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

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Update for Thursday, December 29, 2016

After a two week lull, Iraqi forces resume the assault on Mosul. Earlier projections that the battle might be over by mid-January have been abandoned. PM Abadi now says three months will be required, but U.S. Lieutenant Gen. Stephen Townsend predicts it will take two years to retake Mosul and Raqqa and "burn out" the remnants of IS. [Of course he doesn't know about Donald Trump's secret plan. -- C]

CBS news has some additional details on the operation, in a story written just before the announcement of a new offensive.

Civilians displaced in the Mosul fighting suffer in rain and cold. The current number of displaced people is estimated at 120,000.

No U.S. aircraft carrier in the Middle East as the Dwight D. Eisenhower departs and overhaul of the George H.W. Bush (yes) is taking longer than expected.

They claimed to have completed this more than a month ago, but Shiite militias are now said to be "close" to cutting the IS route between Mosul and Raqqa near Tal Afar.






Saturday, December 24, 2016

Update for Saturday, December 24, 2016

As the Iraqi push into Mosul stalls, U.S. forces are "embedding more extensively." U.S. combat brigade commander Col. Brett Sylvia tells Reuters "We are deepening our integration with them. We are now pushing that into more of the Iraqi formations pushing forward, some formations that we haven't partnered with in the past where we are now partnering with them." He refuses to say whether U.S. forces are in Mosul.

After a pause to consolidate and wait out bad weather, the Mosul offensive is said to resume.

Christians are hesitant to return to towns near Mosul feeling  a lack of security. Most remain in Kurdistan.

U.S. DoD inspector general criticizes delays in getting arms and supplies to peshmerga.

Afghanistan

First female Afghan military pilot asks for asylum in the U.S.,  saying that the status of women in Afghanistan has not improved and she cannot achieve her aspirations there, or be safe.



Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Update for Tuesday, December 20, 2016


It is now clear that the assault on Mosul has stalled. Prof. Paul Rogers of the University of Bradford discusses the situation. Essentially, IS had two years to prepare during which they dug an elaborate network of tunnels, out of which they emerge to harry Iraqi troops in supposedly secured areas. Casualties to the elite Golden Brigade may also be unsustainable.

Here's a report on one such counterattack. While Iraqi forces are ultimately able to prevail, the constant danger is destroying morale.

AP also discusses the battle and has information on the high rate of Iraqi military casualties, and more on IS tactics.

Getting aid to civilians in Mosul is formidably difficult. Oxfam estimates there are still 1 million people in the city, while more than 100,000 have managed to flee.

People in Mosul are dying due to an acute shortage of medicines.

AFP reports on the investigations into mass graves discovered in territory recaptured from IS.

 Saddam's CIA interrogator John Nixon has written a book that pretty much tells us what we already knew about the preposterous justification for the U.S. invasion of Iraq. He thinks it would have been a much better idea to leave Iraq alone.






Friday, December 16, 2016

Update for Friday, December 16, 2016


[Due to largely static situations in both Iraq and Afghanistan, I haven't updated this week until now.]

As Iraqi forces capture IS-held territory, the scale of IS weapons production is revealed. "The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s weapons production was highly organized and sophisticated, relying on a “robust and reliable” supply chain from across the border in Turkey, according to a report by the London-based Conflict Armament Research group (CAR)." Iraqi forces have captured several sophisticated workshops for the production of mortars, rockets, and car bombs.

Iraqi military claims to have captured an IS media center in Mosul.

U.S. commanders worry that the hard battle for Mosul is causing severe damage to Iraq's elite 1st Special Operations Brigade which is chiefly responsible for progress in the city.

Iraq claims to have killed 20 IS commanders and 50 troops in an air strike near Tal Afar.

Institute for the Study of War provides an updated map on territorial control in Iraq. IS now controls only western Mosul, the area around Hawija, Qaim, and a sliver near Tal Afar. Note, however, that Shiite militias are the predominant force in southern Nineveh province, which has a mostly Sunni population, and that various Kurdish forces hold parts of northern Nineveh including the Mosul dam.

. . . speaking of which, Al Jazeera reports that danger of the Mosul dam collapsing is still high, and the result would be an unimaginable catastrophe. The only long-term solution is to build a new dam on firmer ground downstream, but that isn't happening.

Number of civilians displaced from Mosul nears 100,000.


Friday, December 9, 2016

Update for Friday, December 9, 2016

There are multiple claims that an air strike by Iraqi forces on the town of Qaim killed about 60 civilians on Wednesday. The Iraqi military denies this, saying all the dead were foreign IS fighters.

Human Rights Watch calls for investigation of U.S. air strike on a Mosul hospital on Dec. 6. The U.S. says it is "reviewing" the incident but does not pledge an investigation. Air Force Col. John Dorrian tells reporters that "The coalition has 'not seen any indications at this point that civilians were harmed in the strike', but conceded it is 'very difficult to ascertain with full and total fidelity' whether civilians were killed in the strike."

Kurdistan official Masrour Barzani visits Washington DC, meets VP Joe Biden and Senators.

A U.S. official, speaking anonymously, claims U.S. and coalition air strikes have killed 50,000 IS fighters.

Cold weather has increased the suffering of 90,000 people displaced by the Mosul battle.

Iraqi forces retreat from Salaam hospital in Mosul in the face of a counterattack.


Afghanistan

A soldier injured in the attack at Bagram on Nov. 12 has died of his injuries. Sgt. First Class Allan E. Brown, 46, of Takoma Park, Maryland,died Dec. 6 at Walter Reed National Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland, of injuries sustained from an improvised explosive device in Bagram, Afghanistan, that occurred on Nov. 12. He was assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Special Troops Battalion, 1st Sustainment Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.


U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter visits Afghanistan.




Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Update for Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Reuters reports that the original plan for the assault on Mosul was to leave an escape route open to the west, so that IS fighters and civilians could flee to Syria. That would allow Iraq to retake the city with fewer casualties. However, Iran persuaded the Iraqis to allow Shiite militia to close the escape route, forcing IS to fight to the death. (Assuming surrender is not in their range of options.) The result is the very hard fight we see now.

Iraqi forces capture additional territory in Mosul, but an overnight counterattack by IS in the southeast of the city is said to have inflicted heavy casualties.

Civilians flee Tal Abta west of Mosul as miiltias launch an assault on the town.

Desperate residents of Mosul brawl over newly delivered aid.

Canadian officials ponder their future role in Iraq and Syria once IS is driven from control of territory and presumably becomes a guerilla organization.

Afghanistan

NYT reports that despite official Saudi support for the Afghan government, Saudi Arabia is a  major source of funding for the Taliban.



Friday, December 2, 2016

Update for Friday, December 2, 2016

Afghanistan

Mujib Mashal and Eric Scmitt in the NYT offer a grim overview of the situation in Afghanistan. As readers know, we do not get a reliable daily accounting of casualties among the Afghan security forces, but they report 30 to 50 deaths per day, with the Afghan government controlling only 60% of the country, the Taliban 10%, and 30% contested. Various militants groups other than the Taliban are active in the country. Given the vague and inconsistent pronouncements by the U.S. president elect on Afghanistan, it remains to be seen what the U.S. will do in 2017 but we have to note that the generals he has selected for his national security team, including Secretary of Defense, are likely to be quite hawkish. Stay tuned.

Taliban wearing police uniforms kill 5 Afghan soldiers and injure 3 in southern Kandahar.

Twenty three civilians, six police, and 29 militants said to be killed in fighting in Kandahar province.

Militants targeting a civilian residence kill 4 children in Herat. No further explanation.

Iraq
 
Iraqi commanders considered changing strategy to encourage civilians to flee Mosul but decided against it because of fears of massacres by IS and lack of resources to absorb refugees. The debate took place amid fear of a lengthy war of attrition.

U.S. military says Iraqi forces now hold 20% of Mosul, and IS on the eastern side of the Tigris is isolated.

Dominance of Shiite militias near Tal Afar raises concern of sectarian conflict once IS is defeated.

Iraqis are now battling 19 oil well fires near Qayyara.



Thursday, December 1, 2016

Update for Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016


A humanitarian catastrophe looms in Mosul where nearly half a million people are without water, food is running short, and mortar and gunfire continue to claim civilian lives.

Iraqi forces continue to make slow gains in the city but rain has slowed progress while IS counterattack occurs southeast of the city.

Drone footage shows the devastation caused by burning oil wells near Quyyara. Here is a discussion of the damage. (Although I'm not sure it's fair to blame the Iraqi government for not having put out the fires as of yet.)

Commentary on the difficulties posed by the Shiite militias. This is a long-form analysis presenting some of the relevant history. Mixed opinions about the effect of the recent move to legitimize them and integrate them into the armed forces.

Reports of IS atrocities against civilians in areas they control continue. Here is an individual account.






Friday, November 25, 2016

Update for Friday, November 25, 2016

As I suggested recently, the Iraq theater is not separable from Syria and I will have to start paying attention to events there. (The border is artificial anyway.) A member of the U.S. military has been killed by an explosion near Ayn Issa, Syria. No further details as of now. (The town is just north of Raqqa, the IS capital, deep inside Syria, indicating that U.S. forces are deployed within the combat zone.)

Iraq is preparing to assault the now besieged town of Tal Afar  with a force of Sunni and Shiite Turkmen. The Iranian-backed militia which captured the surrounding region and cut off the town will remain outside.

IS continues to target civilians in areas of Mosul that have been recaptured by the Iraqi army. About 100 casualties are arriving daily at the hospital in Irbil.

The reported casualty total from the truck bomb attack on Shiite pilgrims continues to vary, but Iranian news agency reports that 71 bodies will be repatriated to Iran.

Meanwhile, food and water are running short.








Thursday, November 24, 2016

Update for Thursday, November 24, 2016

Tim Arango of the NYT reports that the decision by the Iraqi military to urge civilians in Mosul to remain in their homes has not turned out well. Civilian casualties are mounting, mostly from IS fire, while due to the presence of civilians the Iraqi military cannot use heavy weapons.

Truck bomb in Hilla kills as many as 80 Arbaeen pilgrims, including some Iranians.

Security forces carry out mass arrests in Anbar.

Asharq al-Awsat publishes a false story accusing Iranian Arbaeen pilgrims of impregnating hundreds of Iraqi women. Arrest warrants have been issued for two Iraqi journalists in the case. The publication is based in London and Saudi owned. (I sometimes link to it as it is generally reliable. However this incident highlights the intense sectarian hostility in the region and it is quite disturbing.)

Xinhua reports on the grim conditions in Mosul. Now that the city is besieged the only source of food will be the Iraqi army. It is not clear what will happen in IS held areas.


Monday, November 21, 2016

Update for Monday, November 21, 2016

As usual, the reported death toll varies somewhat, but a suicide bomb attack on a Shiite mosque in Kabul killed at least 27 people and injured 64. The worshipers were observing Arbaeen. The UN gives the death toll as 32.

The so-called Islamic State claims responsibility, in a statement issued in Arabic. The Taliban denies involvement.

A separate attack in Kabul kills a high ranking military officer and severely injures of Ministry of Defense staffer.

IRAQ

Having taken the Tal Afar airport, Shiite militias converge on the town with the intention of surrounding it.  The Turkish government is concerned about how they may treat the Turkmen population of Tal Afar; it is not clear what the composition will be of the force that ultimately enters the town.

Civilians continue to flee eastern districts of Mosul where Iraqi forces have gained control.

A U.S. air strike a few weeks ago in Fadiliya, northeast of Mosul, is said to have killed 7 civilians. The U.S.-led coalition says it is investigating.

Iraqi forces in eastern Mosul are conducting house-to-house searches for car bombs and other threats. Meanwhile a U.S. airstrike has destroyed a bridge over the Tigris, apparently to limit the ability of IS to support its fighters in eastern Mosul from its stronghold on the west side of the city. Presumably once the east is secured, the army will use pontoon bridges to cross the river.

Efforts continue to extinguish the oil well fires in Qayyara, slowed by mines.

SPECIAL NOTE

I have so far resisted covering incidents outside of Iraq and Afghanistan, simply because mission creep could end up overwhelming me. However, the theater is wider of course, and Syria is an integral part of the same war that is happening in Iraq. U.S. troops are stationed around the regionin support of the effort, including in Jordan. Three American soldiers were killed in Jordan earlier this month. At the time, Jordanian authorities claimed that they had failed to stop at a checkpoint entering the military base where they were stationed. However, it now appears they were murdered. The shooter, a Jordanian soldier, is in a medically induced coma and has not been questioned.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Update for Friday, November 18, 2016

After pausing on Thursday due to bad weather and to consolidate positions, Iraqi forces resume their expansion in Mosul as civilians flee and IS pledges continued suicide attacks. (I would have to think, however, that the number of potential suicide attackers is finite. Also, these attacks slow down Iraqi forces and are unnerving, but they are mostly ineffective.)

Tension continues between Erbil and Baghdad over Kurdish vow to retain territory they have captured in the Mosul area.

Shiite militias take Tal Afar airport with support from Iraqi air and ground forces. They also say they are cutting the road between Mosul and Raqqa, which would leave Mosul fully besieged.

Iraqi forces take additional villages southeast of Mosul advancing past Nimrud.

Iraqi Red Crescent gives number of displaced civilians in Mosul battle as about 80,000.

Thousands of Christian gather in Erbil for a day of prayer while Shiite pilgrims converge on Karbala for Arba'een.

Children return to school in Qayyara, resuming a normal curriculum after IS occupation. Teachers are concerned that the children have become more aggressive and violent due to their experiences.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Update for Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Iraqi forces push northward from their foothold in eastern Mosul into the Tahrir neighborhood. As civilians flee, a mortar attack from IS held-territory injures 5 children, one of whom later dies. (The story is a bit garbled on this point but the child's death has been reported elsewhere.)

Newsweek has photos of the destruction of the archaelogical treasures of Nimrud. (For some reason the URL refers to Palmyra but the story is about Nimrud.)

Shiite militia says it is about to storm Tal Afar airbase west of Mosul.

A special report from Reuters says IS leadership in Mosul is succumbing to paranoia which is weakening their effectiveness. (I'm not sure if it's really paranoia, apparently the city really is full of informants who are in contact with coalition forces and has faced one or more coup plots.) They have banned possession of SIM cards and executed dozens of real or suspected spies. Baghdadi is said to be in the city, moving around constantly.

Matt Bradley of NBC News also has an account of life inside Mosul. As the assault on the city became imminent, senior IS leaders fled, leaving the city largely in charge of young thugs who terrorize the population.

Suicide bomb attack on a military base in Rutba is largely thwarted but one bomber manages to kill 3 soldiers.

AFGHANISTAN

Suicide bomb attack in Kabul kills 1 army officer and 5 civilians,  5 civilians and 5 soldiers are injured.

Suicide bomber kills four staff of the National Directorate of Intelligence in Kabul

Summary justice and violence against women are rampant in Ghor where the government has failed to extend civil institutions.

Afghan forces free 36 prisoners from Taliban in Helmand.

The International Criminal Court has announced that it may investigate U.S. forces for war crimes committed against Afghan prisoners who were tortured in 2003 and 2004. (One may ask why this is happening now, since the allegations have long been known to be true.) The U.S. State Department has denounced the investigation.




Monday, November 14, 2016

Update for Monday, November 14, 2016

 IRAQ

IS suicide bombers attempting to reach the city of Karbala to attack the Shiite commemoration of Arbaeen are stopped in the town of Ain Tamr, where security forces kill five of them but one enters a civilian home and detonates his device, killing eight people.

Iraqi forces retake the city of Nimrud, the location of an important ancient Assyrian archaeological site which IS had destroyed.

Hospitals near Mosul are said to be overwhelmed by civilian casualties, many of them children.

The prevailing mood in Kurdistan is said to be apathy and despair amid economic decline and corruption, according to an al Jazeera reporter.

The whereabouts of IS leader Baghdadi are unknown  but one claim is that he is in the region west of Mosul.

AFGHANISTAN

DoD identifies U.S. soldiers killed in the attack at Bagram airbase as 20-year-old Pfc. Tyler R. Iubelt of Tamaroa, Illinois, and 30-year-old Sgt. John W. Perry of Stockton, California, died. They were assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Special Troops Battalion, 1st Sustainment Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division out of Fort Hood, Texas.

Parwan governor's officer identifies the attacker as a worker at the base.

After Parliament impeached six ministers, President Ghani has ordered them to remain in office, setting up a political power struggle. Parliament dismissed them for poor performance, but Ghani says that decimating the cabinet will paralyze the government. 

IS claims to have shot down a U.S. helicopter in Ghor, but this appears to be false. In fact an Afghan helicopter made a hard landing due to a malfunction

 



Saturday, November 12, 2016

Update for Saturday, November 12, 2016

Suicide boming at Bagram airbase kills 4, injures 14. There is as  yet no word on the nationalities of the casualties, but it appears the explosion occurred among laborers lining up for work.

Update: Explosion at Bagram killed 2 U.S. military personnel and 2 U.S. civilian contractors, injured 16 additional U.S. and 1 Polish military personnel. This is an astonishing lapse of security. Some additional detail from NBC News.

 

Afghanistan establishes a special tribunal to prosecute corruption. We'll see what comes of this.

The battle for Mosul continues, with Iraqi forces making slow gains amid intense fighting while some civilians manage to flee. IS continues to try counterattacking with suicide car bombers, with little success as tanks manage to stop them.

Asharq al-Awsat interviews some escaped civilians who describe harsh IS rule.

Iraq has not been publishing casualty totals, but CNN describes a hospital near Mosul struggling to cope with wounded soldiers as well as some civilians.

Gareth Brown for the New Arab publishes a photo blog of a recaptured suburb of Mosul.


Friday, November 11, 2016

Update for Friday, November 11, 2016

Taliban attack German consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif, killing 4 people and wounding hundreds in a massive explosion. No German nationals were injured, however.  German soldiers subsequently kill 2 men on a motorcycle who did not follow their directions. They are identified as civilians.

In Iraq, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein reviews atrocities committed by IS, calls for formal justice not collective punishment and revenge.


Iraqi forces continue to make slow progress in Mosul against heavy resistance. As of now about 48,000 people have been displaced by the fighting. Many are arriving at UN camps.

Kurdish forces are constructing a defensive berm about 40 miles west of Irbil, marking the boundary of territory they intend to keep.








Thursday, November 10, 2016

Update for Thursday, November 10, 2016


Editor's Note: During the campaign, Donald Trump made vague claims about his likely policy in Iraq and Syria. He claimed repeatedly that the battle for Mosul was a "disaster," and that he has a secret plan to destroy IS. He did talk about "bombing the shit" out of them and propose torturing captives and murdering the families of suspected terrorists. He did condemn U.S. support for opposition forces in Syria and apparently wants to ally with Russia and Russian objectives in the fight against IS in Russia, which would mean restoring the Assad government's rule over the relevant territory. He also at times disparaged the U.S. alliance with the Iraqi government, which he claims is a stooge of Iran. There is no telling what the Trump administration will actually do once he takes office, since he clearly has no idea what he is talking about. In any event, the battle for Mosul is likely to be over or nearly over by then.

U.S. Central Command admits to 119 civilian deaths from air strikes in Iraq and Syria since 2014, including 64 in the past year. This is far fewer than independent monitoring groups have claimed.

Amnesty International accuses Iraqi police of the torture and murder of people fleeing Mosul  who they suspect of having ties to IS.

Iraqi forces continue slow advance into Mosul from the east, claiming control of the Zahra district.

The fighting is extremely difficult  as the urban environment deprives conventional forces, including armor, of their advantage.

Iraqi forces claim additional territory south of the city  and plan to advance on the city from the south shortly.

Peshmerga forces intend to remain in Bashiqa and nearby territory they have seized, but do not plan further advances.

New York Times reports that many people exiled from Mosul do not plan to return, as they fear the social fabric of the once diverse city has been shattered.

Refugees face problems with legal documents issued by IS, such as identity papers and birth certificates, which the Iraqi government does not recognize.












Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Update for Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Al Jazeera has a photo essay on civilians fleeing the fighting near Mosul. They are generally overjoyed to be free of IS rule but are now joining the ranks of millions of displaced people in Iraq.

Meanwhile, IS continues mass abductions, apparently intending to use people as human shields.

Iraqi soldiers find a mass grave in Hammam al-Alil, which may include the remains of former police officers known to have been executed en masse near the location. However, children's toys have also been found in the grave.

Peshmerga claim to be in control of Bashiqa after beseiging the town for two weeks. However, a few IS holdouts are said to remain.

Pentagon says it is providing close air support to Iraqi forces using Apache helicopters, to significant effect.

Attacks in Baghdad suburbs kill 14 people, including troops and civilians. IS is continuing its campaign of bombings in an around Baghdad; these incidents happen almost daily.





Saturday, November 5, 2016

Update for Saturday, November 5, 2016

NATO confirms that civilian casualties occurred as a result of air strike in Kunduz in support of an operation in which two U.S. troops were killed. Says some of the dead were Taliban family members.

DoD identifies soldiers killed in action Nov. 3 as Capt. Andrew D. Byers, 30, of Rolesville, North Carolina, and Sgt. 1st Class Ryan A. Gloyer, 34, of Greenville, Pennsylvania, assigned to
Company B, 2nd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Fort Carson, Colorado.  

Separate sticky bomb attacks in Kabul and Nangarhar  injure four police officials from Kapisa (in Kabul) and kill a driver and injure a district governor (Nangarhar).

Rocket fire kills one civilian, injures three in Assadabad, Kunar.

IS militants abduct 6 civilians in Ghor, days after massacring 31.

U.S. says it killed Taliban leader Faruq al-Qhatani in an airstrike in October in Kunar.

Roadside bomb kills 11 wedding guests in Faryab.

Ben Norton in Salon discusses Afghanistan as the forgotten war.

In Iraqseventeen civilians fleeing Hawija are killed in an explosion. Other accounts give higher casualty totals.

Iraqi forces advancing from the south take Hammal al-Alil, said to be the last IS stronghold south of Mosul, some 30 kilometers from the city.

Satellite images show daunting defensive works in Mosul.


Friday, November 4, 2016

Update for Friday, November 4, 2016


Iraqi forces continue to press into Mosul, entering the Al Zahra district. According to residents, IS was expecting the attack and had withdrawn most forces two days ago, leaving 4 pockets of resistance. Nevertheless the remaining IS fighters are putting up a fierce fight with nearly constant gunfire reported and suicide vehicle bomb attacks, none successful.

Iraq also claims capture of 6 additional districts  in Mosul: Malayeen, Samah, Kadhra, Karkukli, Quds and Karama (although the latter had been claimed earlier).

Malayeen, Samah, Khadra, Karkukli, Quds and Karama

Read more on UNIAN: http://www.unian.info/world/1606867-iraqi-forces-say-six-mosul-districts-seized-from-is.html
Malayeen, Samah, Khadra, Karkukli, Quds and Karama,

Read more on UNIAN: http://www.unian.info/world/1606867-iraqi-forces-say-six-mosul-districts-seized-from-is.html

Oxfam reports on the toxic effects of the oil well fires set by IS.

UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson says Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has fled Mosul, even while calling on his followers to fight to the death.

The UN continues to report that IS is executing alleged deserters.

IS has launched a diversionary counterattack in Shirqat, apparently taking control of some buildings.

 In Afghanistan, angry mourners bury the 30 civilians killed by a U.S. air strike in Kunduz. There is as yet little information about what happened but the U.S. military, not yet admitting to any civilian casualties, has pledged to "investigate."

A reporter for Ariana News was killed in an explosion in Helmand.

As I predicted, Pakistan will not imprison Sharbat Gula but will deport her.






Thursday, November 3, 2016

Update for Thursday, November 3, 2016


In an as-yet unclear incident or series of incidents, 2 U.S. service members, perhaps 30 Afghan civilians, and many Taliban are killed in Kunduz. The linked AFP story says that the U.S. troops were killed in a firefight, apparently followed by an airstrike in which the civilians, including children, were killed. AP says that two additional U.S. troops were injured and gives death toll of Taliban as 65. TOLO says 3 Afghan commandos were also killed. As with previous incidents in which U.S. airstrikes have killed civilians, we can expect a long delay before we get more clarity on these events, but I will update when we know more.

An independent research group says the U.S. imprisoned 8 men at Guantanamo based on vague and unsubstantiated allegations. According to the report:

Reading through the United States military and court documents outlining the allegations and evidence against these eight men, one enters a Kafkaesque world of strange, vague accusations, rife with hearsay, secret evidence, bad translations, gross errors of fact and testimony obtained under duress and torture. . . .

AAN senior analyst, Kate Clark, investigated the Afghan experience in Guantanamo and found the Afghan case files full of mistakes, bad translations and fantastical allegations, and evidence made up of hearsay, double hearsay, unsubstantiated intelligence reports and testimony from those who were tortured.

In IraqIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi issues a rare audio recording urging a fight to the death in Mosul. He also calls for action against Saudi Arabia.

Iraqi troops advancing toward Mosul from the south find empty villages, the inhabitants abducted by IS.

Following Baghdadi's speech, heavy fighting is reported in the Intisar, Quds and Samah neighborhoods of east Mosul.

Five thousand civilians have been evacuated from eastern Mosul

Charlie Winter says that Donald Trump has become an IS asset, reinforcing their false claim that the assault on Mosul is going badly.

Notably, though, this is not the first time that Trump and ISIS have seen eye to eye. Indeed, over the last year in particular, his rhetoric has persistently reflected that of the ISIS propagandists, especially when it came to issues pertaining to Islam and the West. It's in this context that the similarities are most striking: when Trump says "I think Islam hates us," ISIS is there to back him up as evidence, declaring that "we [and the religion of Islam that ISIS falsely claims to represent] hate you." At times, it is almost uncanny how closely each affirms the other's worldview. However, this is not because their ideological positions actually resemble each other, and it is certainly not because an active relationship exists between the two. Not by any stretch of the imagination could that be the case.
Rather, this strange symbiosis is just indicative of the fact that opposing extremisms sometimes work in each other's favor: the fear that drives Trump's anti-Muslim populism, in a not-so-roundabout way, fuels the fires of ISIS' global jihadist project. While their goals are poles apart, each appeals to their supporters by stoking fears of the "other." So, when ISIS says the West hates Muslims and Trump says Muslims hate the West, they end up reinforcing and reaffirming the other's system of beliefs.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Update for Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Iraqi Joint Operations Command says Iraqi forces have entered the city of Mosul in the Judaidat Al-Mufti area on the southeast of the city. Elsewhere, however, coalition forces are still some distance from the city, particularly to the south and west.

French artillery units in Qayyara are backing up the operation alongside U.S. artillery.

Iraqi special forces capture the television station in Mosul

Turkey has sent an armored brigade to the Iraqi border, saying only that it wants to be prepared for eventualities. [Most likely the intention is to warn Shiite militias against harming the largely Turkic population of Tal Afar.]

Vox details the IS tactic of setting ablaze oil wells, factories, and other sources of toxic smoke which has created an environmental catastrophe.



Monday, October 31, 2016

Update for Monday, October 31, 2016


Iraqi special forces take the village of Bazwaya, less than a mile from the Mosul city limits to the east. They have paused to allow regular troops to fill in.

Government and allied forces have also taken additional villages,  and counterterrorism chief General Talib Shegati says forces will cross the city limits in a matter of hours.

Some reports say they already have done so, although this may be a matter of definition. It appears they have yet to cross the administrative border of the city, but that seems an inconsequential distinction.

Al Alam says a massive explosion occurred at a meeting of IS commanders in Mosul, which could possibly be a coalition air strike, but there is no corroboration. (This has also been reported by Sputnik and Fars, relying on the same source.)

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says that 300 child soldiers brought by IS from Syria to Mosul have been killed in fighting.

Iraqi media continue to report that IS is executing deserters by the dozens.

I will provide an update if warranted. Looks like the next few days will be decisive.


Sunday, October 30, 2016

Update for Sunday, October 30, 2016


I haven't really bothered to closely follow the day-to-day violence in Afghanistan, which recently has been fairly low-level but continual. But today we have some links that offer overall perspective.

This has been the bloodiest year yet for Afghan security forces, with about 5,500 killed and 9,600 injured.  Note that this is one reason why I don't link to every report of fighting, because generally speaking the government does not disclose its own casualties in battles. We see these reports of 9 or 12 or 30 Taliban killed and no mention of government casualties, or a suspiciously lopsided number. The total public reports of specific casualty totals in given engagements are nowhere close to 5,500 dead. This piece also mentions that the government has lost control of territory this year, down to 63% of the country from 65% in May.

Most of the billions of dollars the U.S. has spent building roads in Afghanistan has been wasted.

The so-called National Unity Government of Ghani and Abdullah is shattering.

Violence against journalists in Afghanistan is at unprecedented levels, with 377 cases reported so far this year.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Update for Friday, October 28, 2016

The UN says IS forces have abducted thousands of civilians in the Mosul area to use as "human shields" near strategic sites. They are also said to have murdered some 232 people including former members of Iraqi security forces and people who refused to obey their orders.

Amnesty International warns that use of white phosphorus munitions by Iraqi or coalition forces may endanger civilians. (The U.S. used such munitions in the second battle for Fallujah.)

Toxic clouds from burning sulfur and oil wells set ablaze by IS have sickened more than a thousand people and created an environmental catastrophe.

Nevertheless, despite resistance peshmerga and Iraqi forces continue their slow advance toward Mosul.

Shiite militia offensive on Tal Afar said to be imminent.


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Update for Wednesday, October 26, 2016


Advance toward Mosul continues to be slowed by IS resistance. Iraqi forces to the south are currently fighting in the Shora region, 20 miles from the city. UN agencies say that so far 10,600 civilians have fled the fighting.

Shiite militia forces are expected to join the battle soon, specifically to take the Turkmen town of Tal Afar. Turkish Foreign Minister warns that Turkey will be watching the situation closely.

Pointing to the threat of Hashd al-Shaabi, an umbrella group of pro-government Shia militias, Cavusoglu said in addition to the expected attack on Mosul, the militia is also targeting largely Sunni areas. Cavusoglu underlined that Turkey will "take all precautionary measures allowed by international law" if anything in Tal Afar threatens Turkey’s security. Cavusoglu also warned that Turkey "will not be insensitive" if the Turkmens of Tal Afar are attacked.

Meanwhile, peshmerga forces are continuing to make slow progress in the Bashiqa area.

Xinhua reports on advances in various areas.

Reuters reports on the U.S. "high mobility artillery rocket system" in Qayyara, which has been attacking targets in Mosul continuously. The system has a range of 70 miles.

Tallha Abdulrazaq discusses the future of IS after it loses control of territory. Like many observers, he is concerned about the poor prospects for a political settlement that will deprive the group of oxygen.

In Afghanistan, 26 civilians are massacred in the remote province of Ghor,but there are conflicting accounts about who is responsible and the motive. Some stories have called the perpetrators Taliban, but most accounts now call them IS. The motive may have been revenge for the killing of an IS commander, or a dispute over stolen sheep. Some accounts portray this as an ethnic conflict.

This is one of those stories where the focus on a single individual draws attention to a much wider issue which has been ignored. Sharbat Gula, the subject of a famous National Geographic photograph is an Afghan refugee who has been living in Pakistan. Pakistani authorities have arrested her for obtaining a fake ID, and she is subject to prison time. (I expect they will just expel her.) Pakistan has been engaged in mass deportation of Afghan refugees, putting great stress on humanitarian agencies.


Monday, October 24, 2016

Update for Monday, Oct. 24, 2016


U.S. military spokespeople say U.S.-led coalition has launched more air strikes in the past week than at any time in the battle against IS, in support of the assault on Mosul. U.S. claims to have used 1,776 (sic) items of ordnance including bombs, rockets and artillery shells, and to have killed hundreds of IS fighters and destroyed large amounts of equipment and defenses.

Turkey insists on joining the offensive over the objections of Baghdad. This is really a question of Iraqi sovereignty in Kurdistan. Despite Ankara's conflict with the PKK and Kurdish parties in Syria, it has reached an accommodation with the Kurdish Regional Government in Irbil and appears ready to support the independence of Iraqi Kurdistan. In return, the KRG has repudiated Kurdish parties that have designs on Turkish territory. Turkey of course wants to have influence in Kurdistan and allying with the peshmerga in the assault on Mosul helps to seal the relationship. Of course if the KRG honored Iraqi sovereignty in its territory, this could not happen.

Iraqi forces make gains in Christian towns southeast of Mosul.

Here's the story of two Christian towns recaptured by Iraqi forces.

Peshmerga repel a counterattack in Sinjar.

IS also counterattacks in Rutba in Anbar.

The Economist discusses IS ideology and looks toward potential positive outcomes from the collapse of the self-proclaimed Caliphate.

However, many observers argue that failure to achieve political resolution and stability in Iraq following the conquest of Mosul will allow the IS to continue to operate as a guerrilla organization and lead to continual turmoil.

Renad Mansour discusses these prospects for CNN.

Middle East Eye gives an overview of the state of battle. Iraqi forces are said to be within 5 km of the city.



Saturday, October 22, 2016

Update for Saturday, October 22, 2016


IS assault on Kirkuk ends with 48 attackers dead. Fourteen civilians were also killed -- 13 workers at a power plant including 4 Iranians, and one reporter killed by a sniper. Twenty nine members of the Iraqi security forces were also killed. Some of the attackers may still be at large.

The attackers are said to have entered Kirkuk through a gap between Kurdish and Shiite militia lines.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter is in Iraq, to meet with Iraqi officials and his commanders. This Time story discusses the current military situation in some detail.

Iraqi forces capture the center of Hamdaniyah, 20 kilometers from Mosul, though resistance continues in the area. The town is said to be largely deserted.

After meeting with Ashton Carter, PM Abadi declines an offer of Turkish help in the battle for Mosul.

IS blows up a sulphur plant near Qayyara. The resulting fumes kill 2 civilians and force U.S. personnel at the base to wear respiratory protection.

For unexplained reasons, IS has destroyed Mosul's largest hotel.

Also for unexplained reasons, IS is said to have murdered 284 of the civilians captured to serve as human shields.

AP blog reports on death of a journalist by sniper fire; unsuccessful attack on a convoy near Bartella, other recent developments.

U.S. fatality from Thursday is identified as Chief Petty Officer Jason C. Finan, 34, of Anaheim, California, assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit Three.

In Afghanistan, as low-level fighting continues around the country, a Taliban delegation is in Pakistan to discuss possible resumption of peace talks, following previously undisclosed talks with Afghan and U.S. diplomats in Qatar.


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Update for Thursday, October 20, 2016

Iraqi and Kurdish forces launch separate offensives, with Iraqi special forces advancing from the south to Bartella and peshmerga forces advancing from the northeast near Bashiqa. Booby traps, suicide car bomb attacks, and dug in IS troops continue to slow progress but PM Abadi says progress is faster than expected.

Conditions in the city of Mosul are growing desperate and it is impossible for civilians to flee.

Speaking to Al Jazeera on the phone from inside Mosul, Abu Yazan, 36, who didn't want his real name used fearing reprisals from the group also known as ISIS, said fleeing the city was "not possible" at this stage. "There is no way out for us as families. Even if we think about fleeing the city, that is not possible at the time being. We are being held hostages; ISIL took the whole city of Mosul as hostage," said the father of three children.
IS commanders are reported to be fleeing the city.

French president Hollande appears to confirm this  and is concerned that IS fighters are escaping to Raqqa. He makes his remarks at a meeting in Paris of members of the U.S.-led coalition to discuss plans for stabilization after Mosul is recaptured.

However IS claims that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi will remain in Mosul after a failed coup attempt. There are conflicting reports that he has already fled, but Iraqi deputy PM Hoshyar Zebari says he is indeed still there.

Enslaved Yazidi women are said to have been moved from Mosul to Raqqa.

Update: U.S. service member killed by roadside bomb in northern Iraq "near Mosul." No further information as of now.



Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Update for Wednesday, October 19, 2016


Some 5,000 people have fled from the Mosul area to al-Hol camp in Syria in recent days, where Save the Children says conditions are appalling and the facility is unprepared to receive more refugees. The camp is "littered with waste and faeces, with a looming risk of outbreaks of disease". It said there are just 16 toilets shared by more than 9,000 people, many of whom only have access to dirty, untreated water.

Iraqi and Kurdish authorities set up a camp with 5,000 tents near Mosul. This will not be enough to receive the expected number of refugees, however.

The advance on Mosul is slowed by harrying tactics by IS defenders using suicide truck bombs. Often, as in the battle described here, they are destroyed by tank fire before they can be effective. However, defenders hang on with mortar and rifle fire.

Tribune News Services describes the military situation more generally. Despite the resistance, the far superior weaponry of the attacking forces, notably tanks, along with air support, makes slow but continual progress inevitable. This report also notes that Shiite militias have pledged only to capture Tal Afar, and not to enter Mosul.

Nevertheless Dexter Filkins is very concerned about the participation of Shiite militias in the operation,

Peshmerga forces have stopped their advance to consolidate their positions. They fight off a counterattack near Sinjar.

Here is a description of a battle in Bojwana village to the south of the city.

Iraqi armor is now said to be 3 or 4 miles from the city. This CNN story mentions several engagements.

Ibrahim al-Marashi looks forward to the aftermath of the fight for Mosul.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi will face the daunting challenges of governing a post-ISIL Iraq and post-conflict security issues: first, the reintegration of territory and populations that were under ISIL control; second, agreeing to Iraq's internal borders with the Kurds; and third, presiding over a fragmented, sectarian state to deal with the aforementioned issues. This is one of the few occasions where I find myself arguing for American interference in domestic Iraqi affairs.


Update: An assailant wearing an Afghan army uniform kills a U.S. service member and a U.S. civilian at a U.S. base in Kabul. An additional service member and 2 additional civilians were injured. The assailant was killed. More information when it becomes available.








Monday, October 17, 2016

Update for Monday, October 17, 2016


Iraqi PM Haider Al-Abadi announces the beginning of the offensive to retake Mosul. Thirty-thousand Iraqi government and allied forces, including Kurdish peshmerga and Arab militias, are taking part in the offensive to re-take the city from an estimated 4-8,000 IS fighters. Up to 1.5 million civilians are believed still to be in the city.

The U.S. Department of Defense announces U.S. participation through Operation Inherent Resolve. The OIR coalition will provide "air support, artillery, intelligence, advisors and forward air controllers," Townsend said in the statement, adding that the supporting forces "will continue to use precision to accurately attack the enemy and to minimize any impact on innocent civilians."

Peshmerga forces are advancing from the northeast and claim to have taken 5 villages.

Washington Post reporters dispatch from Khazir, from which the Kurdish offensive has been launched.

DPA reports on the Iraqi push from Qayyara to the south as well as giving some details on peshmerga progress.

The UN lacks resources to adequately deal with the expected flood of displaced people. Civilians lack safe escape routes. (The second link is to an AP blog, which has frequent updates.)

BBC coverage includes some helpful maps and tactical discussion.

Time provides background coverage on the city and its significance.

(I will provide frequent updates as developments warrant.)

Update: The Guardian discusses the role of U.S. special forces acting as "Joint terminal air controllers," that is troops near the front lines who act as spotters for air strikes. The article discusses some specific targets hit by U.S. aircraft as the offensive began.






Sunday, October 16, 2016

Update for Sunday, October 16, 2016

Although government forces have regained control of Kunduz city proper, fighting continues in the vicinity and thousands of displaced people are not returning, due to the uncertain security situation and damage to the city infrastructure. People are staying in camps in Mazar-e Sharif.

However, Mazar-e Sharif may not be so safe either, as a planted bomb in the city injures 3 people.

The Afghan government plans to investigate the recent Taliban takeover of Kunduz. Whatever.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, the battle for Mosul appears imminent as Iraqi planes drop leaflets over the city warning of the coming battle, U.S. artillery begins heavy shelling of IS positions, and Massud Barzani says the time for the offensive has come. We will provide daily updates once it begins.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Update for Thursday, October 13, 2016

Taliban surround and massacre about 100 Afghan soldiers and police near Lashkar Gah, seizing 22 armored humvees, dozens of trucks and innumerable rifles, while also taking many prisoners. The Afghan army is now losing 5,000 security forces per month to casualties and desertion, while replacing them with only 3,000. Ill-trained recruits are being rushed to the front lines.

Eight additional security forces are said to have died in other engagements since then.

IS fighters are said to have been killed by air strikes in Nangarhar and Taliban said to have been killed in Farah. As usual, no corroboration for the reported body counts.

Three children are injured in a rocket attack in Parwan.

U.S. special forces are deployed in Farah to support Afghan troops as fighting is ongoing in the provincial capital.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Update for Sunday, October 9, 2016


Heavy fighting close to Farah City has businesses closed and many residents fleeing. Despite resistance by local militias and some air strikes, Taliban are said to be advancing toward the city center.

Afghan military helicopter crashes in Baghlan, killing all 7 on board. As usual, conflicting claims as to whether mechanical failure or hostile action caused crash.

Seige of 50 Afghan forces in Faryab is relieved after 6 days.

Three Afghan police killed in an attack in Zabul where fighting is said to be increasing recently.

Roadside bomb in Jalalabad kills or injures 3 police and 2 civilians. (Reports are ambiguous or conflicting as to whether the injuries were fatal.)

Two police injured by roadside bomb in Nangarhar.

Government claims 86 insurgents killed in Helmand in past 48 hours, as usual makes no mention of any government casualties. All we can conclude from these reports is that fighting is occurring; otherwise I would not put any credence in them.

Air strikes, presumably by U.S. drones, said to kill 34 IS adherents in Nangarhar. Note that this is really a breakaway faction of the Taliban that has adopted the IS brand name. As usual, there is no corroboration of this claim, nor is it at all clear how the coalition could establish such a precise death toll from an air strike.

Two U.S. troops injured by an explosion in Jalalabad on Saturday. No report on the severity of their injuries.

Fighting continues in Kunduz with civilians fleeing as conditions continue to be dire.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Special Update for Friday, October 7, 2016

Today marks the 15th birthday of America's longest war. Here are some reflections.

Derek Coy in the veterans' newsletter Task and Purpose.

Fifteen years later, we're still fighting in Afghanistan and no one cares:

. . .  Today, Oct. 7, marks the 15th anniversary of combat operations in Afghanistan, which is now our longest war to date, and other than a select few who bear the brunt of this burden, most people will see #WorldSmileDay trending on Twitter today and not think twice about this somber and embarrassing anniversary. Nothing could be more insulting to the troops currently serving.. . .

Vijay Prashad in Afghanistan Times.

15 Years Later the Taliban Is Back in Power in Afghanistan, and More Radical Than Ever:

 . . . Fifteen years ago, the United States went to war on Afghanistan. . . . A decade and a half later, the Taliban is back in force. It commands large parts of the countryside, and threatens major urban areas. Kunduz, in the north, has been going back and forth between the Taliban and the Afghan National Army. Just this week, the Taliban forces took the center of the city, only to be ejected a day later. In Helmand Province in the south, home of the US Surge, the Taliban threatens the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah. It already holds six of the fourteen districts of Helmand – Baghran, Dishu, Musa Qala, Nawa, Now Zad and Khanashin). The rest of the district is almost entirely dominated by the Taliban. Just north of Helmand, the Taliban threaten the provincial capital of Uruzgan – Tarin Kot. Much of southern Afghanistan, in other words, is in the craw of the Taliban.

Robert Fisk in The Independent.

The invasion of Afghanistan 15 years ago was an arrogant, wretched adventure that caused a migrant crisis:
 . . Now Isis is in Afghanistan. Car bombs are as frequent in Kabul as they are in Baghdad, suicide killers as numberless as they are anonymous. A new president, Ashraf Ghani, an American citizen, has pledged an end to corruption – some hope – but the militias reign supreme. (Ghani’s running mate was the ghastly Dustom). His Afghan army and police are as impotent as they were when first created by yet more American advisers after 2001.
Soldiers turn up for their uniforms and a month’s pay then vanish into the desert. Khunduz is under Taliban siege for the fourth time. The Americans bombed an MSF hospital in the last battle for the city. And the Germans have just announced that they won’t pay more than the original $5,000 to families who lost their loved ones in a German/Nato air strike because the pilot followed the rules. Again, the same old story: it’s not the extent of an Afghan’s loss that will measure his recompense but the degree of culpability of those who brought about that loss. And we are never – ever – going to blame ourselves.

May Jeong in The New Republic.

Afghanistan is an Infinite Quagmire

. . . Today, 15 years after the invasion began, Afghanistan has turned into America’s longest war. More than 2,300 American troops have died in the conflict, which has cost U.S. taxpayers $686 billion. As a candidate, Barack Obama vowed that we would quickly “finish the job” in Afghanistan. Instead, Obama has presided over a war that went from dismal to disastrous. According to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the Taliban gained ground this year, while the government in Kabul grows weaker. In July, Obama announced that the United States will leave 8,400 troops in Afghanistan—up from the 5,500 he originally called for. By almost any measure, we are moving backwards.. . .
Oh yeah. Fighting continues in Kunduz.

Fighting briefly closes the Kabul-Kandahar highway in Zabul.

Army base attacked in Kandahar.

Tens of thousands of non-existent troops on Afghan army payroll.