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, June 30, 2016

Update for Thursday, June 30, 2016

Air strikes by U.S. and Iraqi forces on militants fleeing Fallujah said to kill hundreds. Specifically, Iraqi military spokesman Yahya Rasool says that Iraqi forces destroyed more than 200 vehicles and killed at least 150 militants, while U.S. air strikes destroyed an additional 60 vehicles. He did not say how the casualties were determined. While he said that commandos captured large quantities of weapons and ammunition, he did not say anything about survivors or prisoners. AP quotes a different official saying that Iraqi helicopters destroyed 138 vehicles, and a U.S. spokesperson saying that coalition air strikes destroyed 175. Other sources give yet other numbers.

The UK will send an additonal 250 troops to a base in Anbar. They are said to be on a training mission, although the number of troops dedicated to force protection greatly exceeds the number of trainers.

UNICEF raises the alarm on the dire circumstances of Iraqi children. Among their observations:

  • 4.7 million children need humanitarian aid – a third of all Iraqi children
  • Some 3.6 million children in Iraq – one in five in the country – are at serious risk of death, injury, sexual violence, abduction and recruitment into armed groups
  • A total of 1,496 children have been abducted in the country over the past two and a half years. That translates to 50 children abducted each month, with many forced into fighting or sexually abused.
  • Almost ten percent of Iraqi children – more than 1.5 million – have been forced to flee their homes because of violence since the beginning of 2014, often multiple times.  
U.S will loan Iraqi military $2.7 billion, with $200 million going directly to the peshmerga.

In Afghanistantwo suicide bombers kill at least 30 people and injure dozens in an attack on buses carrying recent police academy graduates near Kabul. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid takes responsibility.







Sunday, June 26, 2016

Update for Sunday, June 26, 2016

Iraqi military says it has recaptured all of Fallujah and declares the battle for the city to be over.

However, the humanitarian crisis of refugees from the city has only intensified. The Euphrates has in effect become an internal border preventing Sunni Arabs from Anbar from entering the capital district; while aid has been delayed by the government blocking access to Anbar for relief agencies. Thousands of men, presumably detained by government or militia forces, are still missing. Officials say that thousands of men have been screened and released, but that 7,000 remain in detention  and that more than 2,000 have been identified as suspects.

Muqtada al-Sadr calls for the government to resign. His parliamentary bloc has been boycotting, making it difficult to secure quorums.

AhlulBayt discusses opposition to calls for the breakup of Iraq  from various quarters including Sunni and Shiite Arab politicians, and Kurds other than the Kurdish Democratic Party. (I must say, however, that the current policy toward Sunni refugees does not bode well for national unity. -- C)

In Afghanistan,  there is considerable violence as militants claiming the IS brand have abducted some 30 civilians in Nangarhar, while the government claims it has killed 131 militants in the same district in both air strikes and land battles. It says 12 civilians and security forces were killed in the same action but does not further specify. (As usual, there is no way to verify these typically lopsided casualty totals. -- C)

A rocket strikes Bagram airbase. No mention of damage or casualties.

Air strike said to have killed a Taliban commander in Kunduz area.

Clash in Faryab said to have resulted in death of 26 militants and one member of a civilian militia supporting the government. Again, no way to verify the extremely lopsided casualty total.

Mine explosion (probably an IED) kills one civilian and injures 3 in Herat.

There is an epidemic of kidnappings on highways by Taliban in Baghlan.

U.S. jets attack Taliban in eastern Afghanistan, but the U.S. withholds any more specific information. (Since the Taliban presumably know where they were attacked, it's not clear who this information is being kept secret from.)


Friday, June 24, 2016

Update for Friday, June 24, 2016


As Iraqi forces close in on the last remaining pocket of IS resistance in Fallujah, tens of thousands of civilian refugees continue to suffer in the blazing desert heat without adequate food, water, shelter or medical care. The Iraqi government bars them from approaching Baghdad. Most men remain in detention. Excerpt:

“The police told us that if you are from Habbaniyah, from Saqlawiyah or Fallujah they won’t let you cross. They twisted my arm and said: ‘Next time we will do worse’," says an old woman from Fallujah who declined to give her name. Habbaniyah and Saqlawiyah are townships near Fallujah.

A hotbed of Sunni militancy since the US invasion in 2003, Fallujah and its inhabitants are viewed with deep distrust by Iraq’s Shia-dominated government. Those seeking medical treatment in Baghdad are turned back even if they have a referral from a local hospital.

“If it says Saqlawiyah in your ID they won’t let you cross the bridge. All I want is to cross so I can take him to the hospital," says Nadia, a desperate young mother with a sick six-month-old son.
Iraq veteran and now U.S. congressman Seth Moulton says the U.S. is not doing enough to bring about political reconciliation in Iraq, without which there can be no military solution.

And sure enough, the U.S. may be sending in more troops.

UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq says assault on Mosul could displace an additional 2.3 million people.

Denise Natali discusses the profound obstacles to partitioning Iraq. (I agree that it would be a very hard road to stability and prosperity, especially for a Sunni Arab state, but it's going to happen one way or another. -- C)

Iraqi forces continue to advance toward Tikrit, and also toward Mosul, according to Salahuddin Operations Command.

The so-called "Vicar of Baghdad," actually a British clergyman, has been suspended by a charity he runs after accusations that he paid to ransom Yazidi sex slaves. Under British law, ransoming terrorist hostages is illegal.

Update regarding Afghanistan: Without providing any specifics,  U.S. officials tell the AP that U.S. air strikes against the Taliban have resumed under the new presidential authorization. You may recall that when Operation Enduring Freedom ended in 2014, the U.S. policy was changed to permit direct engagement only with al Qaeda and later IS, not the Taliban.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Update for Wednesday, June 22, 2016


As of Tuesday, the U.S. military was saying that the Iraqi government was exaggerating the success so far in Fallujah and that 2/3 of the city remained contested . Nevertheless, Iraqi commanders continue to claim that they are in a mopping up stage.

Regardless of the stage of battle in Fallujah, the humanitarian disaster continues unabated as refugees lack any shelter whatsoever and face critical shortages of food and water.

U.S. military leaders are not asking president Obama to send humanitarian aid, rather they are preparing to ask for more U.S. troops to be sent to Iraq.

Turkey continues its air campaign against the PKK. (I don't routinely link to these stories, this is pretty much a daily occurrence, but we get no information on the effectiveness of these strikes. The Kurdish Regional Government does not object, as far as I can tell.)

As you probably know, the pentagon normally does not publicly announce non-fatal combat injuries. They are now being explicit about this. U.S. forces are being injured in Iraq and Syria, but it's a secret. Unless they die.

[I may have an update later today including Afghanistan news.-- C]


Monday, June 20, 2016

Update for Monday, June 20, 2016


In Kabul, a suicide bomber targets a bus carrying Nepalese security guards to their work at the Canadian embassy, killing 14. There are conflicting claims of responsibility from the Taliban and IS.

Ten civilians are killed and 40 injured in a bombing in Badakhshan. The Taliban deny involvement; there is as yet no claim of responsibility.

Talks between Afghanistan and Pakistan on border issues continue after last week's deadly skirmish.

Nine militants are said to have been killed in gun battles in Kunduz. There is no mention of government casualties. (Often they occur but are not reported, as can be deduced from weekly casualty totals.)

Air strike said to kill 11 IS affiliates in Nangarhar. The report does not state whether the operation was carried out by U.S. or Afghan forces.

A reporter for Xinhua covers opium farming in Kandahar. He says farmers dislike being involved, but the financial benefits are irresistible.

In Iraq, there are reports that more than 350 Yezidi women were rescused in Fallujah. However, a Yezidi official denies this, calling the claims by Shiite militias unreliable.

The Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat describes the condition of 50,000 refugees from the Mosul region as "captivity" as they languish in a refugee camp in Syria near the border of Kurdistan, Turkey and Syria. Although the headline says they are "suspected of working with ISIS," in fact the problem seems to be that there is no safe place for them to go since Turkey and Kurdistan will not accept them. [The story of al-Hawl refugee camp is important and little-known. It was established by the UNHCR during the 1991 Gulf War to house Iraqi refugees. Since then it has accepted Palestinians who were ejected from Iraq during the 2003 U.S. invasion. That it now houses refugees from the Mosul are is confirmed by AFP. I will try to find out more. The area was briefly held by Islamic state but has been recaptured by Kurdish fighters.]

CNN's Ben Wedeman reports on the refugee crisis in all of Iraq, where there are nearly 5 million internally displaced persons.  He reports specifically on the miserable conditions in a camp housing refugees from Fallujah.




Sunday, June 19, 2016

Update for Sunday, June 19, 2016


Refugee camps are overwhelmed as civilians continue to flee Fallujah. The UN says that 82,000 people have fled, with perhaps 25,000 more on the way, but there is no shelter for them. One camp with 1,800 people has a single latrine. Because the Shiite government does not trust Sunni Arabs from Anbar, they are not allowed to go to Baghdad. While the government has taken over screening of military age men and many have been processed and released, many others remain missing.

Fighting in Fallujah continues but it seems to be characterizable as a mop-up operation. Government forces were cautious in approaching the hospital but when they stormed it, they found no patients inside. Shiite militias have remained outside of the city. Baghdad Operations Command expects the fighting to be over in a "few days."

However, it's still war. A senior Iraqi officer was killed by indirect fire near the city.

In case it gives you a thrill, you can watch video of Harrier jets taking off from the amphibious assault ship U.S.S. boxer in the Mediterranean to strike IS targets. The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit is in the Mediterranean along with the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman, as the U.S. assaults IS from both the  Mediterranean and the Gulf.

With the apparent success of the Fallujah operation, Iraqi and Kurdish forces are beginning the long-anticipated move toward Mosul. The first target, as we noted earlier, is Qayyarah and its airfield, across the Tigris from Kurdish-held territory.

Indian foreign policy specialist Brahma Chellaney argues that the U.S. policy of trying to ally with Pakistan is feckless. Since invading Afghanistan, the U.S. has given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid and provided sophisticated, powerful weapons in hopes that Pakistan would pressure the Taliban into a peace agreement. Instead, Pakistan has continued to harbor the Afghan Taliban leadership, not to mention Osama bin Laden. Says Chellaney:

The reality is that the medieval Taliban will neither be defeated nor seek peace until their Pakistani sanctuaries are eliminated. No counterterrorism campaign has ever succeeded in a country when the militants have found refuge in another. While Obama recognizes the imperative of eliminating terrorist sanctuaries, he has failed to do what is needed. . . .

A better approach would be to link aid disbursement to concrete Pakistani action against militants, while officially classifying ISI as a terrorist entity. Such a move would send a strong signal to Pakistan’s military – which views the Taliban and other militant groups as useful proxies and force multipliers vis-à-vis Afghanistan and India – that it can no longer hunt with the hounds and run with the foxes.


Friday, June 17, 2016

Update for Friday, June 17, 2016


The battle for Fallujah is certainly not over, but government forces have seized the city hall and IS forces have fled from some areas freeing civilians to leave. However, refugee camps cannot cope with the influx.




A 69-year-old Fallujah resident, who escaped al-Joulan quarter said they noticed militants evacuating early in the morning, taking vehicles loaded with food and fuel. “The news started spreading quickly and we prepared to leave from as early as 5am,” he added. “The Iraqi army was some 3 kilometres away from my home. We were thousands leaving the city…when we reached the armed forces we were given food and water but the army trucks transporting families to the camps were full.”

Marc Lynch at the Carnegie Endowment discusses the sectarian nature of the conflict in Iraq.

A narrative of Sunni victimization at the hands of Shias and Iran has dominated much of the Arab media and social media. Al-Jazeera has taken the lead in crafting this highly sectarian narrative about the Fallujah operation as an Iranian and Shia-militia campaign to exterminate Sunnis. Kasim has inflamed his significant public with a barrage of these incendiary Twitter polls. Those polls, for all their lack of scientific validity, tell a frightening story: 72 percent of respondents said they supported the Islamic State over the Shia militias in the battle of Fallujah; 84 percent said that the Iranian occupation posed a greater threat than the Islamic State; and 86 percent said the goal of the Fallujah campaign was to consolidate Iranian occupation of Iraq rather than to fight terrorism.
The UN is concerned about a resurgence of polio among the Fallujah population, which has had no vaccination program since the IS takeover in 2014. Approximately 40,000 people have already fled Fallujah and there are believed to be about the same number left. At this point, there appear to be no resources to meet their needs.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Update for Thursday, June 16, 2016


UN commision of inquiry says that IS is continuing its genocide of the Yazidis. This is not exactly news but the report is more conclusive than previous UN statements. AFP writes:

Based partly on interviews with survivors, the report found that IS “sought to erase the Yazidis through killings, sexual slavery, enslavement, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment.” The group was holding Yazidis in conditions “that bring about a slow death,” and was transferring Yazidi children from their families to live with IS fighters, “cutting them off from beliefs and practices of their own religious community,” the report said.

Al Jazeera reports that civilian men fleeing Fallujah say they have been tortured by Shiite militias.

Norwegian Refugee Council says it is running out of supplies at camps for people displaced from Fallujah and warns of catastrophe both in Fallujah and in the camps.

"Make no mistake: There is absolutely nothing safe for civilians fleeing Fallujah. No safe exits, no safe passage, no safe haven without risking their lives," [NRC's Jan] Egeland said. "They risk being shot at, killed by explosive devices on the roads, or drowning while crossing the river.". . .
"Those who flee IS-controlled areas and manage to make it to safety will soon find out there is very little we can offer them: we are running out of food, drinking water and medical services," the NRC said.

Masrour Barzani, son of the Kurdistan president and himself a high-ranking official, says that Iraq should devolve into 3 states. He calls for some unspecified form of federation but three co-equal capitals. [Among the difficulties with this proposal would be the viability of the Sunni Arab state, which would be an impoverished landlocked state with no petroleum. Also, the population of Baghdad is mixed.]

In Afghanistan, there appears to be a cease fire that is holding so far in the border skirmish with Pakistan, although the proximal cause of the dispute, the location of a border fence being erected by Pakistan, has not been resolved. Note that Afghanistan does not officially accept the Durand line, the border drawn by a British official in 1893, when Britain controlled Afghanistan.

The widely accepted practice of men having sex with boys in Afghanistan is exploited by the Taliban to infiltrate police facilities and kill hundreds of police.

"The Taliban are sending boys -- beautiful boys, handsome boys -- to penetrate checkpoints and kill, drug and poison policemen," said Ghulam Sakhi Rogh Lewanai, who was Uruzgan's police chief until he was removed in a security reshuffle in April amid worsening violence, AFP says. "They have figured out the biggest weakness of police forces -- bacha bazi [pedophelia]," he told AFP.

Militants assassinate a district governor in Bamyan.

Head of a district development council is assassinated in Logar.

For some reason, the U.S. is considering cancelling planned troop withdrawals  and keeping troops in Afghanistan at the current level of 9,800 through 2017.





Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Update for Tuesday, June 14, 2016


For the first time since October, 2014, a U.S. Army Apache helicopter has engaged in direct combat in Iraq. The attack destroyed a car or truck bomb near the town of Qayyarah, south of Mosul. The U.S. has been pressing Iraq to accept involvement of Apaches in combat and the Iraqi government has finally consented.

The Iraqi army, after an embarrassingly stalled offensive, has recaptured the village of Nasr, also south of Mosul.

Doctors without Borders says that the thousands of civilians fleeing Fallujah lack adquate shelter and clean water.

Hundreds of men are missing from among the refugees, whose families fear for their fate at the hands of Shiite militias. Some, however, may be in detention while being screened by government forces, and will eventually be released. The government says 6,000 men have been detained of whom 1,000 have already been released and that most of the rest will be soon. (We shall see.)

Officials claim continuing advances in the Fallujah area,

In Afghanistan, a border skirmish between Afghan and Pakistani forces is in its third day. It seems quite odd that the governments are unable to put a stop to this.  One Afghan soldier has died in the fighting.

Nine Afghan soldiers are killed and 5 injured in an attack on their post in Nimroz. Some wounded are in critical condition. There are said to have also been an unknown number of Taliban casualties.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Update for Monday, June 13, 2016

An Iraqi government spokesman acknowledges that Shiite militias have committed crimes against civilians in the battle for Fallujah and says that arrests have been made. This follows a claim by Anbar governor Suhaib al-Rawi that militias had executed 49 men and that hundreds had gone missing over the three days from June 3 through 5; and that detainees were tortured.

Government forces screening people fleeing Fallujah claim to have found more than 500 IS fighters trying to blend in with the refugees. If this is true, it suggests that the IS fighting force in Fallujah may be collapsing. Nevertheless, the fight remains a heavy slog against booby traps and suicide bombers.

Nevertheless the government continues to claim victories, such as the destruction of an IS communications facility, and the conquest of a village west of Fallujah.

Some 4,000 people have fled through the safe corridor recently opened by Iraqi forces

Here is a photo essay on the exodus.

Government forces also continue to advance toward Mosul.



Sunday, June 12, 2016

Update for Sunday, June 12, 2016


Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour al-Turki admits that fundraising for IS takes place in Saudi Arabia. This is obviously not a revelation, but it does seem to be the first time the kingdom has acknowledged it.

Iraqi forces continue their slow advance into Fallujah in the face of extensive booby traps and tunnel networks. U.S. air support is essential to progress.

The Iraqi army claims to have secured a safe exit route from Fallujah but of course people have to get to it in the first place.

Iraqi forces are also gaining ground south of Mosul. The commander of the operation says he lacks tanks and enough forces to hold ground once it is gained. However, Iraq has now deployed an armored division with bridges to cross the Tigris at Qayara. Control of that town would sever communication between Mosul and Hawija, from which IS has harassed oil facilities in the Kirkuk area. (See this analysis from Reuters in March.)

More on the battle south of Mosul here.

The town of Baiji, recaptured from IS in October, is completely destroyed and will probably never be rebuilt. The oil refinery is also destroyed and the government lacks the means to rebuild it also.

In Afghanistan, president Obama has approved a more active role for U.S. forces in combat situations. We will have to see exactly what this means.


Thursday, June 9, 2016

Update for Thursday, June 9, 2016


Estimates of the number of civilians trapped in Fallujah have grown to 90,000 as escapees report horrendous conditions.

IS bombing campaign claims 27 lives in 2 incidents in and near Baghdad.

An explosion near a military base in Baghdad where New Zealand personnel are stationed is said to have resulted in casualties but no foreign troops were affected.

Government and allied forces claim continuing advances in Fallujah but little definitive information is available about the state of battle.

Human Rights Watch continues to receive reports of abuse and murder of civilians in Fallujah by Iraqi government and Shiite militia forces:

"The Iraqi government needs to control and hold accountable its own forces if it hopes to claim the moral upper hand in its fight against (IS)," said Joe Stork, HRW's deputy Middle East director. "It's high time for Iraqi authorities to unravel the web of culpability underlying the government forces' repeated outrages against civilians," a HRW statement quoted him as saying.

Shiite militia leaders claim that IS is evacuating its family members from Fallujah. This may be correct or it may be an excuse for their treatment of fleeing civilians, as "Continuing further Jumaili added, “The security forces are checking the names of the displaced people from the city before evacuating them to the IDP [internally displaced persons] camps.”





Monday, June 6, 2016

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Update for Sunday, June 5, 2016


I haven't posted for a few days because the situation in Iraq has been essentially static, with the advance on Fallujah stalled due to fears for the 50,000 or so civilians still trapped there, and the extensive booby traps and other preparations made by the IS defenders of the city.

A few civilians continue to manage to escape, though they report they would be killed if they were caught trying to flee. Eighteen people drowned in the Euphrates trying to escape.

Suadad al-Saly in Middle East Eye gives an update on the battle.

Muntadhar, commander of a group of fighters with the Iraqi paramilitary forces, told the Middle East Eye: "The land is totally planted [with roadside bombs]. Even the grass is linked to wires."
He added: "Most of our casualties have come from booby-traps; we stopped defusing them and our new orders are to blast them."
- See more at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/iraqi-forces-battle-booby-traps-car-bombs-battle-fallujah-1290884422#sthash.aEID2olG.dpuf
Muntadhar, commander of a group of fighters with the Iraqi paramilitary forces, told the Middle East Eye: "The land is totally planted [with roadside bombs]. Even the grass is linked to wires."
He added: "Most of our casualties have come from booby-traps; we stopped defusing them and our new orders are to blast them."
- See more at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/iraqi-forces-battle-booby-traps-car-bombs-battle-fallujah-1290884422#sthash.aEID2olG.dpuf
Muntadhar, commander of a group of fighters with the Iraqi paramilitary forces, told the Middle East Eye: "The land is totally planted [with roadside bombs]. Even the grass is linked to wires."
He added: "Most of our casualties have come from booby-traps; we stopped defusing them and our new orders are to blast them."
- See more at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/iraqi-forces-battle-booby-traps-car-bombs-battle-fallujah-1290884422#sthash.aEID2olG.dpuf


Muntadhar, commander of a group of fighters with the Iraqi paramilitary forces, told the Middle East Eye: "The land is totally planted [with roadside bombs]. Even the grass is linked to wires."
He added: "Most of our casualties have come from booby-traps; we stopped defusing them and our new orders are to blast them."
NYT's Schmidt and Schmitt report that the Iraqi army is still in a sorry state  despite the huge and continuing infusion of U.S. equipment, training, and advice. They note the dependence on Iran-backed Shiite militias for the assault on Fallujah and the dangers this poses.

I have not been paying much attention to the Turkish air campaign against the PKK as it is somewhat peripheral, but I should note that the Turks bomb PKK positions pretty much daily. Note that the Kurdistan Regional Government is trying to maintain good relations with Turkey and does not support the PKK, nor have I seen any objections to the Turkish campaign from KRG officials.

Meanwhile, the IS bombing campaign in and around Baghdad continues to kill civilians almost daily. A major reason the Iraqi government chose to attack Fallujah now, against U.S. objections, is because they believe the bombing campaign is based there.





Muntadhar, commander of a group of fighters with the Iraqi paramilitary forces, told the Middle East Eye: "The land is totally planted [with roadside bombs]. Even the grass is linked to wires."
He added: "Most of our casualties have come from booby-traps; we stopped defusing them and our new orders are to blast them."
- See more at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/iraqi-forces-battle-booby-traps-car-bombs-battle-fallujah-1290884422#sthash.aEID2olG.dpuf

Muntadhar, commander of a group of fighters with the Iraqi paramilitary forces, told the Middle East Eye: "The land is totally planted [with roadside bombs]. Even the grass is linked to wires."
He added: "Most of our casualties have come from booby-traps; we stopped defusing them and our new orders are to blast them."
- See more at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/iraqi-forces-battle-booby-traps-car-bombs-battle-fallujah-1290884422#sthash.aEID2olG.dpuf
Muntadhar, commander of a group of fighters with the Iraqi paramilitary forces, told the Middle East Eye: "The land is totally planted [with roadside bombs]. Even the grass is linked to wires."
He added: "Most of our casualties have come from booby-traps; we stopped defusing them and our new orders are to blast them."
- See more at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/iraqi-forces-battle-booby-traps-car-bombs-battle-fallujah-1290884422#sthash.aEID2olG.dpuf