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

Monday, April 23, 2018

Update for Monday, April 23, 2018

U.S. begins construction of new consulate in Iraqi Kurdistan, said to be one of the largest in the world. (Take a look at the mock ups, it's a spectacular campus with multiple large buildings. It is not entirely clear what the thinking is behind this, as the population of Iraqi Kurdistan is less than 6 million and it's GDP is less than $24 billion. In other words it's a pretty small country.)

Iraq has been bombing IS targets in Syria, and now claims to have killed the IS second in command. (That's not a good job to have, it seems.) This is presumably done with the approval of the Assad regime, despite claims that IS has already been defeated.

IS threatens to attack polling stations during up-coming Iraqi national elections.

French president Macron does not want U.S. to remove its troops from Syria.

In Afghanistan, a suicide bomb attack on a voter registration center in Kabul killed 57 people yesterday. The attack was claimed by IS.

Considerable violence all around the country as an air strike in Kunduz is said to kill 6 Taliban; IS beheads three medical workers in Nangarhar; nine soldiers and seven police killed in separate attacks in Badghis; Taliban murder two civilians in Urozgan;   Taliban abduct four bus passengers in Ghor; and more.

Former president Karzai blames U.S. policies for deteriorating security in Afghanistan:

“After 2005 begin to saw bombs coming, suicide bombers coming, and insecurity coming, and also we learned that the U.S. was doing things that we found strange and it were shocking to us, that why they are barging to Afghan homes at the time, why they are taking prisons into Bagram and other American bases, why they are bombing Afghan villages,” he said.  
“I was in talk with the U.S. in closed doors for years to stop its bad believers and to recognize that extremism and terrorism are not in Afghanistan but beyond our borders in Pakistan,” he added.
Referring to the recent deadly suicide bombing in the capital Kabul that left dozens of people killed, Karzai said that with the presence of the U.S., it was questionable that Daesh has taken responsibility for the attack.
“How come ISIS (Daesh) is there, this is exactly the point we are making, ISIS did not emerge during the Taliban government, ISIS did not emerge during my government when I was in a massive confrontation with the US. ISIS emerged in the past four years and during the maximum presence of the US military and intelligence in Afghanistan,” said Karzai.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Special update for Saturday, April 14, 2018

I have often argued that the massive distinction conventional morality wants to make between chemical weapons and explosives is ridiculous. I personally don't care if you gas me or blow me to pieces, and I can't imagine why you would care either. Malak Chabkoun, writing for Al Jazeera, puts it in perspective. I recommend reading the whole thing, because she makes several cogent points. Here's are some excerpts:

It is positively ridiculous to hear grown men and women pontificating on the horror of gas attacks against Syrian civilians without the mere mention of the multitude of other ways Syrians are being killed by the regime, Russia and Iran. . . .

To be fair, the Obama administration is primarily responsible for this rhetoric of limiting the Syria red line to chemical weapons (and even then, not enforcing it), as well as for handing the Syrian "file" over to Russia and Iran. . . .

US-led airstrikes on so-called ISIL targets, which began in 2014 and number over 15,000 and counting, have killed thousands of Syrian civilians, including children, as well as contributed to the decimation of Syrian cities such as al-Raqqa and Deir el-Zor. . . .
The U.S. administration obviously doesn't care about the Syrian people. It doesn't accept refugees from that country and has recently suspended humanitarian aid. These missile strikes, on three military targets, were carefully calibrated to avoid any Russian interests in the country and will have no effect on Assad's military capacity. This is all for show; meanwhile the suffering of the Syrian people continues, and they get no succor from the U.S. or Europeans.

Alliance News is a British financial news service, which may seem a bit off target but they offer a good analysis. For the record, I do not favor increased U.S. or European military involvement in Syria, and hardly anyone does, including most of the more hawkish elements in the foreign policy community. But people who are thoughtful about the situation understand that the public discourse is based on the wrong distinctions. Excerpt:

"Anything short of decisive diplomatic follow-up will render this assault the most meaningless of gestures," said Frederic Hof, a former US diplomatic envoy to Syria who has consistently taken a hard line on the Syrian government. "If Assad remains free to indulge in mass homicide, Washington will again be inadvertently drawing a red line on sarin while flashing a green light for everything else," Hof said. While the use of chemical weapons is in clear defiance of international law, chlorine bombs and even nerve agents like sarin are not the main killers in Syria. Conventional warfare, including airstrikes and intense shelling, kill far more people. Hundreds of thousands have died in Syria's civil war, ongoing since 2011, most of them from bombs and bullets.
Speaking for myself, the gravest concern for Americans should be that the warmaking power, which the constitution vests solely in congress, has been arrogated by the presidency. This action was clearly unconstitutional, as it cannot by any stretch be based in the Authorization to Use Military Force which justifies the endless war in Afghanistan and military action against IS; nor is it in any way construable as self defense. It is also in clear violation of international law. However much we may condemn the Assad regime and its many atrocities, the only way forward is to respect the law and work toward a functional international order. This is not that way.


Monday, April 9, 2018

Update for Monday, April 9, 2018

U.S. air strike kills an IS leader in Faryab province. This story is a window into the complex and murky nature of the various insurgencies in Afghanistan. Qari Hikmatullah was originally from Uzbekistan and served for many years as a Taliban commander before breaking away and adopting the IS brand name for his faction. He has since survived assassination attempts by Taliban. His organization includes Uzbekis and mostly controls territory with a majority of ethnic Uzbeks. We must keep in mind that the Afghan conflict is not binary, between the Taliban and the Kabul government. It is fueled by ethnic and sectarian fault lines, competition for opium profits and other economic resources, and personal warlordism. Much of the territory which is ostensibly government controlled really consists of fiefdoms of leaders who have chosen to align with the government; while a patchwork of insurgent factions control territory with varying degrees of coordination and central leadership. The factions with the IS label have little or nothing to do with the organization in Syria and Iraq.

Canada contributes $26 million to a "women's police town" in Kabul. Apparently female officers are to be housed in a separate complex. (The story doesn't say so, but one suspects that security is a key concern here.)

U.S. will give Afghanistan Chinook helicopters.

Women in Ghor say they are excluded from public life, with only 27 women among 9,000 government employees.

Abdullah reacts to a report on exploitation of children in Afghanistan. Child labor is commonplace, and there are even child soldiers.


Monday, April 2, 2018

Update for Monday, April 2, 2018

U.S. soldier killed in Syria last week was Delta Force member, Master Sgt. Jonathan J. Dunbar. Dunbar and a British soldier also killed in the incident were on a mission to capture or kill an IS leader. There are currently about 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria. For the most part, the public has been told that they are there to train and advise local forces, but now we know that there are also special forces engaged in combat operations.

Trump freezes $200 million in funds intended for Syrian recovery. This money was to be used to restore services in areas freed from IS control. 

[T]he hold on funding, coupled with Trump's comments this week [about withdrawing from Syria shortly], have raised alarm bells at the State Department that the US could leave precipitously. The department and Pentagon were planning for a gradual shift from a military-led campaign to a diplomatic mission involving rebuilding of areas liberated from ISIS to prevent their return.
Officials already point to a resurgence of ISIS in some areas after Kurdish fighters had to divert their attention to fight Turkish forces conducting operations in northern Syria.
"The hold on this money only compounds the problem," one senior State Department official said. "It's pretty depressing."

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon of the Council on Foreign Relations  discusses the complexities of the U.S. role in Syria. With the fight to wrest territory from IS largely over, the U.S. finds its Kurdish allies now in conflict with Turkey, and fearing abandonment by the U.S. But pulling out of Syria will be seen as emboldening Russia and Iran.

NY Times reporter in Iraq finds travel severely hindered by multiple checkpoints established by numerous armed groups.

Rebecca Gordon for TomDispatch reviews U.S. war crimes in Iraq  and the current ascendancy of the criminals.

In Afghanistan, there are reports of numerous civilians killed in an airstrike in Kunduz. The attack targeted a religious school where Taliban commanders were present for a graduation ceremony.

Taliban are using night vision goggles and other high tech equipment either captured, or sold to them by Afghan government forces.

Another poisoning of schoolgirls in Helmand.










Wednesday, March 28, 2018

History lesson for Wednesday, March 28, 2018

I commend to your attention this highly readable summary of some of the key constituents of the catastrophe the U.S. inflicted on Iraq and the entire Middle East, by Fred Kaplan in Slate.

The decision to ban all members of the Baath party from government positions, and to disband the Iraqi army, left the country with no government, no army, and hundreds of thousands of unemployed men with guns. We all know what happened next.

What we did not know at the time was that the National Security Council principals had voted unanimously to vet government officials but leave most of them in place; and to disband Saddam's Republican Guard but otherwise to keep the army intact. Where did this order come from? Apparently it surprised the ostensible president of the United States at that time, who is today a beloved avuncular amateur painter and affable buffoon.

Kaplan writes:


Why didn’t Bush rescind Bremer’s orders after reading about them in the newspaper? This is another mystery. When journalist Robert Draper posed the question, Bush replied, “The policy had been to keep the [Iraqi] army intact; didn’t happen.” Draper asked how he reacted to Bremer’s reversal. Bush replied, “Yeah, I can’t remember. I’m sure I said, ‘This is the policy, what happened?’ ”
This is the president of the United States, mind you. Kaplan concludes that Richard B. Cheney made the decision, and that Cheney had been duped by  Ahmad Chalabi,  an Iraqi exile who had been whispering in Cheney's ear urging the invasion, and who supplied fake intelligence sources about weapons of mass destruction. Cheney apparently actually believed that Chalabi could step in and form a government, and that he had a functioning militia that could be the core of a new Iraqi army. Neither was true. It was true, however, that Chalabi was an Iranian agent.

So that's what happened. Kaplan concludes:

No one has been held accountable, no one has had to pay a price, except for the 100,000 or so Americans and Iraqis who died—and the untold numbers maimed or otherwise damaged—in the struggle to clean up the mess or simply got trapped in the crossfire.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Update for Monday, March 19, 2018

Today is the 15th anniversary of the start of the illegal war of aggression against Iraq. Meteor Blades at Daily Kos offers an observance.

Incredibly, 43% of Americans polled think the invasion was justified.

Medea Benjamin and Nicholas Davies review death toll for Truthout.

Turkish troops enter Kurdistan in pursuit of PKK.

Campbell McDiarmid reviews the state of Iraq today. Excerpt:

With dead relatives, lost opportunities and a feeling of insecurity, many Iraqis remain less interested in elections and democracy than taking care of their loved ones. "I don't want to be wealthy; I want to have a decent life, I want to be safe, I want my family to be safe," said Zaki, who spent two years in American-run prisons on spurious accusations of supporting the rebellion. The ongoing violence even makes many Iraqis nostalgic for the relative stability under the former strongman.






Sunday, March 18, 2018

Update for Sunday, March 18, 2018

Pentagon identifies the 7 airmen who died in a helicopter crash on Thursday near Al Qa'im in western Iraq. The crash is not believed to be the result of hostile action. (Some witness reports say the helicopter struck power lines.)

Iraqi Parliament speaker Salim al-Jabouri says the Baghdad government supports Turkey's military action against the PKK.

However, KDP head Arafat Karam says that the Kurdish Regional Government would have to approve any such action on its territory, and has not yet done so. (Note, however, that the KRG has repudiated the PKK and has not protested Turkish air strikes against it on its territory in the past.)

A Kurdish MP opposes any Turkish military operations in Iraq  and denounces Turkish president Erdogan.

Ethnic divisions in Tuz Khurmatu are a microcosm of the problems facing Iraq. Excerpt:

In years past, walls went up to protect against car bombs. Then Shiite Turkmens erected walls to guard against Islamic State after its resurgence in 2014. Now even after the jihadis have been driven out of the city, the walls still stand, and Tuz Khurmatu remains a flash point with an unstable melange of sects and ethnicities. Once united to fight Islamic State, Kurds, Turkmens and Arabs resumed viewing each other with hostility and suspicion.
"Without a doubt, Tuz Khurmatu is a case study for Iraq 2.0. It's the most violent, most divided place in the country. You have so many layers of conflict," said Michael Knights, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Residents of eastern Baghdad protest deteriorating government services.

A member of Parliament says the country no longer needs a U.S. military presence and accuses the U.S. of "plotting" to expand its military bases.

IS booby traps continue to kill and injure civilians in Fallujah.




Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Update for Wednesday, March 14, 1018

U.S. forces undertake major initiative to secure Kabul. Taliban have established a substantial presence in the city and recently carried out several high-profile attacks.

“Kabul is our main effort. To harden Kabul, to protect the people of Kabul and the international community that are here,” U.S. General John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, told a group of reporters on Wednesday.
The remarks underscored the high degree of concern about the Taliban’s intent to stage high-profile attacks in Kabul, which are aimed at undermining the Afghan government and international resolve after 16 years of war.
They are also a reminder that while U.S. and Afghan officials speak with growing confidence about the prospects of peace talks with elements of the Taliban, the military is also making long-term preparations for an extended conflict, including in the capital.
Afghanistan experiences a massive tide of internally displaced people. "With more than 1.5 million Afghans – roughly 4 percent of the population – displaced after four decades of conflict, and 448,000 added in 2017 alone, relief agencies are scrambling to provide help as the dominant narrative of Afghan social and political progress, pushed for years by US and Western governments, fades into memory."

Thousands of civilians flee districts in Jowzjan province where IS is making gains.

Afghanistan deploys more troops to Farah province amid increased insurgent attacks. A major pipeline project is planned for the area. Most recently, attack on a checkpoint kills 10 members of security forces.

Suicide attack in Helmand kills 2 police.

Another bombing in Helman kills 6 border guards.

Heavy shelling in Kunar from locations in Pakistan.

In IraqBaghdad has allowed Kurdistans airports to reopen to international flights.

But U.S. forces aren't going anywhere. U.S. upgrades base in Quyyara. "Security sources in Baghdad disclosed that the US is expanding its military build-up in al-Qayyara, South of Mosul, to build its largest ever base in Iraq on the eve of parliamentary elections in the country despite the strong opposition expressed by the public, senior politicians and armed popular groups."

Matthew Sheffield discusses the U.S. administrations military posture.

Now that he’s had a full year of the presidency under his belt, Trump appears to have moved even further away from a restrained foreign policy and into the “conflict of civilizations” perspective that views America as waging a global war with Islam. That view was once relegated to the fringes of Republican foreign policy, too extreme even for the Paul Wolfowitz types who called the shots in the second Bush presidency. Trump's nomination of Pompeo, a man noted for his hostile attitude to Muslims, to lead U.S. foreign policy makes this point blatantly obvious.




Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Update for Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Afghan president Ghani proposes peace talks with Taliban, including a rapprochement with Pakistan. The detailed offer includes allowing the Taliban to open an office in Kabul, and removing sanctions against their top leaders. The document also insists on protection for women's rights. However, the Taliban are demanding direct talks with the United States as a condition for further negotiation.

U.S. State Department spokesperson says there is no military solution to the Afghan conflict. The U.S. appears to be essentially aligned with Ghani's initiative.

The Afghan government has called for closure of the Taliban office in Qatar, which was supposed to be the basis for an earlier peace initiative but which has been ineffectual. In response, a Taliban spokesperson called for withdrawal of U.S. forces as a precondition for talks. 

In the meantime, however, the war continues, with 5 or 6 police killed (reports conflict) and at least 30 people kidnapped in two incidents on the Kandahar-Uruzgan highway.

Paul Rogers of the Oxford Research Group discusses the situation in Iraq  15 years after the U.S. invasion. Excerpt:

This very broad remit [of the Authorization to Use Military Force of September, 2001] has enabled the US military, often in collaboration with countries such as Britain, Australia and others, to engage in operations in many different countries in what is now the seventeenth year of war. At its root is a cultural norm which prioritises the use of military force at the expense of other approaches and, in particular, pays relatively little attention to the underlying factors which enable movements such as al-Qaida, IS and others to maintain support even when facing overwhelming military odds.
That still leaves the issue of whether Trump is right about the latest perception of success and the consequent need to re-orientate the US military posture in the direction of China or Russia. Here, though, the ORG report and more recent work within the organisation suggest that this is as mistaken as Bush’s “mission accomplished” declaration. Raqqa may have fallen and IS dispersed but a more pertinent indication would be the ambushing and killing of four US Special Forces soldiers in Niger on 2 October last year.


Thursday, February 22, 2018

Update for Thursday, February 22, 2018

Pentagon and State Department claim that president has the legal authority to keep U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria forever, in letters to Democratic Senator Tim Kaine. Kaine "sharply criticized the administration’s reasoning and said in a statement that Trump risks “acting like a king by unilaterally starting a war.” The administration bases its reasoning on the Authorization to Use Military Force of 2002, which referred to al Qaeda and which the Bush administration used to justify the invasion of Iraq (which had nothing to do with al Qaeda).

“Now the Trump Administration is going even further, claiming that the 2001 AUMF also allows the U.S. military to strike pro-Assad forces in areas devoid of ISIS to protect our Syrian partners who seek Assad’s overthrow,” Kaine said Thursday. “It is clear the Trump Administration is crossing a Constitutional line.”
 By the way, did you hear anything about this in the U.S. corporate media?

The United States-led coalition has said it had killed 841 civilians in its operations against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. That's just what they cop to.

Washington Institute for Near East Policy discusses the problem of Iraq's militias. The government has relied on largely Iranian backed militias in the fight against IS. The peshmerga are answerable to the Kurdish governing parties (though not really to the KRG as a unified entity). [This analysis seems to treat them as essentially similar problems, but clearly they are not. The peshmerga will neither be absorbed into the army of the Baghdad government nor disband; and their existence is not necessarily problematic if Baghdad and Erbil can achieve a reasonably amicable federation. -- C]

Kurdish delegation arrives in U.S. to meet with officials.

First U.S. troops assigned to work with battalion level Afghan forces arrive. They will be closer to the front lines than current advisors.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Update for Thursday, February 15, 2018

Stephanie Savell of a certain Ivy League university discusses America's unknown wars. You should read the whole thing but here are a few bullet points.

  •  In one fashion or another, the U.S. military is now taking some sort of action against terrorism -- a staggering 76 nations, or 40% of the countries on the planet.
  • Last October, when news came out about four Green Berets killed by an Islamic State affiliate in the West African nation of Niger, congressional debates revealed that American lawmakers had little idea where in the world our troops were stationed, what they were doing there, or even the extent of counterterrorism activity among the Pentagon’s various commands.
  • Since 2001, the so-called "war on terror" has cost the U.S. $5.6 trillion.
  • As of 2016, about 14,000 American soldiers and contractors and 380,000 inhabitants of [Afghanistan, Pakistand and Iraq]  had been killed. To these estimates, you have to add the deaths of at least 800,000 more Afghans, Iraqis, and Pakistanis from indirect causes related to the devastation caused by those wars, including malnutrition, disease, and environmental degradation. [NB: Other estimates are higher, she is being conservative.]

We have no public debate about this and little attention in the media.

NATO will create a formal training mission in Iraq to "project stability" in the Middle East. Uhuh.

Kurdish military base in Kirkuk province comes under rocket attack, attackers are unknown as of now.

British army officer dies in an accident at al Asad military base in Iraq.

Donor conference yields $30 billion in pledges for Iraq reconstruction out of more than $80 billion estimated to be needed. U.S. contributes nothing, except for what appears to be a $3 billion line of credit for fossil fuel investment.

We get e-mail:

I was a combat advisor with a SFAT team in northern afghanistan during 2012.  The army has gone through various acronym changes to basically provide the same concept to the afghan forces.  First there was MTT - military training team, then ETT - embedded training team to STT - stability transition team, to SFAT - security force advisor team.  The only thing that changed was the composition of the team and equipment.  

I worked with a COL in the ANSAF, he was in his position for at least 5 years, during which he had almost 12 different advisors.  He used to joke that if they didn't like the advisor, he would just ignore them.  I was lucky and the COL wasn't corrupt.  But corruption was rampant through out the higher officers.  Promotions and assignments are sold, gas is stored offsite and sold on black market.  The LTG that controlled our compound was accused by the CIA of theft and corruption, but we couldn't touch him.  Just a revolving door of us money going through the country into the pockets of a select few.  Nothing will change until we get out.  I just don't understand why the senior policy makers and military staff doesn't come up with a clear exit policy.  I guess as long as we are over there, the senior US military personnel are assured of promotions and advancements.

I was in the northern part of the country, and used to get called by the Corp of Engineers to come sign for a COP that they had completed, but no body was occupying it.  When we started shutting down and reducing forces, the Corp would not stop building useless and un-needed facilities because the money was "already allocated".

Anyway, amazing how everybody ignores the obvious, and we continue to pump $45B a year into the cesspool.
Thanks lieutenant colonel.








Thursday, February 8, 2018

Update for Thursday, February 8, 2018

As I feared, we're going to have to start covering Syria. U.S. air strike said to kill 100 Syrian troops after they attack a base of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish militia allied with the U.S. Here is further detail from Reuters. "Some" U.S. troops are embedded with the SDF but none were reported injured.

Seth Frantzman discusses the paradoxes of U.S. alliances in the region.

Erdogan vows to extend the assault on Afrin to Idlib.

Iraqi army and Shiite militias launch a fresh assault on militants in the Tuz Khurmatu region, with U.S. air support. Peshmerga confirm that they coordinated in the effort which indicates that this was legitimately an attack on IS remnants. The militia say they will withdraw from Kurdish villages after the operation.

One reason the Taliban can control territory in rural Afghanistan is because they offer honest justice and services. This article discusses the burden on the citizenry of government corruption in Farah province.

U.S. conducts air strikes in Badhakshan against Taliban targets.






Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Update for Tuesday, February 6, 2018

U.S. general in charge of coalition in Iraq says 5,600 U.S. troops in that country will become an "enduring presence" to work with Iraqi partners to finally defeat IS.

However, PM Abadi says there is a plan for gradual withdrawal of U.S. forces.

Two Iranian backed militias, however, have a different view and want U.S. forces to leave now, and one of them, Kataib Hezbollah which is linked to Iran's Revolutionary Guard, threatens to attack U.S. forces.

Kurdish president Erdogan tells U.S. to leave the Syrian Kurdish town of Manbij and threatens confrontation over the issue:

“You are still telling us not to approach Manbij. We will come to Manbij to give it back to its true owners,” Erdogan said, repeating his earlier remarks about the Kurdish enclave of Afrin attacked by his army and Islamist proxies for three weeks now. Kurdish officials from both Syria and Turkey interpreted Erdogan’s remarks as a threat of ethnic cleansing in the isolated Kurdish district.

Head of Afrin’s Health Committee Angelo Resho announced that continued Turkish airstrikes and ground shelling have killed 148 civilians and wounded 365 others.  Unlike the eastern flank of Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava), from Manbij to the border with Iraq, the US does not have a military presence in Afrin which remained the most peaceful part of Syria, intact from the ravaging effects of the seven-year-long civil war until Turkey’s invasion. Erdogan has vowed to capture all of the de facto autonomous Rojava, despite US forces’ presence there.
Kurdish professor planning to run for parliament is murdered.


 

Monday, February 5, 2018

Update for Monday, February 5, 2018

U.S. has begun to redeploy some troops from Iraq to Afghanistan. It is important to note this since the action is being publicly portrayed only as a draw-down of U.S. forces in Iraq. However, there has been no public announcement as yet from the Pentagon and they are not saying how many troops will be redeployed.

Meanwhile, in Syria, Kurds in Afrin, who are allied with the U.S., are under siege and aerial bombardment by Turkey, where Oxfam says there is a desperate need for humanitarian relief. Ankara has strongly condemned U.S. support for the local Kurdish party and militia, the YPG, which it insists is a branch of the PKK; while the U.S. is urging restraint in the military offensive. (The PKK, unlike the parties in Iraqi Kurdistan, has a goal of Kurdish self-rule within what is now Turkish territory.)

Yes, Mosul is still in ruins and the bodies of IS fighters are still lying in the streets. Although the government denies it, many civilian bodies apparently have yet to be recovered as well:

The stench of death wafts from rubble-filled corners in the dystopian wasteland of what was once West Mosul, from rusting cars still rigged with explosives and from homes abandoned as those who could, fled the bloody end of the militants' three-year rule.

The corpses lying in the open on many streets are mainly militants from the extremist Sunni group who retreated to the densely-packed buildings of the Old City, where only the most desperate 5,000 of a pre-war population of 200,000 have so far returned.  Local residents and officials in predominantly Sunni Mosul say there are also thousands of civilian bodies yet to be retrieved from the ruins, a view which has put them at odds with the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.
Ibrahim al-Marashi reviews the Iraqi political lanscape as elections loom in May. While even casual observers are well aware of Iraq's ethno-sectarian divisions, conflicts within the main groups are hindering the capacity of government. Further problems include the millions of internally displaced persons, and the continuing presence of Iran-backed Shiite militias. I recommend this as a good, succinct overview of some of the political challenges facing the country.




Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Update for Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Now this is just incredible. Defense Department blocks public release of information on the state of the Afghanistan conflict. This is unclassified basic data.

In a letter accompanying its regular quarterly report, the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, said the Defense Department blocked publication of data on "the number of districts, and the population living in them, controlled or influenced by the Afghan government or by the insurgents, or contested by both." Those data aren't classified, but the Defense Department determined that "they are not releasable to the public," said the letter, which gave no indication that the Defense Department provided a reason for the decision.
Obviously, they don't want to admit that they're losing. We live in a post-truth world.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Update for Saturday, January 27, 2018

The reported death toll has steadily risen and now stands at 63 following a truck bombing using an ambulance in Kabul. The attack occurred at 1:00 pm in Sedarat Square. The Taliban have claimed responsibility.

Update: The official death toll has now risen to 103, with 235 injured. The Taliban have said the action was in response to the new, more aggressive military posture of the U.S.

This has driven most other news off of the page, but a car bomb attack on a security post in Helmand has killed and wounded "many" Afghan soldiers.

Afghan army claims to have killed or wounded 34 IS militants in Nangarhar in air and ground operations.

Wesley Morgan in Politico describes the army's new "Security Assistance Force Brigade" strategy to "win" the war in Afghanistan.

“Any idea that these teams are going to come in and radically change things is a huge overexpectation,” said David Sedney, a former State Department and senior Pentagon official with long experience in Afghanistan who knows Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and supports the effort in theory.
He added: “I think they will make a difference, but what degree of difference — that we won’t know for several years, which is the time frame it takes with an institution as fragile and flawed as the Afghan National Army, which we partially trained, partially abandoned and are now coming back to.”

Suicide bomb attack in Kandarhar kills 2 police and 2 civilians, injures 10 people.

Tampa Bay Times editorial indicates that corporate media are finally starting to question the continued flailing in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon has said that the additional U.S. firepower could enable the Afghan government to take control of 80 percent of the country in the next two years, up from 65 percent today. That’s an ambitious goal and timetable, given the Taliban’s military and political reach, the fundamental problems of endemic corruption and incompetence in the Afghan government, and the sclerotic pace of democratic reform and social justice in the country. The Trump administration has also aggravated tensions with Washington’s nominal ally in the region, Pakistan, over Pakistan’s refusal to rein in Taliban fighters along the border and to cut the group’s access to intelligence and foreign financial aid.
The White House has left the military strategy in military hands, but it’s time the president explained how the additional troops will provide a turnaround in this military mission. There is no reason to believe a game-changing strategy is at hand, or that the Afghan government is prepared to take the next step by laying the foundation for peace. Any new deployment must have a chance of ending the stalemate and pushing all sides toward national reconciliation. There’s no use in merely prolonging the status quo.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Update for Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction reports that the U.S. military has shown little interest in addressing widespread sexual abuse of children by Afghan forces that the U.S. trains and equips. Excerpt:

“The full extent of child sexual assault committed by Afghan security forces may never be known,” the report from Sigar said. But two-thirds of the individuals and organisations interviewed for the recently declassified report said they were aware of “child sexual assault incidents or related exploitation by Afghan security forces”, the watchdog said.
Full report available here. (PDF)

Gunmen storm the Save the Children office in Jalalabad, killing 3 and injuring 25. The attackers are killed in a 10 hour battle.

U.S. deploys a dozen A-10s to Afghanistan to provide close air support and attack narcotics facilities. "Along with the Thunderbolt squadron, additional aircraft will be moved to Kandahar Airfield, including MQ-9 Reapers that provide armed over-watch and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance of the battlefield, and HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters, to conduct personnel recovery and search and rescue."



Suicide bomber attacks a Shia mosque in Ghor, killing 10 and injuring 20.

Four police and six Taliban killed in a firefight in Ghazni.

State Dept. confirms that U.S. citizens were killed in attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul on Saturday, but does not provide further information.



Saturday, January 20, 2018

Special Update for Saturday, January 20, 2018

It's just incredible to me how the U.S. corporate media, politicians, and the general public completely ignore the military actions of their own government. The Pentagon operates, it seems, with no political accountability. We have to depend on Juan Cole to tell us that the U.S. has made an open commitment to an endless military presence in Syria.

The U.S. has 2,000 special operations troops in eastern Syria. Did you even know that? They are embedded with a Kurdish faction called the YPG, in a pseudo-state called Afrin. Which Turkey is now shelling. The U.S. troops, according to Rex Tillerson, are supposed to eliminate any resurgence of IS, depose Bashar Assad, enable Syrian refugees to return home, reduce Iranian influence, and eliminate any so-called "weapons of mass destruction" from the country, of which there aren't any. (Chemical weapons are not "weapons of mass destruction.") Right. Sure. But they might get us into a war with Turkey and/or Russia.

Of course, U.S. troops are already in Iraq forever, and Afghanistan forever, and in a whole bunch of other countries you won't know they are in until some of them get killed, for reasons nobody is bothering to tell you, which nobody seems to care about.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Update for Friday, January 5, 2018


Suicide bomber in Kabul kills at least 20 people, injures dozens including 27 police.

 The U.S. suspends all se security aid to Pakistan saying the country has not done enough to eliminate safe havens for Afghan insurgents. If you have a subscription, or haven't exceeded your monthly limit of free reads, you can read a discussion of this by Mujib Mashal and Salman Masooood in the NYT. While the allegation against Pakistan is certainly true, the U.S. action is questionable. While Pakistan does harbor the Haqqani Network in particular, the U.S. depends on supply routes through Pakistan and Pakistan does provide cooperation in other respects. Power in Pakistan is divided between the civilian administration and the military, and the country is not really dependent on U.S. aid. The move, far from persuading Pakistan to expel Taliban factions, may backfire.

The body of the U.S. soldier killed in action Jan. 1 has been flown home. He is identified as Sgt. 1st Class Mihail Golin, of New Jersey. Here is the DoD release identifying him.




Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Update for Tuesday, January 2, 2018

A U.S. service member is killed in action and four are injured in fighting in Nangarhar province. Two of the injured are hospitalized in stable condition and two have returned to duty. This engagement was against the so-called ISIS-Khorasan province, and is separate from the Resolute Support mission. An interesting excerpt from the Stripes story is that it turns out that 700-1,600=1,000:

Officials estimated in March that about 700 ISIS-K members remained in Afghanistan, but in late November Nicholson said 1,600 fighters had been eliminated. In early December, officials estimated about 1,000 fighters were still operating throughout Afghanistan.
Those of you old enough to remember the Vietnam war will remember "body counts."

And I guess we'll be getting more of them. Gen. Votel of the U.S. Central Command wants a more "aggressive Afghan push":

Gen. Joseph Votel of U.S. Central Command said an influx of new American trainers can help escalate the fight. They’ll be operating with Afghan units, closer to the front lines and at greater risk, but Votel said U.S. commanders will ensure American and allied forces have adequate protection. The goal is to get the Afghan military moving on its military campaign sooner, rather than later. The United States wants the “focus on offensive operations and we’ll look for a major effort to gain the initiative very quickly as we enter into the fighting season,” Votel said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. . . .

Votel said as the coalition builds up the Afghan Air Force and trains more security forces, the Afghans will become better fighters. “By the time they get to the next fight,” he said, “they will be able to really present a significant offensive capability.”
Well, we've only been at this for 14 years. One more should do the trick.