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]