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

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.