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, September 30, 2015

Update for Wednesday, September 30, 2015


Taliban appear to solidify control of Kunduz as they seize a hilltop fortress on the city's edge, seal roads, and conscript young men. However, government forces repelled an assault on the airport. U.S. troops are said to be in the area, although their role is unclear, and the U.S. has launched at least 3 air strikes.

Al Jazeera reports that the Taliban have captured enough weapons in Kunduz to "fight for months," even as the city is without electricity and food prices have doubled.

IRIN reports that the Doctors Without Borders facility is the only medical clinic operating in the city, and is overwhelmed by a continual influx of casualties. IRIN also reports that government-supported militias have been abusive to the civilian population, and president Ghani is criticized for relying on them instead of building up government forces with clear loyalty to the state.

Time magazine quotes analysts who are pessimistic about the future of the Afghan government, including Anthony Cordesman who says "Afghanistan is now caught up in a much broader series of crises: political, governance, economics, security, and Afghan force development. In each case, the transition since U.S. combat forces left at the end of 2014 is failing."

UPDATE: New York Times reports that reinforcements are unable to reach Kunduz from Kabul or Mazar-i-Sharif because the Taliban hold territory in Baghlan that they would have to pass through.

It was not clear on Wednesday whether the front line in the north was still in Kunduz or was rapidly shifting south into Baghlan. That, at least, was how residents of Baghlan’s provincial capital, Pul-i-Kumri, were feeling.

“It is true, people are evacuating the city today,” Zabihullah Rustami, a former member of the provincial council, said by telephone. He had done so himself, he said, relocating to his rural district to the east. “People who are enemies of the Taliban are leaving,” he said, and the city was rife with “rumors that the Taliban might attack and take over the city.”
Forces in Pul-i-Kumri say the city is in danger, as Taliban forces overrun nearby police positions.

Meanwhile, U.S. forces near Kunduz have come under fire, and are said to have "engaged in combat."


Monday, September 28, 2015

Update for Monday, September 28, 2015


Taliban forces enter Kunduz, seize parts of the city. While the Kunduz police say they will drive the invaders out, the latest report is tht they have hoisted their banner over the city's main square. According to the AP, the Taliban now control half the city, including government buildings.

Suicide car bombing at a cricket match in Paktika kills 9, injures 50. The attack apparently targeted government officials who were watching the game.

Militants claiming association with the Islamic State attack multiple police posts in Nangarhar, temporarily seizing control of two of them, although Afghan forces say they have recaptured them. This is really a breakaway faction of the Taliban, apparently headed by one of Mullah Omar's former associates.  They have clashed with main Taliban forces as well as the government.

The Wolesi Jirga summons key officials to testify on the deteriorating security situation.

UPDATE: It is now reported that Kunduz is in the control of the Taliban. 

"Kunduz city has collapsed into the hands of the Taliban," Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told the Associated Press. Residents are fleeing the city. Doctors Without Borders say they have treated more than 100 injured people, with 36 in critical condition. Afghan security forces are vowing to retake the city. 

France24 quotes a local journalist saying that government forces fled, allowing the Taliban to seize government buildings and free hundreds of prisoners. They have also taken control of the highway routes to town and the road linking Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

Afghan Deputy Chief of Staff Gen. Murad Ali Murad claims the security forces fled in order to avoid civilian casualties. [Why there would be fewer civilian casualties in the promised assault to retake the city he does not explain.]

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Update for Wednesday, September 23, 2015


A NATO soldier from the Republic of Georgia is killed in action while on patrol outside Bagram air base. According to the New York Times, the patrol was undertaken to find the possible source of a rocket attack on the base. Such attacks are common.

The Department of Defense announced the death of a U.S. soldier, also at Bagram, in a non-combat incident. Spc. Kyle E. Gilbert, 24, of Buford, Georgia, died Sept. 21. He was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, New York.

Taliban control Dand-e-Ghori in Baghlan province  despite a recent agreement between the government and local elders. The Taliban have forbidden girls to attend school in the area and have also taken control of the curriculum.

Although Gen. John Campbell denies there is a policy to ignore sexual abuse of boys in Afghanistan many troops say otherwise. Special Forces Sgt. Charles Martland, who was discharged from the army for confronting an Afghan officer who had raped a boy, lost his appeal for reinstatement.


Monday, September 21, 2015

Special update for Monday, Sept. 21, 2015


This story in the New York Times about U.S. military personnel being ordered to ignore the sexual abuse of boys by Afghan allies has been widely picked up. However, I would be remiss if I didn't link to it here.

We have not ignored this Afghan practice here -- it's come up quite a few times. But it is hard to understand why it has gotten so little attention in the U.S. As far as I can tell has never been publicly discussed by U.S. politicians or military leaders. I'm sure some examples can be found, but they must be few and were pretty much ignored. I would recommend following the link to the New York Times piece, but if you have used up your free monthly views you can find a summary here. In a nutshell, for those who haven't been paying attention, it is a custom in Afghanistan for powerful men to sexually exploit boys. And they even do it on U.S. military bases. The policy of the U.S. military command is to look the other way, and personnel have been disciplined for refusing to do so.

This just opens up the wider question of what exactly the U.S. is doing in Afghanistan in the first place. The invasion happened originally because the Taliban had harbored al Qaeda and the purported rationale was to chase down Osama bin Laden and his gang. George W. Bush failed to do that, bin Laden escaped to Pakistan where he was harbored by our ostensible "ally" Pakistan, which the U.S. government obviously knew perfectly well, but they didn't invade Pakistan. Meanwhile we spent our blood and treasure to keep a corrupt and feckless government in power in Kabul and to give weapons and money to child rapists.

The western occupation has opened up some social space for more progressive cultural forces in Afghanistan, most importantly a serious public discussion about the status of women. People who live in the cities where the traditional culture does not prevail do fear Taliban rule, or a power sharing arrangement in which the Taliban can strongly influence social policy. But how the U.S. government and people should engage with Afghanistan demands a discussion we haven't had.


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Update for Sunday, September 20, 2015

The NYT's David Phillips tells the story of the second battalion of the Seventh Marines, whose veterans are plagued by PTSD and suicide. (You may need a subscription.) The 2/7 served in Helmand Province and saw the hardest combat.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, the security situation continues to deteriorate as taliban destroy 2 police vehicles and 5 shops in Logar.

 Taliban attack a police post in Badakshan, kill 6 police and take a tank, a truck, 5 automatic rifles and a machine gun.

Taliban order villagers in Ghazni to evacuate.

Roadside bomb kills 5 police in Paktia.

Two civilians killed and 2 injured in separate explosions in Kandahar.

Five civilians injured in an explosion in Samangan. (Note that the violence is spreading to formerly relatively peaceful areas.)

Militants using the Islamic State brand have forced the closure of 58 schools in Nangarhar, leaving 300,000 children without education.

Pakistan claims an attack on an air force base in Badaber was launched from Afghan territory.


Monday, September 14, 2015

Update for Monday, Sept. 14, 2015


Accounts vary somewhat on the total number of prisoners freed, but at least 350 escape prison in Ghazni in a Taliban action. The attack began with a suicide bombing to gain access to the facility, which was followed by insurgents wearing military uniforms entering and freeing the prisoners. Of the escapees, the Interior Ministry says that 148 are "national security threats," the remainder presumably being common criminals. KUNA says there were 436 escapees.

In Badakhshan, gunmen set fire to 5 UN World Food Program trucks, though they do not harm the drivers. According to a recent report by aid agencies, 5.9% of the Afghan population was "severely food insecure" at the time before harvest when food stocks dwindle. The households of war widows are particularly at risk.

The deteriorating security situation spurred 23 photojournalists to leave the country en masse.

Mullah Omar's son issus a statement saying Omar died of natural causes and calling for Taliban unity.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, 160 U.S. troops arrived from Kuwait to the Habbaniyah air base near Ramadi, purportedly to participate in the planned operation to retake the city. It is not clear what their role will be, but apparently local leaders expect them to be closely involved.

The U.S.-led coalition continues air strikes in Iraq and Syria at the rate of about 25 per day. The most recent report says strikes destroyed car bomb factories in Fallujah, as well as other targets near Fallujah ad Ramadi. Although there appears to be no concrete information on when the long-awaited Anbar offensive will begin, it does appear that preparations are underway. (Yes, it's officially happening already but the situation on the ground is basically static.)

The Saudi embassy in Baghdad will reopen after Eid-Al-Adha, representing resumption of full diplomatic relations after 25 years. The Saudis broke diplomatic relations after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, and they refrained from restoring full relations during the rule of Shiite partisan prime minister Nuri al-Maliki. So this is a small but possibly meaningful step toward greater stability in the region.


Friday, September 11, 2015

Update for Thursday, Sept. 11, 2015


By now I expect that most people have nearly forgotten that the U.S. first invaded Afghanistan in response to the events of this date in 2001; and that the Cheney administration then used the same events as the foundation for a campaign of lies leading to the illegal war of aggression against Iraq. So, of course, Americans spend the day wallowing in their own victimization but nobody has anything to say about the millions who have died or been driven from their homes as a result of U.S. actions -- people who had nothing to do with it.

The refugee crisis in Europe right now is trivial compared to what is happening in Lebanon, Jordan, Kurdistan, and the suburbs of Baghdad, where millions of displaced people live in desperate circumstances even as the UN is running out of funds to feed them. But we don't hear a word about that because those countries aren't in Europe. They aren't complaining, however, and they are doing their best to take care of people who have no other refuge, even though they are relatively poor countries and have many other problems of their own. I have had a few words to say about this here.

This is not a day for Americans to pity themselves, wallow in fear or swell with militant bluster. Remember how the events 14 years ago were used to strip us of liberties -- which we have not regained -- militarize our local police, create a network of dungeons and torture chambers all over the world, destroy an entire country, and squander trillions of dollars even as we pretend we can't afford to educate our children or keep our bridges from falling down. There's a lot we need to remember on this day, but it's not what people are talking about.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Update for Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015


I refrained from posting the claims earlier this week that the government had recaptured Musa Qala because I didn't believe it. Well, "Afghan forces are still battling for control of a symbolic district of southern Helmand province, the NATO forces commander told reporters, contradicting the defence ministry, after more than a week of intense fighting supported by U.S. air strikes." To be precise, that is 24 U.S. air strikes.

Meanwhile, a poison gas attack on a school in Herat sickens 134 girl students and their teachers in Herat city, one day after 200 were poisoned elsewhere in the province.

Seven police are killed and their weapons taken in southern Helmand province, apparently after having been rendered unconscious by a spiked drink. A similar tactic was used in August in Lashkargah.

Three police defect to the Taliban in Baghlan

For what it's worth, the Afghan MoD makes the usual claims of 100 Taliban killed or wounded vs. 8 ANA soldiers killed in the past 24 hours. Make of it what you will.

Xinhua gets specific, reporting 1 ANA soldier killed and 2 injured in Kunar province in an attempt to reopen the road between Asmar and Ghazi Abad district. The police chief's statement indicates that this has yet to be accomplished.

Vikram Sood comments on the bizarre unwillingness of the U.S. to distinguish between friend and foe  in its continuing pretense of alliance with Pakistan. Can't really summarize it all but here's a bit:

   
Pakistan’s Deep State finds its stock of terror assets depleted in the last few years. The first to go was Osama Bin Laden sheltered in Pakistan for 10 years while Pakistan pretended to ‘co-operate’ with the US in his hunt.. . Mullah Omar, nursed by the Pakistanis for two decades, died in a Karachi hospital on April 23, 2013 but this too was disclosed in July this year. . . .

The acknowledgement that Mullah Omar was irrevocably dead and the postponement of the next round of Pakistan-owned talks were followed by what was obviously Pak-inspired terrorism in Kabul. The Haqqani group unleashed a string of attacks in early August and President Ghani's ten-month old peace overture to Pakistan died a quick death as he angrily accused Pakistan of fomenting terror. 


It is difficult to accept that the Americans were blissfully ignorant about Mullah Omar's death unless there was a failure of both intelligence and imagination. This was a failure to imagine that, having once hidden the truth from them about Osama bin Laden, Pakistan would repeat this subterfuge. It was a failure to accept that Pakistan would not change its policy on Afghanistan (or any other delinquency) and invite only some gentle rebukes. This reflects a consistent American unwillingness to distinguish between friend and foe. 
Couldn't have said it better myself.
akistan’s Deep State finds its stock of terror assets depleted in the last few years. The first to go was Osama Bin Laden sheltered in Pakistan for 10 years while Pakistan pretended to ‘co-operate’ with the US in his hunt. - See more at: http://www.mid-day.com/articles/afghanistans-looming-crisis/16506165#sthash.YofnEJUG.dpuf
Pakistan’s Deep State finds its stock of terror assets depleted in the last few years. The first to go was Osama Bin Laden sheltered in Pakistan for 10 years while Pakistan pretended to ‘co-operate’ with the US in his hunt. - See more at: http://www.mid-day.com/articles/afghanistans-looming-crisis/16506165#sthash.YofnEJUG.dpuf


Pakistan’s Deep State finds its stock of terror assets depleted in the last few years. The first to go was Osama Bin Laden sheltered in Pakistan for 10 years while Pakistan pretended to ‘co-operate’ with the US in his hunt. - See more at: http://www.mid-day.com/articles/afghanistans-looming-crisis/16506165#sthash.YofnEJUG.dpuf