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

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.