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

Monday, May 30, 2016

Update for Monday, May 30, 2016

Twelve police are killed, 7 missing and apparently abducted, and 7 injured in a series of coordinated attacks on police checkpoints in Helmand province.

Update: Current reports are that more than 50 Afghan police have been killed in Helmand in the past two days as the Taliban overrun checkpoints in the vicinity of Lashkar Gah. 

Four Afghan border police are killed in an ambush in Herat.

NATO drone strike kills 6 in Kunar.

MoD says 18 militants killed by air strikes in Baghlan and 11 killed by air strikes in Kandahar province.

Afghan forces arrest a Taliban leader and 6 companions in Kunduz.

Fighting in Uruzgan claims many lives. As usual, an official spokesman claims very lopsided casualty totals, 25 Taliban killed and 2 Afghan police. There is no way to verify these claims.

Note: I have been surprised how little attention is paid in the media to casualties of the U.S. war in Afghanistan this memorial day. The best I can do is to link to Wikipedia. In the 15 year war (America's longest war, now barely noted in our politics and our national discourse), there have been 2,326 U.S. military deaths, 1,856 attributed to hostile action, and more than 20,000 wounded in action. Total coalition deaths are 3,407. Of course, the toll on Afghans, military, police, and civilian, is far higher. More than 26,000 civilians have died although we don't really have a good estimate and deaths from disease and malnutrition cannot be specifically attributed to the combat although they are related.

Turning to Iraq, having completed the envelopment of Fallujah, Iraqi forces and Shiite militias begin to advance toward the city center with Iraqi and U.S. air cover, facing what is so far said to be weak resistance.

Meanwhile, IS continues its bombing campaign in Baghdad with 24 killed and 50 injured in 3 separate attacks.

Again, not much attention seems to be paid this memorial day. At least Cormac Gordon in the Staten Island Advance has something to say. And again, I give you Wikipedia here trying to collate information about casualties among all categories of people affected. Casualties among civilians and even Iraqi security forces are not known with any precision. And it's hard to classify the irregular militias, or even know who is a combatant in many cases. Iraq Body Count uses a conservative method that only counts deaths which are publicly reported with corroboration. They report 242,000 deaths including both civilians and combatants.There have been a total of 4,502 U.S. military fatalities in the Iraq war, which are listed here. You can find comparable information about Afghanistan at the site. Not that iCasualties is a private, volunteer effort.

One of the strangest things that happens nowadays in the U.S. is that people will wish you a "happy memorial day." This was not originally seen as a happy occasion. It did evolve from a day of remembrance to a day of glorification of militarism. I was kicked out of my high school marching band for wearing a black armband in the memorial day parade. They used to have tanks roll down main street along with the Boy Scouts. Nowadays it just seems to be a day off with hot dogs.

As I have done on previous memorial days, I present a poem written by Archibald MacLeish on the occasion of visiting his brother's grave in Belgium. Kenneth MacLeish died in WWI, in which Archibald MacLeish also fought alongside my grandfather, Frank McCloskey.

Ambassador Puser the ambassador
Reminds himself in French, felicitous tongue,
What these (young men no longer) lie here for
In rows that once, and somewhere else, were young…
All night in Brussels the wind had tugged at my door:
I had heard the wind at my door and the trees strung
Taut, and to me who had never been before
In that country it was a strange wind, blowing
Steadily, stiffening the walls, the floor,
The roof of my room. I had not slept for knowing
He too, dead, was a stranger in that land
And felt beneath the earth in the wind’s flowing
A tightening of roots and would not understand,
Remembering lake winds in Illinois,
That strange wind. I had felt his bones in the sand

                    Reflects that these enjoy
Their country’s gratitude, that deep repose,
That peace no pain can break, no hurt destroy,
That rest, that sleep…
At Ghent the wind rose.
There was a smell of rain and a heavy drag
Of wind in the hedges but not as the wind blows
Over fresh water when the waves lag
Foaming and the willows huddle and it will rain:
I felt him waiting.
                    Indicates the flag
Which (may he say) enisles in Flanders plain
This little field these happy, happy dead
Have made America…
In the ripe grain
The wind coiled glistening, darted, fled,
Dragging its heavy body: at Waereghem
The wind coiled in the grass above his head:
                   Dedicates to them
This earth their bones have hallowed, this last gift
A grateful country…
 Under the dry grass stem
The words are blurred, are thickened, the words sift
Confused by the rasp of the wind, by the thin grating
Of ants under the grass, the minute shift
And tumble of dusty sand separating
From dusty sand. The roots of the grass strain,
Tighten, the earth is rigid, waits—he is waiting—
And suddenly, and all once, the rain!