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, March 17, 2016

Update for Thursday, March 17, 2016

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry declares that IS is guilty of genocide, specifically against Christian, Yazidi and Shiite people in its territory. The ruling comes just ahead of a deadline specified in a congressional resolution. Although the declaration does impose legal obligations on the U.S., it is not clear that it makes much practical difference as the U.S. is already acting against IS.

The UN expresses concern about some 35,000 refugees fleeing fighting near Hit, where Iraqi forces are conducting an offensive against IS. Relief workers have limited access to the area.

Kurdish president Masoud Barzani says peshmerga forces are prepared to participate in the assault on Mosul, but there will have to be agreement on how the city will be administered after IS is expelled. His stated concern is for the welfare of "minorities," but it is unclear what he means. The city is majority Sunni Arab, and that is the group that has faced reprisals following previous reconquests by the Iraqi army and Shiite militias.

Palestinian-American Mohamad Jamal Khweis, who had joined IS and then turned himself in to Kurdish troops, is expected to provide valuable intelligence about the IS command structure.

An Iraqi aircraft is apparently shot down by IS forces, killing 5 crew members. This was a small plane apparently on a reconnaissance mission. The Iraqi military has confirmed that the plane crashed, but not that it was shot down.

This isn't strictly in Iraq, but the Iraq/Syria border is probably obsolete anyway. Several Syrian Kurdish and allied groups proclaim an "autonomous federation" in northern Syria.  This obviously doesn't sit well with the Assad government, and we'll probably be hearing from Turkey soon.

Turning to Afghanistan, reports are leaking that the Pentagon investigation into the attack on the MSF hospital in Kunduz is nearly complete and that no personnel will be court martialed. Twelve individuals will apparently receive letters of reprimand over the incident, in which a U.S. aircraft killed 42 people in a relentless attack lasting for an hour. (If this is really all that happens, we can expect a strong reaction from MSF and the human rights community. -- C)