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, September 27, 2017

Update for Wednesday, September 27, 2017


The Kurdistan independence referendum has engendered fierce push back in the region, but it may be mostly bluster.

Iraq's civil aviation authority demanded that Erbil cede control of Kurdistan's airports to Iraq. The KRG refused and Baghdad has now officially closed Iraqi air space to traffic bound for Kurdistan. Lebanon, Egypt and Iran have suspended all air traffic to Kurdistan. However, this does not effectively ban travel to Kurdistan as passengers could go to Baghdad and then take a domestic flight.

Turkey has threatened to close the border and to shut off oil exports through the pipeline through Turkey. However, Gonul Tol of the Middle East Institute doubts this would happen. The movement toward reconciliation between Ankara and Turkey was well advanced before the referendum became a major irritant, and it is not in Turkey's interest to come into direct conflict with the KRG. For one thing, the KRG could again provide sanctuary to the PKK, and encourage irredentism in Turkey. In fact the border remains open.

The Iraqi parliament calls for the government to send troops to Kirkuk and seize the oil fields.

In other news, Iraq carried out a mass execution of 42 men on Sunday, an action condemned by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, who doubts they received due process. Iraq holds some 1,200 prisoners who have been condemned to death at the Nassiriya prison. Iraq has released no specific information about the individuals who were executed.




Monday, September 25, 2017

Update for Monday, September 25, 2017


While the Kurdish independence referendum will almost certainly pass, Kurdistan is in political dissaray, with control divided regionally between the KDP and PUK parties, and parliament largely dysfunctional. The referendum is a KDP project. Matthew Vickery explains the complicated situation for Al Jazeera.

Turkish PM Erdogan appears to threaten the Kurdish Regional Government with military action.

Iraq's parliament votes to send troops to Kirkuk, where territory is disputed between Erbil and Baghdad.

Iran closes the border with Kurdistan and stops all air traffic between the countries.

The referendum is not binding and will not immediately result in a declaration of independence. It will authorize the government to work toward independence. Baghdad will never agree to it, however, so the way ahead is unclear.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Update for Thursday, September 21, 2017

Iraqi forces launch offensive to retake Hawija. Once again, civilians are in danger, including some 30,000 children. Food, water and medicine are already in short supply in the city, and many children are malnourished.

The town is mostly Arab, but it lies near territory which is disputed by Kurdistan. The operation occurs amidst ongoing conflict over the planned Kurdistan independence referendum. The prospect of allies in the war against IS turning on each other is very concerning. Peshmerga are not taking part in the Hawija offensive.

Russia has not called upon Kurdistan to cancel the vote and has become a major investor in the Kurdistan oil industry.

In a weird twist, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort has been hired by Iraqi Kurdish leaders to promote the referendum. As readers presumably know, Manafort is under investigation by the FBI and special prosecutor Robert Mueller for possible collusion with Russia during the presidential campaign, and perhaps other violations concerning his representation of the pro-Russian Ukranian government.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Update for Tuesday, September 12, 2017

We have met the enemy, and he is us. William Astore, in TomDispatch, lays out the truth about America's looking glass wars. Do read the whole thing, but to get you pulled in, I'll begin with an excerpt from Tom Inglehardt's introduction:

In the years since [9/11], in its global war on terror, the Pentagon has ensured that America’s enemies in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere have regularly been able to arm themselves with... well, not to beat around the bush, a remarkable range of U.S. weaponry.  The latest such story: a report that in recent fighting around the city of Tal Afar, the Iraqi military recovered a U.S.-produced FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missile and launcher from an Islamic State weapons cache. That’s a weapon capable of taking out an M1 Abrams tank . . . .

Of course, when the American-trained, funded, and armed Iraqi army collapsed in the summer of 2014 in the face of relatively small numbers of ISIS fighters, that group took vast stores of U.S. weaponry and vehicles that they’ve used ever since. But that was hardly the end of it.  The U.S. soon began retraining and rearming its Iraqi allies to the tune of $1.6 billion for “tens of thousands of assault rifles, hundreds of armored vehicles, hundreds of mortar rounds, nearly 200 sniper rifles, and other gear,” much of which, a government audit found, the Pentagon simply lost track of. . . .
Similar stories could be told about Afghanistan, another country where U.S. weaponry has disappeared in remarkable quantities. (The Taliban, for instance, recently released a video of their fighters sporting weaponry normally used only by U.S. Special Operations personnel.) In short, the Pentagon has been arming itself, its allies, and its enemies in a profligate fashion for years now in its never-ending conflicts across the Greater Middle East and Africa.
Astore writes:

Since the early 1990s, largely unconstrained by peer rivals, America’s leaders have acted as if there were nothing to stop them from doing as they pleased on the planet, which, as it turned out, meant there was nothing to stop them from their own folly.  We witness the results today.  Prolonged and disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Interventions throughout the Greater Middle East (Libya, Syria, Yemen, and beyond) that spread chaos and destruction.  Attacks against terrorism that have given new impetus to jihadists everywhere.  And recently calls to arm Ukraine against Russia.  All of this is consistent with a hubristic strategic vision that, in these years, has spoken in an all-encompassing fashion and without irony of global reach, global power, and full-spectrum dominance. . . .

Incessant warfare represents the end of democracy.  I didn’t say that, James Madison did.
I firmly believe, though, in words borrowed from President Dwight D. Eisenhower, that “only Americans can hurt America."  So how can we lessen the hurt?  By beginning to rein in the military.  A standing military exists -- or rather should exist -- to support and defend the Constitution and our country against immediate threats to our survival.  Endless attacks against inchoate foes in the backlands of the planet hardly promote that mission.  Indeed, the more such attacks wear on the military, the more they imperil national security.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, no big surprise, parliament has condemned the upcoming Kurdish independence referendum.

Israel seems to be the only regional power that supports Kurdish independence.

Iraqi forces prepare to retake IS-held town of Anah in Anbar.

In what is likely a symbolic gesture, but giving credit where it's due, Sen. Rand Paul wants to end the congress to sunset the Authorization to Use Military Force  which is the legal fig leaf underlying the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to vote on ending the U.S. military commitment in those countries.




Friday, September 8, 2017

Update for Friday, September 8, 2017

After 16 years, you would think the U.S. military would have learned at least a little something about Afghanistan. Taliban suicide attack at a control point near Bagram injures 3 U.S. soldiers and 3 Afghan soldiers, and kills an Afghan interpreter. The attack was advertised as a response to a leaflet dropped by U.S. forces in Parwan province.

The leaflet depicted a lion chasing a dog. Inscribed on the dog's side was the Shahada, the fundamental statement of the Islamic Creed, which may be translated as "There is no God but God. Muhammad is the messenger of God." The Shahada happens to be an element of the Taliban flag which is apparently why somebody thought this was a good idea.

Conflict takes a heavy toll on military hospital in Helmand where surgeons often work 24 hour shifts to keep up with the flow of injuries.

The U.S. is giving Afghanistan 150 MD530 F Cayuse Warrior light attack helicopters  at a cost of $1.38 billion. The usefulness of these machines has been questioned.

In Iraqcivilians are fleeing ahead of an expected offensive against IS in Hawija.