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 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.