflicted a record number of casualties on the Afghan national security forces. Taking the existence of current splinter groups and a possible power struggle within the Taliban administration into account, it will be really difficult for the Afghan government to find one-man leadership to negotiate with.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Update for Saturday, August 1, 2015


Views differ on the likely consequences of the public acknowledgment of the death of Omar. White House press secretary Josh Earnest says it is an opportunity to stabilize Afghanistan and calls on the Taliban to make peace.

However, Dr. Hussain Yasa understands that the conflict was never between the U.S. backed government and Mullah Omar. [Note: This "bad guy" view of politics is a common habit of shallow thinking in U.S. political discourse. It's why President Cheney thought that all he had to do was take out Saddam Hussein and ponies for everyone. Omar, after all, has in fact been dead for years. -- C] Yasa sees the Quetta Shura, which has been representing itself as the Taliban leadership under the long-fictitious figurehead of Omar, as losing control of a fractioning movement in which the DAESH brand is increasingly prominent. Even members of the Shura are contesting the election of Mansour. Yasa also sees the Afghan government as losing control of the battlefield. He summarizes:

The death
• This is the third time in five years that there has been news of Mullah Omar's death
• This time the Taliban have confirmed the news. Some of them have declared Akhtar Mohammad Mansour as the successor to Mullah Omar, precipitating a leadership crisis and intense factional politics in the movement.
• The acceptance of Mullah Omar's death will have a significant impact on Afghanistan and the region as a whole
The timing
• This comes at a time when the Afghanistan government is in the process of negotiating with the Taliban
• Daesh is also on the rise in Afghanistan
The impact
• Mullah Omar was a unifying factor for Taliban. If he is dead, the group could break into factions, competing to prove which is more hard line
• Daesh could also end up absorbing Taliban militants
• Negotiations will become even more difficult with multiple factions to deal with and perhaps the main Taliban faction opposed to real negotiations
Meanwhile, the competence of Afghan security forces continues to be questionable, as a quarrel among police in Kandarhar leaves 2 dead and 3 injured, while police mistakenly kill 2 civilians in HeratInsurgents burn 5 mosques in BaghlanTaliban kill 4 police in Uruzgan, and 4 civilians are killed and 4 injured by a grenade attack in Herat. A police spokesman says 2 Taliban commanders are killed in Takhar, as usual with a very lopsided casualty total including 25 other militants killed and 2 police. [I never give these reports credence. -- C]

Newly elected Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammed Mansour (who has in fact been the leader for at least 2 years) vows to continue the insurgency. He vows to establish an Islamic state and it is not clear whether he supports the peace talks.The government says it has launched a major military operation in 3 districts of Nangarhar.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, we don't seem to be hearing anything lately about the supposed operation to retake cities in Anbar province. Instead, the news is dominated by Turkey's air campaign against the Kurdish irredendist movement the PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan, which has killed  more than 260 people. It appears the Turks have not been targeting Kurdish fighters in Syria who are confronting the Islamic state, but they have not been doing much against IS either, contrary to earlier promises. [This is unfortunate as there were previously indications that an accommodation between Kurdistan and Turkey was occurring. -- C] Kurdish president Masoud Barzani says the air strikes have killed civilians, but asks the PKK to leave Iraqi Kurdistan. [Suggesting that Barzani still hopes to reach an accord with Turkey -- C]

However, the big news elsewhere in Iraq is a heatwave which has brought all commerce to a halt wth temperatures reaching 126 degrees Fahrenheit, or 52 Celsius. For the 3 million internally displaced people living in tents, abandoned buildings, or the streets, there is no relief. As Iraq lacks an adequate public health infrastructure, there is no telling how many have died.

In an open door crashed through moment, Marine Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, the head of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency, says that:

Iraq “may indeed be irreparably fractured and may not come back as an intact state,” he said. Current U.S. policy, which is to treat Iraq as a unitary state and avoid formal diplomatic recognition of de facto separate entities such as the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq, would have to change if that occurred.
Wow, what a profound insight.