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, December 31, 2018

Update for Monday, December 31, 2018

Mujib Mashal reports for the New York Times that CIA-sponsored Afghan special forces in Khost and Nangarhar routinely commit atrocities including torture and murder. Do read. Here's an excerpt.

[T]he units have also operated unconstrained by battlefield rules designed to protect civilians, conducting night raids, torture and killings with near impunity, in a covert campaign that some Afghan and American officials say is undermining the wider American effort to strengthen Afghan institutions.
Those abuses are actively pushing people toward the Taliban, the officials say. And with only a relatively small American troop contingent left — and that perhaps set to drop further on President Trump’s orders — the strike forces are increasingly the way that a large number of rural Afghans experience the American presence.
Those fighting forces, also referred to as counterterrorism pursuit teams, are recruited, trained and equipped by C.I.A. agents or contractors who work closely with them on their bases, according to several current and former senior Afghan security officials, and the members are paid nearly three times as much as regular Afghan soldiers. . . .

Air strike in Paktia kills a High Peace Committee member and five of his family. Unclear if Afghan or foreign forces conducted the strike.

Retired General McChrystal, former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, says U.S. president Trump is untruthful and immoral.

Taliban representatives met with Iranian officials in Tehran on Sunday as Iran seeks to advance peace negotiations.

In Iraq, Iraqi aircraft attacked an IS site in Syria, reportedly killing 30 IS leaders. Purportedly the Syrian government has given permission for such operations.


Thursday, December 27, 2018

Update for Thursday, December 27, 2018

Iraqi politicians react with fury to U.S. president's clandestine visit to a U.S. military base in Iraq. The visit was not pre-arranged with the Iraqi government and many members of parliament condemned it as a violation of diplomatic norms and Iraqi sovereignty. Some have called for a special session of parliament to vote on the expulsion of U.S. troops.

Qais al-Khazali, the leader of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq group, expressed the Iraqis’ resolve to purge the country of American forces.

“Iraqis will respond with a parliamentary decision to oust your (US) military forces. And if they do not leave, we have the experience and the ability to remove them by other means that your forces are familiar with,” he tweeted.

Sabah al-Saadi, the leader of the Islah parliamentary bloc, also called for an emergency session of the parliament “to discuss this blatant violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and to stop these aggressive actions by Trump who should know his limits: The US occupation of Iraq is over.”

Similarly, the Bina parliamentary bloc denounced Trump’s trip to Iraq, saying, it was “a flagrant and clear violation of diplomatic norms and shows his disdain and hostility in his dealings with the Iraqi government.”
Trump revealed the location of SEAL team 5 and showed the faces of its members  in a video he posted on-line. "[E]xperts noticed that details of this video could put the US SEAL team in danger amid concern that President Trump revealed top-secret information. . . . Current and former Pentagon officials have since admitted that revealing the location of a deployment of SEAL Team Five violates operational security."

Trump apparently violated DoD rules by signing MAGA hats for troops.

"What commander allowed that to really happen?” [CNN correspondent]Barbara Starr asked Wednesday night. “This is very much against military policy and regulation,” Starr said. “Troops are not supposed to be involved in political activities, the U.S. military is not a political force.” . . .And CNN military analyst retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling said that Trump put military personnel “in a very bad position” with his comments to the troops, which were criticized as being akin to a “campaign rally.”
Two artillery shells land near the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, no damage reported.


Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Update for Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Attack on a government office compound in Kabul kills 43, injures 10. (The headline of this story appears to be wrong, but these are the numbers from the body of the report.) No claim of responsibility as yet, but Abdullah blames the Taliban. This comes as the announcement of a troop drawdown by the U.S president has rattled officials, although General Miller says he has yet to receive any orders to withdraw troops.

JCS Chair Dunford says the reports of a U.S. withdrawal are "rumors,"  which seems an odd way of describing the Commander in Chief's Twitter feed. In any case he also says he has received no orders.

Afghanistan's presidential election, originally scheduled for April, will be postponed for several months, ostensibly to address technical problems that emerged in the recent parliamentary elections.

The Afghan government says it will send a delegation to Jeddah where the U.S. and Taliban representatives have been engaging in peace negotiations. However, the Taliban have so far refused to talk directly with the Kabul government.

The Iranian government says it has been talking with the Taliban as an Iranian representative visits Kabul. The subject matter of the discussions was not disclosed.

The Afghan military says it has repulsed an attack in Faryab. Two Afghan soldiers were killed in the fighting and two shops caught fire, while 12 militants are said to have been killed.

In Iraq, after the CinC announced the withdrawal from Syria, the U.S. has established two new bases in Anbar. These are said to be intended to protect against incursion of IS forces from Syria.

A year after the reconquest of Mosul, rebuilding is slow and militants remain in hiding.

IS no longer holds any significant territories, but deadly attacks continue throughout the country. Last month, a school bus rolled over an explosive on a road south of Mosul, killing four children and wounding seven. A car bomb killed three people at a restaurant in the city, and security forces say they still conduct near-daily operations seeking militants in hiding. . . .


Aid workers estimate a year and a half after the IS defeat in Mosul, roughly 1,500 bodies of militants and civilians are still buried under the crushed buildings. Two million people remain displaced, many unable to return to these destroyed homes.

IS claims responsibility for a deadly bombing in Tal Afar.

IS kidnaps 18 people in Kirkuk province.

Protests continue in Basra over poor services and unemployment.








Saturday, December 22, 2018

Update for Saturday, December 22, 2018

(Cross-posted at Stayin' Alive)

The sudden announcement by Individual 1 that the U.S. military will withdraw entirely from Syria, and troop strength in Afghanistan will be reduced by half, has created shock around the world. I have tried to be circumspect about my own opinions here, but I think it's clear I view the Afghanistan operation as a Sisyphean and pointless folly. I haven't referenced the U.S. presence in Syria much although it is obviously closely linked to the Iraqi operation. My general position is that the U.S. is far too  inclined to try to solve problems militarily. However, since the U.S. created the catastrophe of IS,  we did have an obligation to help solve it. Staying back and providing logistical and some air and artillery support to local troops was probably the best of bad choices.  The question of when to go, and on what terms, is still critical. Here is Adam Silverman on Syria.

So what, exactly, are we actually doing in Syria? What is it that will stop as a result of this withdrawal order? We are basically doing two things in Syria. The first is a train, advise, and assist mission with our local Syrian partners who are predominantly Kurdish, but some are Arabs, who are fighting ISIS. This is a Special Forces mission supported by a some Marine Corps artillery. The second thing we’re doing is, as an extension of the train, advise, and assist mission, conducting stability operations among the Syrian population where we are partnered with and training our local Syrian partners. This is being done within a “by, with, and through” strategy of partnering with vetted local groups. If we pull out there will be four immediate effects.
 So, this is not a combat operation. There have been at least a few commando operations in Syria that we know about, to apprehend specific individuals and gather intelligence, but none have been publicly known for quite a while. The immediate effects Silverman goes on to enumerate are:

  • Increased instability and population displacement
  • A worsened humanitarian crisis
  • Abandonment of the Syrian Kurds, with concomitant damage to the nation's reputation
  • Resurgence of IS and movement of the Syrian army into the northeast
Extraction of the U.S. forces without producing catastrophe would require, at a minimum, guarantees from Turkey to  refrain from attacking the Kurds while working toward a rapprochement such as they have with Iraqi Kurdistan. That would require the Syrian Kurds to repudiate the PKK. I don't know if they would do that but it's their only long-term hope, in my view. The Kurds would also have to be left with the means to defend themselves, and they would also have to negotiate federal status with Damascus, again analogous to Iraqi Kurdistan. Such arrangements would take time to negotiate, might be impossible, but certainly cannot happen without U.S. involvement.

As for Afghanistan, obviously the Kabul government is slowly but inexorably losing, even with the 14,000 U.S. troops who are there currently. I can't say what difference removing 7,000 will make, but this was done abruptly, without consultation with the Afghan government or NATO allies.

The Taliban, not suprisingly, have welcomed the announcement because they have made withdrawal of foreign troops a precondition for peace. However, of course, this actually complicates prospects for peace because they can wait until all the U.S. forces are gone and then largely dictate terms to the Kabul government, a view shared by many Afghans. Nevertheless NATO remains committed to Afghanistan so perhaps this will make little difference. In any case it was done impulsively and without proper planning and coordination.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Update for Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Three U.S. service members are killed and four injured in an explosion near Ghazni. A U.S. contractor was also injured. No further details have been released as of yet.

A U.S. army ranger was killed on Saturday in Nimroz province during an assault on Al Qaeda positions. It is believed he was shot accidentally by an Afghan soldier. Sgt. Sgt. Leandro Jasso, 25, of the 75th Ranger Regiment was on his third deployment to Afghanistan.

Taliban abduct 25 travelers in Balkh, later release the women. The motive for the action is not reported.

A severe drought has led to food shortages affecting half of Afghanistan's rural population. The UN Food and Agricultural Organization is working to assist the most severely affected farmers.

The drought and fighting have led to displacement of a quarter million people in the western provinces of Herat, Badghis and Ghor. The UN is flying in 15,100 family size tents to shelter the population as winter approaches.

The United Kingdom has pledged 35 million pounds for drought relief. This story from The Guardian has further information on the crisis.

Following criticism of the recent parliamentary elections, the Afghan government is considering postponing the presidential election scheduled for April.

Taliban ambush a police convoy on Sunday in Farah, killing 22 police.

The number of bombs dropped on Afghanistan by the U.S.-led coalition is approaching the record set in 2011. The number through September of this year was 5,213. 5,411 was the total in 2011.





Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Update for Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Suicide bomb attack on a gathering of religious scholars in Kabul kills 55, injures 95. The Taliban have denied responsibility and IS has not issued any statement. The meeting was hosted by the Afghan Ulema council on the occasion of the Prophet's birthday.

Protesters close the Kabul-Gardiz highway in Logar, accusing government forces of killing 8 civilians.

Three police killed in a roadside bombing in Kandahar.

As U.S. commander Gen. Scott Miller visits Ghazni, two missiles strike the city damaging a medical facility. Miller is not believed to have been the target.

Pentagon inspector general finds little progress in U.S. led peace initiative.


Thursday, November 15, 2018

Update for Thursday, November 15, 2018

New Taliiban assault in Farah province kills 45 government forces, including the district police chief. The attackers seized arms and ammunition and are said to have captured a military base.

According to this account, the attack originated as an insider attack at a joint army and police base.

According to TOLO, the Taliban captured 60 prisoners as well. Retaliatory helicopter strikes are said to have killed many Taliban. The security situation in Farah is becoming desperate.

Taliban attack police outposts in Zabul. The government says the attack was repelled, with 8 Taliban and two police killed.

The U.S. State Department says special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is making progress in peace negotiations but provides no specifics. Khalilzad has postponed a previously scheduled visit to Pakistan.

Fighting in Maidan Wardak said to kill 9 Afghan soldiers and 5 insurgents.

In a mysterious incident, the body of a senior Pakistani police officer has been found in Nangarhar province. He was kidnapped in Islamabad. A letter found with the body claimed responsibility on behalf of the IS Khurasan faction, but their motive for doing this is not clear.


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Update for Tuesday, November 12, 2018

Taliban attack Jaghori district in Ghazni, destroy a company of elite Afghan special forces, killing more than 30 along with about 50 police and local militia members. The area is inhabited by ethnic Hazaras. Some of them protested in Kabul on Monday and six of them were killed by a suicide bomber. The entire district is in danger of falling to the Taliban.

Some 1,800 families have fled the district to Bamyan.

Ministry of the Interior says that reinforcements have been sent and that a large-scale military operation is planned.

U.S. airstrike is said to kill 8 Taliban in Ghazni.

Government claims to have killed more than 100 insurgents overnight in Ghazni while losing only two Afghan National Police. (They commonly report such extremely lopsided casualty claims, which I do not consider credible.)

Wall St. Journal reports U.S. is considering asking Afghanistan to delay presidential elections  as efforts are underway to negotiate a settlement with the Taliban.

President Ghani says the Taliban are not winning. (But it's never a good sign when you have to say that. -- C)




Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Update for Tuesday, November 6, 2018

This is a long read but it's important information. Antibiotic resistant pathogens are a huge problem in Afghanistan. This was a huge problem for the military, with troops frequently acquiring drug resistant infections in blast wounds. The military has largely overcome it, but the civilian population is severely affected. This article also notes that Afghanistan has among the worst health care and public health systems in the world:

One woman dies every two hours from pregnancy-related causes, according to conservative estimates by Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), and one in 25 newborn babies dies, the third highest neonatal death rate in the world, UNICEF figures show.
Life expectancy at birth is 64, compared with 79 in the US and a global average of 72. There is a shortage of doctors, especially in rural areas, and infection control is poor.
Drug resistance has become one of the world's greatest public health crises, estimated to cause 700,000 deaths worldwide and expected to kill 10 million by 2050 if no action is taken.
Fueling the superbug problem in Afghanistan is the unregulated sale of antibiotics in human medicine and in agriculture. Drugs are advertised on television and available to buy over the counter from pharmacies without a prescription or diagnosis from a doctor.
Fighting between Taliban and a local militia kills 40 civilians in Uruzgan and Ghazni.

I don't normally link to PressTV but this story has corroboration and the PressTV version is the most accessible I could find. Taliban attack a border post in Farah and kill at least 20 border police, capturing the post. This is on the border with Iran.

UN says 56 civilians killed and 379 injured in violence associated with the recent elections.

In Iraqtalks are underway between the PUK and KDP to form a new Kurdish regional government.

UN reports more than 200 mass graves found in areas formerly controlled by IS. The process of exhumation is just beginning.

Multiple bombings in Baghdad kill 6 civilians. These targeted predominantly Shiite districts.

Newly elected Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi says that the Shiite militias known as Popular Mobilization Forces will not be disbanded. Most of these are linked to Iran.

Abdul-Mahdi is apparently ready to announce his slate of ministers.  Minor posts have been filled but the major appointments have been held up in political disputes.

Hundreds of tons of farmed carp have died in the Euphrates, as water pollution grows worse.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Update for Monday, November 5, 2018

Army Major Brent Taylor, 39, of the Utah National Guard was fatally shot on November 3 by a Afghan National Defense and Security Force. Major Taylor was on leave from his office as mayor of North Ogden, Utah.

Taliban attack on two checkpoints in Ghazni results in deaths of 13 members of the Afghan security forces. The checkpoints were set up recently to cut off Taliban supply routes. They were completely destroyed.

U.S. drone strike in Laghman said to kill 3 militants. These appear to have been Taliban, which suggests the U.S. is not limiting its direct combat operations to IS targets as has sometimes been asserted.

Afghan government's territorial control reaches a record low.

It is unclear whether the Taliban will attend peace talks scheduled for November 9 in Moscow.


Sunday, October 21, 2018

Update for Sunday, October 21, 2018

Polls close in long-delayed parliamentary elections in Afghanistan after the electoral commission extended voting by a day because of shortages of materials and problems with voting systems at many locations. Results will not be known for weeks.

In rural areas, threats of violence suppressed the vote in many locations.

Many polling stations did not open in Helmand province on Saturday. It is unclear if they opened on Sunday.

Roadside bomb in Nangarhar kills 11 civilians.

Four election observers are abducted and murdered in Mazar Sharif.

Suicide bomber kills 15 people at a polling station in Kabul on Saturday.

Official figures show 170 casualties in violence on Saturday, this link has a roundup of reported attacks. The tally for Sunday has not been announced.


Thursday, October 18, 2018

Update for Thursday, October 18, 2018

I'm sorry for abandoning this blog for a while. I guess I was overtaken by the same feelings that are widespread right now in Afghanistan and Iraq, a kind of despair leading to apathy. Here is Mujib Mashal in the New York Times.

In the past 17 years of war and crisis in Afghanistan, no one remembers a season quite like this one, with peril and hopelessness at every turn. . . . If there is a common theme in this upswell of alarm and worry that seems so widespread, it is a sense that no one sees any clear path through a minefield of crises.
The daily death toll in the war is often 100 or more, the security situation continues to deteriorate, and political divisions threaten the stability of the government. The Taliban appear unwilling to accept any peace agreement that honors democratic norms or the status of women, while the terror campaign by IS has heightened fears and sectarian divisions. Whether the upcoming election will be credible, and whether the results will be generally honored, is questionable. And the deteriorating relations of the U.S. with Pakistan, Iran and Russia are leading those countries to provide support to the Taliban. Pakistan continues to shelter the Taliban leadership. Anyway, read the whole thing.

The situation in Iraq may be somewhat more hopeful. I will address it soon.

Update: Attacker kills police chief of Kandahar province Gen. Abdul Raziq Achakzai,  following a meeting with U.S. General Scott Miller, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Two Americans and one foreign national employed by the U.S. government are injured. General Miller was present but uninjured.  Story is here. Further details from The Guardian, which says that Kandahar provincial spy chief Abdul Monin was also killed, and that Governor Zalmai Wesa and regional army commander Nabi Elham are hospitalized, apparently with severe injuries. The gunman was a member of  Razik's guard detachment.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Update for Monday, September 10, 2018

Violence and chaos erupt around Afghanistan.

Taliban overrun a district in Jawzjan, at least 30 government forces killed or injured.

Fighting in Sar-e-Paul over two days has left at least 17 security forces dead. The toll is said to be provisional and may be much higher. Additional fighting is said to be underway on the highway to Jawzjan, and in fighting was under way on the main highway into neighboring Jawzjan province, and Taliban forces appeared to be gathering in Sheram to the east of the city.

Taliban capture four security posts in Faryab, with 17 government casualties reported.

Suicide bomber in Kabul attacks crowd commemorating the death of Ahmad Shah Masud, a Tajik leader who was assassinated in 2001 shortly before the U.S. invasion. His supporters were firing randomly into the air while driving through the streets. Police arrested some 100 demonstrators. Seven were killed in the suicide bombing.

Fighting in Samangan leaves 13 police and 4 Taliban dead.

Mortar kills 6 civilians in Helmand.

The U.S. threatens to arrest any judges of the International Criminal Court who charge U.S. soldiers for actions in Afghanistan. Really.

Pakistani commentator Imtiaz Gul considers the carnage in Afghanistan.

U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis is in Kabul.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Update for Saturday, September 8, 2018

The corporate media in the U.S. are now largely ignoring Iraq. It seems that having squandered a couple of trillion dollars, four thousand dead troops and who knows how many more wounded, and managing to bring about the deaths of a million or so Iraqis, now that unpleasantness is over and there's no reason for us to pay any attention to what's going on over there.

So, we will take note here that there has been a complete collapse of civil order in Basra as protesters trash every government building, political party headquarters, and facilities of Iranian-backed militias and the Iranian consulate. The water is undrinkable and people who have been poisoned are lying in hospital corridors untreated. Most of the time there is no electricity in 120 degree heat.

Protesters set fire to the Iranian consulate. I have not been able to find reports of the extent of the damage, but personnel all escaped unharmed. However this Reuters photo seems to show that the building was essentially gutted although it has a concrete exterior.

Of course Iraqi government officials are blaming everybody but themselves

Iraq's parliament is in emergency session as PM Abadi promises to violently repress the protests.

Interestingly, the U.S. State Department has implicitly condemned the assault on the Iranian consulate, without specifically naming it.


Mortar shells also fell in the Green Zone in Baghdad.

Stay tuned.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Update for Tuesday, September 3, 2018

One U.S. service member is killed, a second injured in an apparent "insider" attack in eastern Afghanistan. No further information is available as of now.

Note that General Scott Miller has taken over from Gen. John Nicholson as commander in Afghanistan. In Gen. Nicholson's departing remarks he says "It is time for this war in Afghanistan to end" and calls for peace negotiations.

Militants attack three schools in Paktika. No-one was present but severe damage forced the schools to close.

U.S. says it has killed Abu Sayed Orakzai, the leader of ISIS Khorasan Province, the IS affiliate in Afghanistan.

Taliban capture a district in Balkh.




Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Update for Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Taylor J. Galvin, of Spokane Washington, is killed in a helicopter crash in Sinjar, Iraq on Monday morning. Galvin was an MH-60M pilot assigned to Delta Company, Fort Campbell, Ky.-based 1st Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, according to a statement from U.S. Army Special Operations Command. The Pentagon says the operation was a raid against IS targets, and that there is no indication that the  downing was the result of enemy action.

Iranian backed militias are withdrawing from cities in Anbar, Salahudin and Nineveh provinces. This seems to be related to effort to curb Iranian influence in Iraq.

A coalition of four parties including the parties of Muqtada al-Sadr and current PM Abadi announces its intention to form a government. However, the group is still short of a majority and is vying with the Fatah coalition associated with the Iranian-backed militias.

In AfghanistanEid al-Atah passes in relative peace with the exception of a mortar attack in Kabul which interrupted a talk by president Ghani and injured six people.




Thursday, August 16, 2018

Update for Thursday, August 16, 2018

IS claims responsibility for bombing of a Hazara educational center in Kabul that killed 34 students and wounded 57 who were preparing for university entrance exams. The Hazara minority are Shiites. IS frequently attacks Shiite targets in Afghanistan.

Photos of funerals for the victims are here.

Militants attack a facility of the intelligence service in Kabul. Security forces say the incident has ended with two attackers dead.

The Ghazni siege has ended with a reported $50 million in property damage in addition to the hundreds of dead. Numerous markets and shops burned with their contents. Other estimates put the damage much higher. Sporadic fighting continues on the outskirts of the city.

A family from Ghazni says 16 of its members were killed by government air strikes.

Four police are killed by an explosion in Kandahar.

U.S. air strikes in Helmand are said to kill a total of 27 militants.

For the history buffs, Tom Emgelhardt reviews his 17 years of writing on the Afghanistan war. I'll give you one pull quote:

Here’s what I wrote about Afghanistan in 2009, while considering the metrics of “a war gone to hell”: “While Americans argue feverishly and angrily over what kind of money, if any, to put into health care, or decaying infrastructure, or other key places of need, until recently just about no one in the mainstream raised a peep about the fact that, for nearly eight years (not to say much of the last three decades), we've been pouring billions of dollars, American military know-how, and American lives into a black hole in Afghanistan that is, at least in significant part, of our own creation.”




Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Update for Tuesday, August 14, 2018

U.S. Armu Sgt. First Class Reymund Rarogal Transfiguracion, 36, of Hawaii died on August 12 in Germany of injuries suffered in an IED attack while on patrol. The incident apparently occurred in Helmand Province about five days ago. The promotion to Sgt. First Class is posthumous.

Taliban overrun an army base in Faryab, killing 17 soldiers. The Taliban captured the base when after a siege, when the defenders ran out of ammunition, food and water. The Taliban claim to have taken 74 prisoners and captured 11 humvees.

Fighting continues in Ghazni, where hundreds of civilians have been displaced with no access to aid. Some 150 civilians are reported to have been killed. The government claims to have forced the attackers out of the city proper, with the Taliban denying this. Many homes and government buildings have been destroyed.

Taliban attack a police checkpoint in Badghis, killing a senior officer and three colleagues.


Sunday, August 12, 2018

Update for Sunday, August 12, 2018

Fighting continues in Ghazni among conflicting claims about the state of battle. Reuters offers a lengthy report. While the government claims to be in control of "Strategic locations and centers in the city" reports from locals that have trickled out suggest that government forces are holding on only to the governor's office and security HQ. Telecommunications are out so reports are scanty. At least 100 members of the security forces are said to have been killed. The highway is mined to prevent reinforcements. The U.S. continues to support the defenders with air strikes.

A military convoy on the way to relieve the city is attacked in Wardak.

I will provide an update once the situation becomes clearer.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Update for Friday, August 10, 2018

Recount is finally completed in Iraq, election results are not substantially altered. Muqtada al-Sadr's party retains the lead with 54 seats. Negotiations over formation of a government continue, with the outgoing president having 15 days after official announcement of the results to convene parliament.

Arab news discusses the negotiations in more detail. Sadr has been unable to form a coalition, in part because of sabotage by former PM Nouri al-Maliki, whose party only won 25 seats but who is close to Iran. The sub-text of the negotiations, at least as Sadr presents his goals, is non-sectarian government, rooting our of corruption, and independence from Iran. More on Sadr's "40 conditions" for joining the government here.

Following protests, PM Abadi has fired officials at the electricity ministry.

Renewed U.S. sanctions against Iran will harm Iraq's economy, as it struggles to rebuild from war.

In Afghanistan, Taliban assault on Ghazni is repelled with U.S. air support but Taliban briefly hold parts of the city and it is not clear that they have been fully expelled.

Bodies of dozens of Afghan soldiers are found in a military base in Uruzgan that the Taliban overran last week.

U.S. air strike in Logar reported to kill Afghan security forces, but U.S. now says that no Afghan forces were killed.

Pakistan moves to reinforce the border with Afghanistan with U.S. financing. (Presumably they want to keep militants who oppose the Pakistani government from launching attacks from havens in Afghanistan. Will they also crack down on Afghan Taliban harboring in Pakistan?)


Monday, July 30, 2018

Update for Monday, July 30, 2018

The U.S. has been talking with the Taliban. There are a few takes on this.

Afghan president Ghani has been trying to get the Taliban to the table, but they have insisted on talking with the U.S. first. Deutsche Well suggests that the U.S. overture threatens to undermine the Afghan government.

Apparently the outreach is a result of frustration by the U.S. president  over the seemingly endless war. However Afghan officials are worried that the U.S. could be too eager for a settlement at a time when the Taliban are in a strong military position, holding considerable rural territory.

Indeed, the U.S. has called for a retreat from remote areas, which has gained some support from within the Afghan government but also has engendered much controversy.

Jessica Purkiss and Abigail Fielding-Smith describe the descent into chaos in Nangarhar,  where civilian casualties have doubled since a year ago, many of them the result of government action.

An editorial in the Afghan Times describes the current state of despair over the endless war.

Civilians describe forced marriages and rape by IS, particularly in Darzab in Jawzjan province.






Monday, July 16, 2018

Update for Monday, July 16, 2018

Protests erupt throughout southern Iraq over failure of public services and unemployment. Grand Ayatollah Sistani has endorsed the protests. Two demonstrators are killed by security forces in Samawa while dozens of people are injured in Basra.

Sixty-five protesters are arrested in Muthanna where one was killed on Sunday.

Protesters gather at a natural gas field in Basra while others storm the airport in Najaf.

PM Abadi deploys security services to the south to protect jails.

The situation is exacerbated as Iran suspends electricity exports to Iraq, due to its own shortages.

Several airlines suspend service to Najaf due to the security situation.

PM Abadi threatens to shoot "saboteurs" and provacteurs among the protesters, as blockage of Internet and social media make it difficult to monitor the situation in the south.

Protesters set fire to Hezbollah HQ in Najaf. (No indication of why.)

Meanwhile, U.S. troops withdraw from Fire Support Base Um Jorais south of Sinjar after providing artillery support to operations against IS. (What the U.S. is not doing is providing significant support for the rebuilding of the country. -- C)


Thursday, July 12, 2018

Update for Thursday, July 12, 2018

U.S. service member killed in combat in eastern Afghanistan. An Afghan soldier was also killed in the operation. Meanwhile the soldier killed by an insider attack in Uruzgan on Saturday is identified as Army Cpl. Joseph Maciel of 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment.

Taliban offensive in Kunduz kills at least 31 Afghan troops. Number of Taliban casualties is unclear, but a military spokesman says 50 were "killed or wounded," without explaining how he knows this.

Taliban attack in Farah results in numerous government casualties, with the number of dead reported as either 4 or 7, and a claim that 15 police were captured.

NATO extends funding for Afghan operation to 2024.

Three Afghan national police killed, claim of 15 militants killed in fighting in Ghazni.

Protests in support of exiled warlord Dostum continue with blockage of highways.

Syed Zafar Mehdi thinks the U.S. effort in Afganistan is a failure. Gee, what could possibly make him think that? Pull quote:

So what has the US achieved in Afghanistan in past 17 years? Americans are told by their government that the ‘wasted effort’ in Afghanistan is to prevent the country from becoming a safe haven for terrorist groups that seek to attack the US. That argument holds no water. It’s called paranoia.
Pompeo, who was on his first visit to Afghanistan since taking up the new job, perhaps needs a reality check. The security has deteriorated alarmingly, civilian casualties have jumped alarmingly, the cultivation and smuggling of narcotics has increased, corruption has touched new high, and the fledgling government in Kabul that was formed through a deal brokered by Washington continues to be beset with numerous problems. This is the legacy of America in Afghanistan.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Update for Tuesday, July 10, 2018

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo makes a surprise visit to Afghanistan under extremely tight security, claims U.S. strategy is working and that the Taliban may join the peace process without substantial concessions. However, as this WaPo story (I linked to a reprint to avoid the paywall) makes clear, the Taliban have stepped up their military activity and hold substantial portions of the country.

Suicide attack in Jalalabad kills at least 10, no claim of responsibility as yet.

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State meets with warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the first time a U.S. official has met with him in decades.

Casualty totals are disputed in separate skirmishes in Farah and Badghis, but up to 11 government troops and 9 Taliban may have been killed.

Schools in Afghanistan are becoming ideological and political battlegrounds, while 2.6 million children lack access to primary education entirely.








Sunday, July 8, 2018

Update for Sunday, July 8, 2018

Sorry I've been away for a while, I'll try to start posting more regularly.

The military has been quite tight-lipped about this but one U.S. service member is killed and two injured in an "insider attack." Although Resolute Support provides no further details, Afghan officials say the incident happened in Uruzgan, and the Taliban have claimed responsibility.

Also in Uruzgan, Afghan army frees seven prisoners from Tabliban.

U.S. Green Berets and Afghan forces assault an IS stronghold in Nangarhar, claim to have suffered no casualties of their own while killing 167 IS fighters. (If it's that easy what took them so long?)

Saudi Arabia and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation will host a conference this week on Afghanistan, in which Islamic scholars will discuss promotion of peace and stability.

Afghan airstrikes in Ghazni are said to kill dozens of militants.

Five people are injured by mortar attacks, also in Ghazni.

President Ghani calls for reining in private militias.

Perhaps this has something to do with riots over the detention of a top aide to warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum.






Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Update for Tuesday, June 19, 2018

As ceasefire ends, Taliban attack in Kunduz results in death of 7 Afghan soldiers and 2 police officers, and capture of a humvee. Apparently 7 of the attackers were also killed.

In an attack in Badakhshan, 17 Afghan soldiers are reported killed, and the Taliban seize control of a checkpoint. Twelve of the attackers are reported killed, including foreigners.

An attack in Farah is repulsed with heavy Taliban casualties, no word on government casualties.

A district governor in Nangarhar is assassinated.

Following the ceasefire, the Taliban are reported to have had a leadership shake-up.

Convoy of protesters demanding peace arrives in Kabul after a 37 day journey from Helmand. More on the convoy here.

Although the Taliban rejected president Ghani's request to extend the ceasefire, the government is still hopeful they will reconsider. However, the Taliban are unlikely to stop fighting as long as they are winning, although Michael Kugelman thinks the appetite for war among their rank and file may have lessened.




Friday, June 15, 2018

Update for Friday, June 15, 2018

The Afghan Taliban declare a unilateral three-day cease fire coinciding with the government's cease fire, and Afghans begin Eid without fighting for the first time in 17 years. Whether any peace talks or more lasting rapprochement will come of this remains to be seen.

However, the cease fire does not apply to other militant groups. In a major development (which so far has been little reported in the U.S.) the Afghan defense ministry says that a U.S. drone strike killed Mullah Fazlullah Khorasani, leader of the Pakistani Taliban who was considered responsible for the attack on a school in Peshawar in which some 140 children were killed, and the shooting of Malala Yousafzai. Khorasani was in Kunar province, Afghanistan at the time of his death. Keep in mind that while Pakistan provides safe haven to the leadership of the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani group is fighting the government and Khorasani was the most wanted criminal in Pakistan.

An airstrike on an IS munitions depot in Nangarhar kills 3 militants. Apparently this was carried out by Afghan forces.

Hamid Karzai says he will not run for president in 2019.

The U.S. has spent more than $8.6 billion fighting the drug trade in Afghanistan, to no apparent effect.


Thursday, June 7, 2018

Update for Thursday, June 7, 2018

Amid claims of voter fraud, Iraqi parliament calls for a manual recount, and replacement of the electoral commission with a panel of judges. The supreme court has approved the plan. Claims of fraud, however, have generally been vague and lack supporting evidence.

An explosion in Sadr City kills at least 16 and injures more than 30. The government says the explosion occurred at a munitions depot.  More recent reports give a total of 20 dead and more than 100 injured. Muqtada al-Sadr calls for an investigation. This report says that while the explosion did occur at a munitions depot, it was caused by planted bombs.

IS attack on a village near Baquba kills one civilian, apparently in retaliation for the arrest of four militants who villagers turned over to security forces.

Afghanistan president Ashraf Ghani announces a unilateral ceasefire against Taliban in the hope that militants will respond to the recent fatwa by the Ulema and enter into peace talks.

As of now there has been no response from the Taliban. The cease fire is to begin on June 12 and last through Eid al-Fitr, which will be June 19 or 20 on the western calendar. (It depends on when clerics first see the new moon. They sometimes disagree on this.)

NATO and the U.S. will honor the ceasefire. It does not apply to IS or al Qaeda.




Monday, June 4, 2018

Update for Monday, June 4, 2018

Ulema meets in Kabul, issues fatwa condemning violence, and calling for peace talks. A suicide attacker near the gates of the gathering kills several people. (The linked AFP article gives the death toll as 7 but it has since risen.) I have not been able to locate the exact full text of the fatwa but according to the AP report:

Less than an hour before the attack happened, Ghofranullah Murad, a member of the council, read out a written statement from the gathering saying that innocent Afghan men, women and children are the true victims of the 17-year-long war.
"The ongoing war in Afghanistan is illegal and has no root in Sharia (Islamic) law," the statement said. "It is illegal according to Islamic laws and it does nothing but shed the blood of Muslims."
"We the religious Ulema call on the Taliban to respond positively to the peace offer of the Afghan government in order to prevent further bloodshed in the country," it added.
The fatwa also said that killing people by any means — such as bombs and suicide attacks — as well as violent acts, including robbery and kidnapping, count as sins in Islam.

Three children are killed by a roadside bomb in Nangarhar, as IS threats force school closures in the province.

Half of Afghan children are not in school, most of them girls. "In the worst-affected areas as many as 85% of girls are not getting an education, with child marriage, a lack of female teachers and poor school facilities among the major reasons."

Two police killed as Taliban attack checkpoints in Ghor.

In Iraqsevere drought is compounded by Turkey diverting water from the Tigris, but parliament is unable to muster a quorum to address the issue.

Turkey is expected to launch operations in the Quandil region of Iraq in pursuit of PKK leadership. Turkey already says it has 11 military bases inside Iraq.

Shortages of electricity and water plague the country.

Iraqi courts issue an arrest warrant for Rebwar Talabani, a leader of the Kurdish independence movement.





Read more here: http://www.thestate.com/news/nation-world/world/article212472174.html#storylink=cpy


Monday, May 28, 2018

Update for Monday, May 28, 2018

Senator McCain now says that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was a "mistake." Thanks a lot Senator, for the past 14 years of war mongering. And it wasn't a mistake - they did it on purpose.

UN Security Council will discuss situation in Iraq on Wednesday. The future of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq will presumably be the focus.

Although IS no longer controls substantial territory, it remains a threat. Salahudin province is particularly vulnerable.

Iraqi forces continue to attack remnants of the group with air strikes, police operations, and military operations. And Iraqi forces continue to suffer casualties.

Political parties continue to dispute the validity of the recent election, more here. However, the Supreme Court will not intervene, although there will be a parliamentary commission to investigate.

The Electoral Commission issues a lengthy statement defending the election.

Afghan MPs decry the security situation and warn of possible government collapse if the situation does not improve.

Taliban overrun security checkpoints in Takhar.

Attack on a police convoy in Paktia carrying a Taliban prisoner leaves 5 dead including the prisoner.

U.S.drone strike said to kill IS militants in Nangahar.

Much of Afghanistan is suffering from severe drought.

Militants kill 2 police and an electoral official in Herat.

Taliban kill a tribal elder who created a medal honoring Donald Trump for "bravery". [Obviously I don't approve of violence but WTF? They raised hundreds of dollars to make it out of gold.]

Former army officer and CIA analyst Ray McGovern discusses this Memorial Day. No one wants to believe that their loved ones death was pointless, but that's a trick to immunize the people responsible from accountability.










Thursday, May 24, 2018

Update for Thursday, May 24, 2018

Tell me something I don't already know department. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction declares the effort a failure. The $5 billion expenditure by the U.S. has largely been squandered.

The report says the effort proved ineffective in stabilization because the military focused on the most dangerous districts first, where poor security made it hard to move on to the building phase. U.S. civilian agencies were compelled to conduct their stabilization programs in dangerous areas not ready for rebuilding, and once coalition troops and civilians left those districts the stabilization ended.
The report also says that U.S. funds created opportunities for corruption, and the Obama administration's deadline for troop withdrawals also created problems with a race against the clock. I would say, however, that it is not clear that anything could have worked.

I'll skip the roundup of daily violence, which continues at a steady rate.

In IraqMuqtada al-Sadr met with political leaders in Baghdad and says he has agreement to form an inclusive government. Whether he will truly transcend his past and provide the leadership to build a unified nation and an accountable, effective government obviously remains to be seen. But he's still saying all the right words. I remember writing here back at the height of the civil war that I didn't see anyone standing up for Iraq. Our friend River left the country in despair. (I wonder where she is now and what she is doing), as did many other progressive Iraqi nationalists. Is there truly hope now?

Monday, May 14, 2018

Update for Monday, May 14, 2018

The party of Muqtada al-Sadr appears to have won the Iraqi parliamentary election with 92% of the votes counted. As long-term followers of this blog will know, al-Sadr led a militia that actively opposed the U.S. occupation. As a result, he was labeled in the U.S. media as a "radical." The Sadrist forces were accused of atrocities during the Sunni-Shiite civil war, although in public Sadr always claimed to be a non-sectarian Iraq nationalist. He subsequently disbanded the Mahdi Army and led a movement against corruption and sectarianism. Among Shiite politicians he is also noteworthy for rejecting Iranian influence in Iraq as well as U.S. influence. As he is not a candidate himself he cannot become prime minister but he will presumably choose the PM if his bloc is asked to form a government. This is an interesting development. If he is sincere about championing non-sectarian Iraqi nationalism the country may have a better future than many have hoped for. We shall see.

Peter Beaumont gives a brief synopsis of this history in The Guardian and like Cervantes, says we'll have to see if he's sincere.

The party of a Shiite militia backed by Iran has won second place in the vote. So again, time will tell.

In Afghanistan, meanwhile, the security situation continues to be disastrous.

Attack on a government building in Jalalad kills 15. It is not clear if the death toll includes the six attackers. IS claims responsibility.

Members of parliament accuse the government of interfering in the electoral process.

Governor of Nangarhar is dismissed amidst deteriorating security.

Battle in Nimroz kills 5 police and 2 insurgents.

Bombing in Paktika kills a tribal elder and injures 7.

Eight soldiers killed in northern Kunduz province.

Ihsanullah Omarkhail discusses the state of Afghan politics, dominated by warlords and corruption. The U.S. allied with warlords to fight the Taliban, but:

Count this as a strategic mistake by the US in Afghan politics. Furthermore, criminal Afghan politicians have long depended on intimidation and coercion to sustain influence over Afghan civilians.
The government is facing two challenges. The country is politically divided between warlords and local strongmen on one side and reformist, educated technocrats on the other. The second challenge is the ongoing Taliban insurgency and other terror groups inside the country.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Update for Wednesday, May 9, 2108

Perhaps a bit tangential to Iraq, but -- well, not really. Dominic Tierney discusses the ways in which U.S. actions since 9/11 have been a boon to Iran. In addition to eliminating Iran's mortal enemy Saddam Hussein and installing an Iranian puppet regime in Iraq; and toppling the Taliban government in Afghanistan which was also hostile to Iran (Iran has now switched sides in Afghanistan); the decision to pull out of the JCPOA -- the nuclear deal with Iran -- will only embolden Iran's hard liners, isolate the U.S. from its allies, and potentially allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon. Sad!

Various experts discuss the upcoming parliamentary elections in Iraq. While they don't expect major changes, there is some hope of less sectarian polarization. We shall see.

In Afghanistan, attacks on Kabul police stations kill two police, injure several civilians. Later report says a total of 5 people killed but does not say how many were civilians. Attack is blamed on the Haqqani network.

UNAMA concludes that air strike in Kunduz on April 2 killed 30 children and injured 56. The government claimed that attack targeted Taliban leadership.

Eight Afghan soldiers killed in attack on a voter registration center in Badghis.

Taliban capture a district in Baghlan and assault another in Faryab.




Thursday, May 3, 2018

Update for Thursday, May 3, 2018

U.S. soldier killed in action is identified as specialst Gabriel D. Conde of the 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, U.S. Army Alaska, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. The Pentagon says he was killed by small arms fire but has not provided additional information about the incident. [I note that this has gotten almost no attention in the United States. I have seen no coverage at all in national media. -- C]

Government says it has thwarted planned attacks on health care facilities in Kabul by militants trained in Pakistan.

Protesters close the Uruzgan-Kandahar highway for 6 days in demonstration against insecurity and extortion by police.

Forty-five schoolgirls poisoned in Takhar. [These attacks against education of girls are common. -- C]

In Iraqlooted antiquities purchased by Hobby Lobby found Steve Green are repatriated. [Green is a self-proclaimed Christian who is known for a lawsuit against the requirement in the ACA that employers offer coverage for contraception.]

UN says 68 Iraqi civilians died from "terrorism" and armed conflict in April.

IS attack on security forces near Jalawla kills 2, injures 4, with 3 missing.

Muntader al-Zaidi, famous for throwing his shoes at George W. Bush, is running for parliament on a Sadrist ticket.

Eight civilians killed in a drive-by attack in Tarmiyah. The victims were putting up electoral campaign posters.










Monday, April 30, 2018

Update for Monday, April 30, 2018

Double suicide bombing in Kabul kills 26 people, including 9 journalists. The IS affiliate in Afghanistan claimed responsibility. Following the first explosion near the U.S. embassy and the National Directorate of Security, a second bomber infiltrated a group of journalists covering the event, presenting a press pass.

More violence around the country including an explosion in Kandahar that kills 11 civilians and injures 8 Romanian NATO troops and numerous other people.

BBC journalist Ahamad Shah is assassinated in Khost.

In Iraq, the United States closes the Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command as the major military campaign against IS is essentially concluded. However, the U.S. will continue to have forces in Iraq under the Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve.

A Shiite militia leader is assassinated in Baghdad. He was a candidate for parliament. One account claims that the murder resulted from a tribal dispute.

Iraq sentences 29 women from Russia, Azerbaijan and Tajikistan to life in prison for joining IS. The women for the most part claim that they were simply following their husbands and were misled about the actual reason for moving.


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.