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.