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

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Update for Saturday, April 22, 2017

Some 24 hours after attack on Afghan National Army’s 209 Shaheen Corps Headquarters in Balkh, the Afghan government has yet to provide information. Reported casualty counts range from 135 to 180 dead, with some saying the number could be higher.

It appears the attack was perpetrated by only about 10 Taliban fighters dressed in Afghan army uniforms, who attacked soldiers who were unarmed during prayer and lunch. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid says four of the attackers were infiltrators who had been army members for some time. This has not been confirmed.

We will provide an update once we know more.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Update for Friday, April 21, 2017


This is a complicated story, an iceberg of which we can only see the tip -- but it's still revealing.

Here's al Jazeera with the bare facts. A Qatari hunting party was abducted by an armed group in southern Iraq in December 2015. They weren't heard from until today when they were released and handed over to the Qatar embassy in Baghdad. Somehow the negotiations for their release involved a Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate formerly named Jabhat al-Nusra, now called Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, and the Iranian-backed militia that had kidnapped them. The deal is part of  a larger deal involving a population exchange in Syria in which Alawite and Sunni communities are being moved from besieged areas.

Tim Arango in the New York Times has additional details, including naming the abductors as Kita’ib Hezbollah, and stating that Qatar paid them millions of dollars in ransom. He describes the population exchange:

The Iraqi Shiite official said the release of the Qatari prisoners was linked to the safe evacuation — and delivery of humanitarian aid — of residents of two Shiite villages in Idlib Province, Fouaa and Kfarya, that have been under government control but besieged by Sunni Islamist rebel groups backed by Turkey and Qatar.

As part of the Syrian deal, which was negotiated separately before the fate of the hostages became entwined with the talks, residents of two predominantly Sunni villages, Madaya and Zabadani, that have been held by rebels but besieged by forces loyal to the Syrian government, including Hezbollah, are to be bused to safety. Many of them, about 2,000 people, have already been evacuated from Madaya.
Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi is not happy about this insult to Iraqi sovereignty. On the other hand, he has no choice but to put up with it because he is dependent on the Shiite militias in the battle with IS. In Syria, this is a step toward what is likely to be the de facto breakup of the country, as the precedent is established that the solution to the conflict is sectarian cleansing.

Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to provide military aid to the peshmerga, and bombing Islamic state positions in Syria and Iraq, with attendant civilian casualties. Danny Sjursen in TomDispatch wargames it for you, assuming that what you want to do is lose. Excerpt:

 As a start, you would drop an enlarged, conventional army into Iraq and/or Syria. This would offer a giant red, white, and blue target for all those angry, young radicalized men just dying (pardon the pun) to extinguish some new “crusader” force.  It would serve as an effective religious-nationalist rallying cry (and target) throughout the region.

Then you would create a news-magnet of a ban (or at least the appearance of one) on immigrants and visitors of every sort from predominantly Muslim countries coming to the United States.  It’s hardly an accident that ISIS has taken to calling the president’s proposed executive order to do just that “the blessed ban” and praising Donald Trump as the “best caller to Islam.”  Such actions only confirm the extremist narrative: that Muslims are unwelcome in and incompatible with the West, that liberal plurality is a neo-imperial scam.

Finally, you would feed the common perception in the region that Washington’s support for Israel and assorted Arab autocrats is unconditional.  To do so, you would go out of your way to hold fawning public meetings with military strongmen like Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and suggest that, when it came to Israel, you were considering changing American policy when it comes to a two-state solution and the illegal Israeli settlements in Palestine.  Such policies would feed another ISIS narrative: U.S. support for illiberal despots and the failure of the Arab Spring is proof that practicing Muslims and peaceful Islamists will never successfully gain power through the democratic process.


Friday, April 14, 2017

Update for Friday, April 14, 2017

Mother of all BS department.

General Daulat Waziri, of the Afghanistan Ministry of Defence, said 36 IS fighters were killed by the U.S. attack in a remote area of Nangarhar using the GBU-43B, or massive ordnance air blast weapon,  which contains 11 tons of high explosives. (It is not clear how an Afghan general knows the death toll from this event.)

U.S. General John Nicholson, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, calls the targeted militants "animals." They are said to belong to the so-called ISIS-K, or Khorasan group, which is a provincial organization using the IS brand in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Peter Beaumont, in The Guardian, notes that using the $16 million device to kill 36 people (or animals) amounts to $450,000 per individual. Note that these were lightly armed guerillas.

Although there are no reports of non-combatant deaths from the attack, civilian property was damaged.

Some observers, however, questioned the necessity of deploying a weapon of that scale against a group whose estimated 600 to 800 fighters pose only a limited threat to the Afghan state. “There is no doubt that Isis are brutal and that they have committed atrocities against our people. But I don’t see why the bomb was dropped,” said the mayor of Achin, Naweed Shinwari. “It terrorised our people. My relatives thought the end of the world had come. Every day fighter jets, helicopters and drones are in the area.”

The US had sustained an air campaign to eradicate Isis in eastern Afghanistan for more than a year, and according to Borhan Osman, an Isis expert with the Afghanistan Analysts Network, it had already been effective. “Isis was on the brink of losing their stronghold. It didn’t seem like there was a need for such a dramatic military measure,” he said.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has declined an invitation to talks in Moscow to facilitate the peace process between the Taliban and the Afghan government.





Sunday, April 9, 2017

Update for Sunday, April 9, 2017

A U.S. soldier is killed in action in Nangarhar in an operation against the so-called Khorasan group. No further information as of now.

In what appears to be the same operation, local officials claim that 25 militants were killed in air strikes and ground operations. The majority of the dead are said to have been foreigners. No information is given on government casualties.

Twelve Taliban are said to be killed by a "foreign troops" drone strike in Kunduz. (Presumably that means U.S.)

Nine Afghan soldiers killed by IED in Balkh, four others are killed in an ambush as they more to relieve a besieged district headquarters in Jawzjan province.

Iraq/Syria

Muqtada al-Sadr calls for Bashar al Assad to resign, for the good of Syria, and for the U.S. and "all external forces" to withdraw. This seems to represent a sharp break with Iran.

Real estate heir Jared Kushner's recent trip to Iraq draws widespread ridicule.

IS is said to have killed dozens of civilians attempting to flee Mosul in recent days.




Thursday, April 6, 2017

Update for Thursday, April 6,2017

IS shoots down an Iraqi helicopter over Mosul, killing 2 crew members.

Currently 260,000 civilians are displaced from western Mosul, and the government expects another 150,000 refugees as the battle for the city continues. Accounts of the total number displaced from the city vary, but are as high as 430,000.

The town of Hamdaniya, between Mosul and Irbil, remains nearly deserted  after IS was driven out, pointing to the immense task of reconstruction. The fighting left the town without water or electricity, and much of it is rubble.

Kurdistan's two main political parties have agreed to hold a referendum on independence this year.

As Iraqi forces battle to retake Mosul, IS remains in control of Hawija, where it has executed civilians accused of collaboration.

Civilian death toll from U.S. airstrike on March 17 is now estimated at 300, as 278 bodies have been recovered but more remain buried beneath the rubble.

Reuters reporters describe the harrowing journey from Mosul to refugee camps. The particular camp from which they report has sufficient resources, but people are of course hoping to return home.

IS suicide attackers disguised as police kill 31 people in Tikrit on Wednesday.

Kurdish delegation to Baghdad meets with offiicals to discuss the independence referendum and their refusal to stop flying the Kurdish flag in Kirkuk.

Bomb attack in Baghdad kills 31.

Kurdistan hospitals are overwhelmed by refugees.

Son-in-law of U.S. president visits Irbil. The heir to a real estate fortune, with no foreign policy credentials or experience, is also charged with negotiating peace between Israel and Palestine, U.S. relations with China and Mexico, and reinventing U.S. government according to business principles. Good luck to him.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Update for Saturday, April 1, 2017

A reader sent in this article by an Australian soldier about the loss of Uruzgan to the Taliban. Australian troops, who were mostly deployed to the province, left Afghanistan in 2013. Excerpt:

My home was a remote outpost in a farming valley where a handful of Australian and Afghan soldiers lived, worked and fought the Taliban together. Despite the hardships and numerous casualties, we achieved some modest successes. . . .

But any sense of accomplishment was tempered by the knowledge that Australia would soon be withdrawing from the base, leaving the Afghans to provide security on their own. I was not optimistic about their chances. These concerns are now justified.

Taliban fighters overran the outpost last October and dozens of Afghan soldiers defending it reportedly defected. A video published on the Taliban’s news website, Al Emarah, shows soldiers surrendering the base and handing over weapons and armoured vehicles. Nearby bases fell in a similar manner and the Taliban now control the valley. Despite years of commitment and the loss of at least eight soldiers, Australian forces left little lasting impact.
We are suddenly hearing somewhat mysterious noises from U.S. officials about the Russian role in Afghanistan. Secretary of Defense James Mattis  says "we have seen Russian activity vis a vis the Taliban," although he does not go so far as to say Russia is providing them with any material support and he does not explain what he means. The Russian ambassador to NATO says that Russia communicates with the Taliban, in cooperation with the Afghan government, as do many nations, in an effort to promote reconciliation, but denies providing them with any aid.

Indeed, Moscow has scheduled a multinational meeting on Afghanistan for April 14 but the U.S. has declined to take part.

An investigation by SIGAR finds that U.S. AID-funded schools in Balkh have greatly overstated their enrollment.

IRAQ

Well, it's happening. The UN will oversee a referendum on Kurdish independence, according to the Secretary General of the Kurdistan Socialist Democratic Party. [He may be jumping the gun on this, but with or without international support I expect the referendum will happen. -- C]

Iraqi jets bomb IS positions in Baaj, a remote town near the Syrian border. Iraq claims the militants had crossed over from Syria.

An Iraqi journalist who criticized government corruption dies in a house fire, and many wonder if it was really an accident.

Canadian special forces are participating in the battle for Mosul. The Canadian mission in Iraq has been extended at least until June.

The U.S. will no longer tell its own citizens how many troops are in Iraq and Syria. [Democracy dies in the dark. -- C]






Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Update for Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Ivor Prickett for the NYT reports from Mosul on the desperate circumstances of civilians, with photographs. There are no safe routes for people to flee but they flee anyway, amid constant explosions and shortages of food and water.

Lt. General Stephen Townsend acknowledges that the U.S. "probably had a role" in the March 17 deaths of more than 100 civilians in an explosion al-Jadida, but is investigating to determine exactly what happened. There are accounts that IS fighters herded civilians into the buildings, and placed snipers on the roofs. It is possible that Iraqi soldiers who called in the strike were unaware of the presence of the civilians.

The U.S. denies it has changed the rules of engagement for these strikes. However, this may be a semantic quibble. It appears that authorization has been delegated to forces in the field and approval is now given more quickly.

Amnesty International says the U.S. is not taking sufficient precautions to protect civilians.

Coalition forces are dropping more than 500 bombs a week on the city.

As Iraqi forces advance toward the Great Mosque of al-Nuri, U.S. helicopter gunships are strafing IS positions in the city.

Kirkuk Provincial Council votes to raise the flag of Kurdistan over government buildings alongside the Iraqi flag, as Arabs and Turkmen protest and the Iraqi Vice President Osama al-Nujaifi also objects. (Kirkuk was historically an ethnically diverse though predominantly Kurdish city. Saddam Hussein expelled Kurds and settled Arabs in the area, although it is believed that Kurds remained in the majority. The city and its environs are now disputed territory between Erbil and Baghdad.)




Sunday, March 26, 2017

Update for Sunday, March 26, 2017


As Iraqi forces recapture more of western Mosul, past incidents of civilian deaths in airstrikes are revealed. Here, al Jazeera reports on a neighborhood where three air strikes killed at least 37 civilians on January 11. The target, a single IS leader, escaped.

Another air strike on March 17 may have killed 200 civilians. (Watch out for autoplay video in this link.) U.S. military acknowledges it did carry out strikes in that area on that date.

IS shelling also kills civilians.

Air strikes targeting IS leaders continue.

Iraq pauses offensive over concern for civilian casualties.

With little public notice, U.S. has deployed an additional 500 troops to Syria.

New York Times calls on Congress to reclaim its constitutional power over war and peace and to pass legislation authorizing, and presumably limiting, the war against IS.

More than just a political endorsement of the troops, however, a new authorization of force could make Congress seriously debate how the rest of the war against ISIS will be fought, and to consider a crucial decision the administration must make soon on whether to arm Syrian Kurds for the Raqqa fight and risk alienating Turkey, a NATO ally.
Congressional inaction may invite an even bigger problem. The Trump administration intends to bring future ISIS detainees to the Guantánamo Bay prison. Once that happens, as the former Bush administration lawyer Jack Goldsmith wrote on the Lawfare blog, court challenges could lead to findings that the war against ISIS is unlawful.





Thursday, March 23, 2017

Update for Thursday, March 23, 2017

UN High Commissioner for Refugees say 400,000 civilians are trapped in Mosul, facing food shortages and growing panic. Some 157,00 have managed to flee, and about 10,000 per day are currently escaping. The UN fears a sudden outflow for which relief agencies are not prepared.

Doctors Without Borders says medical resources for those fleeing are critically inadequate. Many have bullet wounds and blast injuries.


"The need for emergency medical care has risen drastically," said Dr. Isabelle Defourny, MSF director of operations. "We have teams working around the clock treating men, women and children injured by bullets, blasts and shells. Other life-threatening emergencies also need a rapid medical response, such as for pregnant women in need of a C-section."
MSF medical teams in a field trauma hospital, set up when the new push in western Mosul began, have received more than 915 patients, according to the statement. Of those, 763 suffered war-related trauma, 190 of whom needed urgent lifesaving surgery.
More than half of the wounded were women or children under the age of 15, it said.

An emergency field hospital 15 miles east of the city is filled with child victims.

Iraqi forces continue to make slow territorial gains.

Air strikes by U.S. coalition forces in support of the Iraqi offensive are said to have killed dozens of civilians. "The bombardment began at 01:00 and continued for four hours, ending at around 05:00 local time, with local sources confirming that no less than 50 civilians were killed, most of them women and children. Dozens more were wounded by the strikes."

Afghanistan

 Taliban capture the city of Sangin, Helmand, where 114 British troops died before handing it over to Afghan security forces.

One third of Afghan children are out of school as violence and corruption degrade the educational system.

A police officer kills 9 of his fellow officers in Kunduz, and flees with weapons.




Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Update for Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Ishaan Taroor in WaPo discusses the current state of affairs in Iraq, and the new administration's conflicting and unclear policy intentions, in the context of PM Abadi's visit. The visit was overshadowed by FBI Director Comey's appearance on Capitol Hill -- just one more sign that the endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are largely forgotten in the U.S.

Andrew Bacevich, in TomDispatch, discusses the vast U.S. Centcom operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere; and the obliviousness of commander Gen. Joseph Votel. TL;DR

Meanwhile, the grinding battle for Mosul continues with the Iraqi army's efforts to evacuate civilians hampered by sniper fire.  Reuters also reports that Abadi claims to have won assurances of increased U.S. support, although it is not clear precisely what that means.

Car bombs are still exploding in Baghdad, with the latest killing 23 people.


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Update for Sunday, March 19, 2017

Afghanistan

 Three U.S. soldiers wounded by an Afghan soldier at a base in Helmand. No further details as of now.

Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce says Pakistan has lost $3 billion in exports due to the Torkham border crossing. While they give no basis for the calculation certainly the action is costly.

Hundreds of schools around the country are closed due to security concerns. Bhaktar puts the count at over 1,000.

Iraq

 Civilian toll of death and wounded in battle for west Mosul now more than 750.

Civilians continue to flee. More  than 100,00 displaced since start of assault on west Mosul, more than 225,000 altogether since Mosul battle began.

The anniversary is being largely ignored here in the U.S., but 24 years ago today George W. Bush announced the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, saying “Helping Iraqis achieve a united, stable and free country will require our sustained commitment.” No comment.

Reuters reports on slow progress by Iraqi forces seizing territory in Mosul. They are close to the symbolically important al-Nuri Mosque. Commanders claim IS forces are weakening.




Monday, March 13, 2017

Update for Monday, March 13, 2017

Today I want to offer some analysis and perspective. First, in a lengthy essay that I hope you'll take the time to read, Nafeez Ahmed discusses the Iraqi catastrophe as the intersection of oppression of the Sunni majority by the U.S. supported government following the 2003 invasion; U.S. counterinsurgency strategy that effectively fueled the Sunni-Shiite conflict and fomented Sunni extremism; climate change which is destroying the agricultural potential of Syria and Iraq and creating social and political instability in the process; and the depletion of the region's fossil fuel reserves. Eliminating IS control of territory will just mean moving on to the next stage of chaos.

At the International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence, Charlie Winter has been tracking the evolution of IS propaganda as it suffers defeat.

Middle East Eye provides a detailed update no the battle for Mosul, where Iraqi forces continue to make slow progress against determined resistance.

The city is now fully besieged and there is no escape route for IS fighters.

Civilians continue to flee the city but hundreds of thousands remain trapped.

Shia militia uncovers a mass grave of some 600 civilians who were massacred in 2014 when IS seized control of a prison and took all of the Shiite inmates into the desert to murder them. A total of 1,500 are believed to have been killed in the incident.




Thursday, March 9, 2017

Update for Thursday, March 9, 2017

Iraqi and U.S. intelligence officials say IS leader Baghdadi has left Mosul and is hiding in the desert, although they offer no direct evidence for this.

Suicide bomb attack on a wedding near Tikrit kills 26. While there is as yet no claim of responsibility, the wedding party consisted of displaced people from an Anbar tribe which has opposed IS.

Tom Westcott for IRIN describes the plight of civilians fleeing Mosul.

Unveiling of British memorial for Iraq and Afghanistan dead provokes fury over Tony Blair's presence. [I wonder what will happen if GW Bush attends such an event in the U.S.? Actually I expect it will be a very long time before we see any official memorial.-- C]

Afghanistan 
 
Commander of U.S. Central Command Gen. Joseph Votel testifies before Senate Armed Services Committee saying he believes more U.S. troops will be sent to Afghanistan to break the "stalemate."

Border crossings with Pakistan are again closed, indefinitely.

Death toll in attack on Kabul hospital now stands at more than 40. IS claim of responsibility is doubted.



Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Update for Wednesday, March 8, 2017


Three attackers dressed as physicians attack a military hospital in Kabul, killing 30 and injuring 50 before the assailants were killed by ANA commandos. Apparently a suicide bomber first blew open a gate allowing the other attackers to enter. The hospital is in a secure, gated area of the capital. Another version has four attackers entering the hospital, two of them wearing suicide vests. IS claimed responsibility.

The Pakistan - Afghanistan border was closed for several days at Torkham and Chaman after Pakistan claimed that a bombing in Sehwan that killed 80 people originated in Afghanistan. It has been temporarily reopened to allow stranded people to pass. [That's rich since Pakistan openly harbors the Afghan Taliban. -- C]

IRAQ

The assault on Mosul seems to be proceeding as planned, with Iraqi forces gaining control of the main government complex in the city along with the central bank and museum. However, the buildings were not currently in use by IS.

Iraqi forces also claim control of some additional residential areas in the city.

However, resistance continues and Iraqi forces are facing counterattacks.

Civilians describe huddling in their homes amid the fighting. A photo album from SBS shows the destruction and displaced civilians, of whom there are now about 40,000.

At the same time, thousands of previously displaced people are returning to eastern Mosul, but hundreds of thousands are still displaced.

PM Abadi will visit the White House this month, now that the U.S. administration has removed Iraq from its travel ban.


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Update for Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The assault on western Mosul has been progressing, apparently according to plan. The Iraqi army says it now controls all major roads out of Mosul including the road to Tal Afar, effectively isolating the city. Twenty six thousand civilians are said to have fled since the operation began, but hundreds of thousands remain. Snipe fire is a hazard to people fleeing.

There are reports, of uncertain credibility, that IS leaders have fled the city and even that IS leader Baghdadi has conceded defeat. Here is more on the purported message calling on fighters to flee Mosul. However, as of now, fierce resistance continues.

Iraqi forces take Badush prison, the site of a massacre of Shiites by IS in 2014. Iraqi forces also capture additional villages on the western outskirts of the city, and are within a kilometer of the main government complex, having captured the southernmost bridge over the Tigris. However, local repors say that IS fighters remain entrenched and that Iraqi forces were able to advance only after days of artillery and aerial bombardment.

Iraqi military reiterates that foreign partners, including U.S. forces, are not taking part in ground combat. However, there are reports that U.S. forces are very close to the front lines.






Thursday, February 23, 2017

Update for Thursday, February 23, 2017

Iraqi forces have captured the Mosul airport, although some sources are suggesting that parts of the complex are not yet under government control. KUNA says that half the airport has been captured, along with portions of a nearby military base. (Note that the government commonly makes premature claims of complete control of territory. Many reports are saying the government has control of the entire airport but as of now I am skeptical. -- C)

U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Dunford says the military is preparing to present the president with a plan to defeat IS of "global scope". No specifics are available as of now.

The Pentagon acknowledges that U.S. troops have come under fire in the battle for Mosul and that some have been wounded and evacuated, but declines to say how many. (This has gotten so little publicity in the U.S. that I had to track it down from RT, which I normally stay away from. -- C)

UNHCR reports on progress toward accommodating civilians displaced from the Mosul battle. They are still well short of anticipated need, even as conditions in IS held territory grow increasingly desperate.

There are shortages of food, water, fuel and medicine. Half of all food shops have closed and most people can only access untreated water. Food prices are rocketing and there are reports of families burning furniture, clothing and plastic to stay warm. Conditions will deteriorate if civilians are not able to flee the fighting.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Update for Sunday, February 19, 2017

Iraqi PM Abadi announces start of offensive to recapture western Mosul. Iraqi federal police are attacking from the south, attempting to capture the airport. Planes dropped millions of leaflets on the city announcing the offensive and calling on Jihadis to surrender.

They claim to have taken several villages to the south and west of the city.

People in areas retaken from IS are purging every remaining vestige of their presence, including destroying the homes of IS members and digging up their graves.

A British general predicts the fight for Mosul will take 3 months.

An Iraqi human rights organization says that people in western Mosul are starving and that they know of 25 children who starved to death in January.




Thursday, February 16, 2017

Update for Thursday, February 16, 2017

Car bomb attack on a used car market in Baghdad kills dozens. The linked report gives the death toll as 48, but reported casualty totals, as usual, have tended to rise over time. IS claims credit. This is the third car bomb attack in Baghdad in as many days, but by far the most deadly.

More than 46,000 people have returned to eastern Mosul, despite continuing attacks from IS by mortars and drones launched from areas still under IS control. (Apparently mostly meaning across the river.) However, due to the security situation the UN has temporarily suspended aid to government-held parts of the city. Rations for displaced people still in camps have also been cut due to a lack of international donations.

Iraqi government claims to have killed several IS leaders near Mosul in an air strike. However, other accounts attribute the action to the U.S.-led coalition.

Human Rights Watch accuses government-allied militias of destroying homes  and looting in villages bear Mosul.

In other news (sigh) the U.S. may enter ground combat in Syria, although the Pentagon has not presented as formal proposal as yet.




Saturday, February 11, 2017

Update for Saturday, February 11, 2017

AFGHANISTAN

 Two U.S. soldiers are injured in a firefight in Helmand. An airstrike called in to support the action may have killed up to 25 civilians, according to local officials. One of the U.S. soldiers suffered a gunshot wound and has been transported out of the country. The other was lightly wounded by shrapnel and has returned to duty.

Suicide attack on an Afghan army vehicle in Lashkar Gah kills several soldiers and injures 15 people. Reported death totals vary, from 3 to 8. Seven is the most commonly cited number.

Gunmen kill a "counterterrorism officer" and his bodyguard in Badakhshan.

IRAQ

Sadrist rally in the capital results in deadly clashes between protesters and police. One police officer and four protesters are reported killed, as police fire tear gas and rubber-coated bullets. 

Suicide bombings, 1 in Mosul and 2 in Baghdad, kill 10 and injure 33. Other reports give higher casualty totals. Note that if this happened in a European country or the U.S., it would be a huge story. It is completely ignored by U.S. media.

U.S. drone attack targets IS operative Rachid Kassim near Mosul. Results are unknown.


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Update for Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Afghanistan

Six Red Cross staffers are killed and 2 missing in Jowzjan , which has been affected by heavy snowfall. Provincial police chief Rahmatullah Turkistani attributes the attack to IS (DAESH). A Red Cross spokesperson says it is too early to say how the incident will affect operations.

IS claims responsibility for a suicide bomb attack Tuesday on the Supreme Court which killed 21 people and injured 41. This direct attack against the state is a new development for IS. The Taliban have been responsible for previous attacks on the court system.

Suicide bomber in Paktia kills two civilians in a failed attack on a police station.



Monday, February 6, 2017

Update for Monday, February 6, 2016


Once again, just one link.

Record spike in civilians killed in Afghanistan last year, according to a UN report.

The report documents 11,418 conflict-related civilian casualties, including 3,498 killed and 7,920 injured. Of these, 3,512 were children - 923 dead and 2,589 injured, up 24 per cent on the previous highest recorded figure. The figures, recorded by UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), are the highest since the UN began systematically documenting civilian casualty figures in 2009.

“The killing and maiming of thousands of Afghan civilians is deeply harrowing and largely preventable,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan. “All parties to the conflict must take immediate concrete measures to protect the ordinary Afghan men, women and children whose lives are being shattered.”

Anti-Government forces, mainly the Taliban, were responsible for almost two thirds of the casualties while pro-Government forces were responsible for almost one quarter. . . .

Airstrikes carried out by Afghan and international forces caused 590 civilian casualties (250 deaths and 340 injured) nearly double that recorded in 2015 and the highest since 2009.

UN press release available here.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Special update for Sunday, February 5, 2017

An investigation by the Military Times finds the Pentagon has failed to disclose thousands of lethal airstrikes in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. Excerpt:

The American military has failed to publicly disclose potentially thousands of lethal airstrikes conducted over several years in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, a Military Times investigation has revealed. The enormous data gap raises serious doubts about transparency in reported progress against the Islamic State, al-Qaida and the Taliban, and calls into question the accuracy of other Defense Department disclosures documenting everything from costs to casualty counts.

In 2016 alone, U.S. combat aircraft conducted at least 456 airstrikes in Afghanistan that were not recorded as part of an open-source database maintained by the U.S. Air Force, information relied on by Congress, American allies, military analysts, academic researchers, the media and independent watchdog groups to assess each war's expense, manpower requirements and human toll.

So what else is new?

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Update for Tuesday, January 31, 2017

YEMEN

 Seal Team 6 raid in Yemen was a disaster. Among those killed, in addition to Chief Petty Officer William Owens, were an 8 year old girl, Nawar al-Awlaki,  the daughter of the late Anwar al-Awlaki, who was a U.S. citizen. Several other non-combatant women were also killed. According to  her grandfather:

My granddaughter was staying for a while with her mother, so when the attack came, they were sitting in the house, and a bullet struck her in her neck at 2:30 past midnight. Other children in the same house were killed," al-Awlaki said. He said the girl died two hours after being shot.
"They [the SEALs] entered another house and killed everybody in it, including all the women. They burned the house. There is an assumption there was a woman [in the house] from Saudi Arabia who was with al Qaeda. All we know is that she was a children's teacher." Al-Awlaki said the girl and her mother had fled the Yemeni capital, Sa'ana, where he lives, to escape the heavy shelling.
Karen Greenberg, director of Fordham University's Center on National Security, said the girl's death will be a boon to al Qaeda propagandists. "The perception will be that it's not enough to kill al-Awlaki — that the U.S. had to kill the entire family," she said.
Intentional or not, Greenberg said, the deaths of three family members will enhance the al Qaeda narrative. She noted that as part of propaganda efforts, terrorist groups have begun to circulate photographs of children reputedly killed by U.S. forces. Photos of Nawar al-Awlaki alive and dead are already circulating widely in Arab media. 
Disclosure: Karen is the sister of my next-door neighbor.

The raid was ordered by president Trump, it was not planned during the Obama administration.

IRAQ

Leaflets dropped in western Mosul warning of impending attack.

 Civilians trapped in western Mosul face starvation, forced conscription, and executions.

 
Iraqi parliament votes to request government "reciprocate" against U.S. ban on Iraqi entry.

John Allen and Michael O'Hanlon write:

Though he campaigned with the urgent goal of defeating the Islamic State group and reasserting American greatness, President Donald Trump has embarked on a policy that could in fact lead to the loss of U.S. influence in Iraq and the worsening of the Sunni-Shiite divide there. Whatever happens in the short term in the fight to liberate Mosul and other parts of the country from the Islamic State group, this policy could lay the groundwork for the emergence of another similar Salafist group there. Trump would have taken us backward, not forward, in the fight against terrorism and seriously eroded our role in a key Arab state that so many Americans gave so much to free and then to help stabilize under two presidents.
The immediate cause of our concern is the executive order Friday that prevented the movement of most Iraqis to the United States — including some who served and sacrificed alongside U.S. forces in the war there — along with citizens of six other nations in the region. But in fact the problem is broader and deeper.

Executive order strands hundreds of Iraqis who worked for the U.S. military, affects tens of thousands of others who are hoping for asylum.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Update for Sunday, January 29, 2017

U.S. executive order banning travel to U.S. by Iraqis gets angry reaction. Says one MP, "Iraq as a sovereign country will be forced to reciprocate, and that would affect negatively cooperation, including military cooperation in the war." 

Muqtada al-Sadr says Iraq should expel Americans. Not that that's anything new for him but now he has a stronger argument.

Order separates families, strands refugees.

Further coverage from al Jazeera on anger and sense of betrayal in Iraq.

Two Iraqis with links to the U.S. military are detained at JFK airport, ACLU sues for their release.

In Yemena U.S. commando is killed and four are injured in a raid on a group said to be linked to al Qaeda. A U.S. helicopter is also destroyed in the action. U.S. says 14 militants killed and 2 captured in the action.

Bob Hennely in Salon has a grim view of the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

May Jeong in Harpers has a long historical look at the Afghanistan war and the current state of affairs.

Benjamin Wittes, who believe me is no bleeding heart liberal, excoriates the executive order as "malevolence tempered by incompetence." Excerpt:

There is, in fact, simply no rational relationship between cutting off visits from the particular countries that Trump targets (Muslim countries that don’t happen to be close U.S. allies) and any expected counterterrorism goods. The 9/11 hijackers, after all, didn’t come from Somalia or Syria or Iran; they came from Saudi Arabia and Egypt and a few other countries not affected by the order. Of the San Bernardino attackers (both of Pakistani origin, one a U.S. citizen and the other a lawful permanent resident), the Orlando shooter (a U.S. citizen whose parents were born in Afghanistan), and the Boston marathon bombers (one a naturalized U.S. citizen, one a green card holder who arrived in Massachusetts from Kyrgyzstan), none came from countries listed in the order. . . .

[T]he document also takes steps that strike me as utterly orthogonal to any relevant security interest. If the purpose of the order is the one it describes, for example, I can think of no good reason to burden the lives of students individually suspected of nothing who are here lawfully and just happen to be temporarily overseas, or to detain tourists and refugees who were mid-flight when the order came down. I have trouble imagining any reason to raise questions about whether green card holders who have lived here for years can leave the country and then return.   . . .

[I]n the rational pursuit of security objectives, you don’t marginalize your expert security agencies and fail to vet your ideas through a normal interagency process. You don’t target the wrong people in nutty ways when you’re rationally pursuing real security objectives.
When do you do these things? You do these things when you’re elevating the symbolic politics of bashing Islam over any actual security interest. You do them when you’ve made a deliberate decision to burden human lives to make a public point. In other words, this is not a document that will cause hardship and misery because of regrettable incidental impacts on people injured in the pursuit of a public good. It will cause hardship and misery for tens or hundreds of thousands of people because that is precisely what it is intended to do.


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Update for Wednesday, January 25, 2017

U.S. "president" Trump's bizarre comment at CIA headquarters about seizing Iraqi oil gets a response from Iraqis. In case you haven't been paying attention, Trump said during the campaign that the U.S. should have "taken" Iraq's oil resource to pay for the 2003 invasion, and repeated before CIA staff that "Maybe you'll have another chance." As The Independent notes:

Taking the oil would require a permanent U.S. occupation, or at least until Iraq's 140 billion barrels of crude run out, and a large presence of American soldiers to guard sometimes isolated oil fields and infrastructure. Such a mission would be highly unpopular with Iraqis, whose hearts and minds the U.S. is still try to win to defeat groups such as IS and al-Qaida.
It would also be a war crime.

Iraqi military now says it controls all of Mosul east of the Tigris.

However, fears are growing for the estimated 750,000 civilians still trapped in west Mosul where shortages are said to be worsening and the battle is likely to risk substantial civilian casualties.

Muqtada al-Sadr denounces plan to move U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Al-Sadr said the Cairo-based Arab League as well as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the world’s main pan-Islamic body, should take a decisive stand on the issue or dissolve themselves. The Najaf-based cleric also called “for the immediate closure of the US Embassy in Iraq” should Washington go ahead with its promised embassy transfer in Israel.

UN says U.S.-led coalition air strikes in the Mosul campaign have killed civilians, but can't estimate the numbers.



Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Update for Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Army Lt. Gen. Talib Shaghati, commander of counter-terroism forces, says that Iraqi forces have now secured all of Mosul east of the Tigris. However, other officers dispute this and there is clearly at least skirmishing continuing.

Six months after Iraqi forces retook Fallujah, reconstruction is stalled. Water and electricity have yet to be restored, and most housing is in ruins. While the government pleads a shortage of resources, the situation threatens to further alienate the Sunni population from the Shiite-dominated government.

PM Abadi calls on Islamic Alliance to provide help with rebuilding

IS attack on police HQ south of Tikrit kills 6 police officers, wounds 8, and four are abducted.

You may recall that Saddam Hussein diverted the water from the homeland of the so-called Marsh Arabs in southern Iraq, to revenge what he said was their harboring of Shiite rebels. The new regime has restored the water flow and has worked to restore the terrain, and the people are beginning to return to their homes and their way of life. Now if that can just start to happen in Anbar . . .






Thursday, January 12, 2017

Update for Thursday, January 12, 2017

U.S. military investigation concludes that 33 civilians were killed and 27 wounded in a joint U.S. and Afghan operation near Kunduz in November, but that the troops killed the civilians in "self  defense" and no disciplinary action will be taken. [You'll have to figure out what that means, I can't tell you. -- C] Two U.S. soldiers were killed in the incident.

Bombing in Kandahar on Tuesday kills 12 people and injures the provincial governor and ambassador from the United Arab Emirates. The deputy governor was among the dead, as were 5 UAE diplomats. The police chief blames the Haqqani network and Pakistani intelligence.

A bombing in Kabul the same day kills 36 employees of the parliament along with 4 police.

Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction warns of a dire situation.

Underlying the country’s many challenges were two main factors: the “questionable capabilities” of the country’s security forces and “pervasive corruption.”
The government forces, Sopko said, are plagued by poor leadership, which leads some officers to bolster their ranks with “ghost soldiers” whose salaries they pocket; others sell equipment and fuel to the Taliban.
In speaking to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Sopko quoted former Afghanistan NATO chief Gen. John Allen as saying that “corruption — not the Taliban — (is) the existential threat to Afghanistan.” Sopko noted that Transparency International had ranked Afghanistan the third-most corrupt nation in the world.

Taliban release a video of U.S. and Australian professors kidnapped 5 months ago.









Monday, January 9, 2017

Update for Monday, January 9, 2017

U.S. to deploy 300 marines to Helmand province to support Afghan security forces. This is the first marine deployment to Helmand since 2014. Brigadier Gen. Roger Turner says they will replace a U.S. army unit currently in the province.

Meanwhile, NATO is sending 200 mainly Italian soldiers to Farah province for what is said to be a short-term mission.

Four Afghan security personnel killed in an attack in Zabul.

Four police killed in an explosion in Badakhshan.


Security forces claim capture of a Taliban base in Nemroz province.

The U.S. president elect has said little about Afghanistan, but an Obama administration state department official visited Kabul to assure "continued support" for the government. Obviously he cannot in fact guarantee this. We'll have to see what happens.

IRAQ

 An analysis by Michael Knights of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy concludes that Iraqi forces are close to securing eastern Mosul, but will have to regroup before undertaking a difficult operation to take the west side of the city.

Writers in Foreign Affairs expect IS to revert to a guerilla insurgency once they lose territorial control.

Current number of civilians displaced from Mosul is said to be 169,000  based on a government count. While some people have returned home in Anbar, 22,000 remain in refugee camps there.

IS bomb attacks continue in Baghdad with 23 people killed on Sunday.












Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Update for Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A British soldier, Lance Corporal Scott Hetherington, has died at a base in Taji Iraq under mysterious circumstances. While the MoD has ruled out foul play or suicide, and said the death was not the result of enemy activity, they have not described what occurred, other than to say that a gun was involved.

The UN reports that nearly 7,000 Iraqi civilians were killed and more than 12,000 injured in 2016 due to terrorism and armed conflict. [This is undoubtedly an underestimate as not all incidents can be ascertained -- certainly not within IS controlled territory. -- C]

Civilians are fleeing beseiged western Mosul by crossing the Tigris using various contrivances, including boats, and traversing bombed out bridges with the aid of ropes.

Meanwhile, Iraqi forces continue to make slow gains in east Mosul.


Monday, January 2, 2017

A link for Monday, January 2, 2017

Mark Landler in the NYT discusses the history of the Obama administration in Afghanistan. The initial naive hope that the U.S. investment would ultimately create a stable, self-sufficient and reasonably legitimate state was dashed a long time ago. On the other hand the administration felt it could not walk away, given the rise of IS and other movements that could find harbor in Afghanistan as as filed state. So we wound up with 10,000 U.S. troops pretty much stuck there, apparently forever.

Too long, do read, but that's my pistachio shell synopsis. What happens next? No word from the incoming gang on what they plan to do.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Update for Sunday, January 1, 2017

The new year brings no better news for Iraq, where the death toll in a double bombing in central Baghdad yesterday now stands at 30.

In Najaf, a suicide bombing at a checkpoint killed 6 police and injured 25 people.

In Mosul, the battle grinds on with Iraqi forces continuing to claim territorial gains amid major destruction of houses and infrastructure. Fleeing civilians are forced to wait for days to go through the screening process.

U.S. Brigadier General Rick Uribe agrees with PM Abadi's forecast that the battle for Mosul will require another three months. He praises the Iraqi forces involved, but expects the battle for west Mosul to be even more difficult due to narrow streets that won't accommodate armored  vehicles.

AFP provides an eyewitness account of the fighting and the situation of civilians in they city, and those who choose to flee. Iraqi forces are making strenuous efforts to protect civilians.