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

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.