The bottom line is clear: Our vital interests in Afghanistan are limited and military victory is not the key to achieving them. On the contrary, waging a lengthy counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan may well do more to aid Taliban recruiting than to dismantle the group, help spread conflict further into Pakistan, unify radical groups that might otherwise be quarreling amongst themselves, threaten the long-term health of the U.S. economy, and prevent the U.S. government from turning its full attention to other pressing problems. -- Afghanistan Study Group

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Update for Tuesday, May 9, 2017


When you're in a hole . . . U.S. military leaders will ask for an increase in U.S. forces in Afghanistan of 3,000 to 5,000 troops. "The new military strategy would also give the Pentagon, not the White House, the authority to set troop numbers in Afghanistan. It would also give the military more authority to use airstrikes against the Taliban, and lift Obama-era restrictions that limited the mobility of US military advisers on the ground."

Paul Szoldra does not think this is a good idea.

Sending in 3,000 more troops, as the Trump administration is reportedly debating, will do little, especially when the 100,000 boots on the ground during Obama’s “surge” didn’t result in “winning.” . . .
The US military can train a complete civilian off the street and turn them into a highly-capable soldier or Marine over a period of about three months. But we still can’t claim Afghan security forces are a “strong, sustainable force” after training them for 15 years.


Heavy fighting reported near Kunduz city.




Monday, May 8, 2017

Update for Monday, May 8, 2017

A border skirmish between Pakistani and Afghan forces on Friday resulted in the death of 50 Afghan soldiers, according to the Pakistani military. Afghan sources deny that, saying there were only two military and one civilian death. The conflict erupted as Pakistan took a census in villages that are apparently in disputed territory.

The U.S. military says it has confirmed that Abdul Hasib, commander of IS in Afghanistan, was killed in the raid in Nangarhar in which two U.S. soldiers died. Hasib was successor to Hafiz Saeed Khan, who was killed by a U.S. drone strike last year. However, some commentators argue that killing senior leadership of the group has little effect.

A provincial official is assassinated in Kandarhar.

Taliban take control of a district in Kunduz, Afghan forces are counterattacking in an attempt to reclaim the territory.

Warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar comes in from the cold and signs a peace accord with the government. The linked essay speculates that the U.S. viewed him as a potential asset and so refrained from droning him. He also has ties with the Pakistan ISI.

Iraq

It gets little attention, but many U.S. mercenaries are working for the Iraqi government.

Iraq's interior minister was once accused of providing weapons to Shiite militias attacking U.S. troops and involvement with the Iranian al Quds militia. He was imprisoned by the U.S. for nearly two years.

IS attacks a Kurdish base where U.S. advisers are stationed, but the attack is thwarted by peshmerga.

Civilians fleeing Mosul continue to tell horrific tales:

Iraqi officials say they hope to liberate the city completely within three weeks. But civilians fleeing on Friday report that the renewed push has been accompanied by mounting civilian deaths. "My uncle died yesterday," said Mrs Ibrahim. "His house collapsed in a strike." The housewife had fled her own home earlier that day with her husband and their two young children and new-born baby.

Life under Isil had grown increasingly difficult in recent months, she said, but it was only when soldiers approached that they deemed it safe enough to flee. When she gave birth at home two weeks ago, there was no doctor available to assist the delivery or prescribe medicine when her baby became ill. "Look, my baby's face is blue," she said.
The family hoped to receive medical care but no medics were immediately available at the muster point, which was being managed by the Iraqi army. Over 1500 civilians arrived at the site on Friday and there were chaotic scenes as soldiers distributed food from the back of trucks.

As civilians scrambled among rain-soaked cardboard boxes for cans of food and bottles of fruit drink, many reported it was their first food other than bread that they had eaten in weeks.

The slow advance into Mosul continues, with troops hoping to open more escape routes for civilians.

Navy SEAL Kyle Milliken, of Falmouth, Maine, is killed in action in Somalia. (The SEALs are now officially called "special warfare operators.")

Monday, May 1, 2017

Update for Monday, May 1, 2017

U.S. soldier killed by IED near Mosul on Saturday is identified as army 1st Lt. Weston C. Lee, 25, of Bluffton, Georgia. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 325th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He was a recipient of the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.

Iraqi Vice President Osama al-Nujaifi says the humanitarian situation in Mosul is catastrophic. He cites famine among the hundreds of thousands who remain in the city.

The Pentagon says U.S. air strikes have killed at least 352 civilians during Operation Inherent Resolve. Others say the total is much higher, by an order of magnitude.

Here's an analysis of the problem of civilian casualties from an AP reporter.

Iraqi army chief of staff Lieutenant General Othman al-Ghanmi expects the battle for Mosul to be over before the end of May. However, we have heard some overly optimistic projections in the past.




Read more here: http://www.macon.com/news/local/article147764159.html#storylink=cpy

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Update for Thursday, April 27,2017

Two U.S. service members killed, 1 injured in Achin province, Afghanistan. This is the same area where the U.S. has been engaged with IS fighters, where the GBU-34 bomb was dropped earlier this month. Army Staff Sgt. Mark R. De Alencar was killed in action in the same area April 8.

Update:  U.S. troops killed in action are identified as army rangers Sgt. Joshua Rodgers, 22, of Bloomington, Illinois, and Sgt. Cameron Thomas, 23, of Kettering, Ohio — both assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment in Fort Benning, Georgia.  The operation was attempting to capture an IS-K leader. He was not captured but it is unknown whether he was killed.

The UN reports a 54% increase in war-related deaths of Afghan women in  the first quarter of this year compared with last year, and a 17% rise in child deaths. Most resulted from ground fighting. The majority are blamed on the Taliban but there has also been an increase in civilian casualties resulting from aerial operations. Nevertheless, the total number of civilian casualties has declined slightyl due to people fleeing areas of fighting.

Increasing numbers of children are suffering from malnutrition in Kandahar province.

The Afghan government has still not released a definitive casualty total from the April 21 attack  on the army base at Mazar-e-Sharif. Tolo News has reported that a total of 256 soldiers died, and the number may be higher. The defense minister and army chief of staff resigned  on Monday because of the incident. The Ministry of Defense has announced that "at least" 135 were killed but apparently this is not considered a credible total. Members of parliament call for the prosecution of responsible officials.

Authorities have detained 35 soldiers from the base under suspicion that they may have provided inside help to the attackers.





Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Update for Wednesday, April 26, 2017

NYT's Michael Gordon goes to the front lines in Mosul, ducks fire as he gives  close-up view of the fighting.

A commenter asked how to find casualty reports. Go here, it's searchable by name.

Turkish air strikes on PKK positions in Shingal accidentally kill peshmerga, leading to protests by Kurdistan. Turkish air strikes on PKK have previously been confined to the border region, and tolerated by the Kurdish Regional Government, as well as the Baghdad government and U.S. However, the KRG decries the presence of the PKK in the area and calls on them to leave.

Adult men fleeing Mosul are detained and interrogated. Human rights activists say that some accusations are unwarranted.

An oil pipeline is blown up in Kirkuk.

Residents of the refugee camp near Qayyarah continue to suffer from nearby oil fires.










Saturday, April 22, 2017

Update for Saturday, April 22, 2017

Some 24 hours after attack on Afghan National Army’s 209 Shaheen Corps Headquarters in Balkh, the Afghan government has yet to provide information. Reported casualty counts range from 135 to 180 dead, with some saying the number could be higher.

It appears the attack was perpetrated by only about 10 Taliban fighters dressed in Afghan army uniforms, who attacked soldiers who were unarmed during prayer and lunch. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid says four of the attackers were infiltrators who had been army members for some time. This has not been confirmed.

We will provide an update once we know more.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Update for Friday, April 21, 2017


This is a complicated story, an iceberg of which we can only see the tip -- but it's still revealing.

Here's al Jazeera with the bare facts. A Qatari hunting party was abducted by an armed group in southern Iraq in December 2015. They weren't heard from until today when they were released and handed over to the Qatar embassy in Baghdad. Somehow the negotiations for their release involved a Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate formerly named Jabhat al-Nusra, now called Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, and the Iranian-backed militia that had kidnapped them. The deal is part of  a larger deal involving a population exchange in Syria in which Alawite and Sunni communities are being moved from besieged areas.

Tim Arango in the New York Times has additional details, including naming the abductors as Kita’ib Hezbollah, and stating that Qatar paid them millions of dollars in ransom. He describes the population exchange:

The Iraqi Shiite official said the release of the Qatari prisoners was linked to the safe evacuation — and delivery of humanitarian aid — of residents of two Shiite villages in Idlib Province, Fouaa and Kfarya, that have been under government control but besieged by Sunni Islamist rebel groups backed by Turkey and Qatar.

As part of the Syrian deal, which was negotiated separately before the fate of the hostages became entwined with the talks, residents of two predominantly Sunni villages, Madaya and Zabadani, that have been held by rebels but besieged by forces loyal to the Syrian government, including Hezbollah, are to be bused to safety. Many of them, about 2,000 people, have already been evacuated from Madaya.
Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi is not happy about this insult to Iraqi sovereignty. On the other hand, he has no choice but to put up with it because he is dependent on the Shiite militias in the battle with IS. In Syria, this is a step toward what is likely to be the de facto breakup of the country, as the precedent is established that the solution to the conflict is sectarian cleansing.

Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to provide military aid to the peshmerga, and bombing Islamic state positions in Syria and Iraq, with attendant civilian casualties. Danny Sjursen in TomDispatch wargames it for you, assuming that what you want to do is lose. Excerpt:

 As a start, you would drop an enlarged, conventional army into Iraq and/or Syria. This would offer a giant red, white, and blue target for all those angry, young radicalized men just dying (pardon the pun) to extinguish some new “crusader” force.  It would serve as an effective religious-nationalist rallying cry (and target) throughout the region.

Then you would create a news-magnet of a ban (or at least the appearance of one) on immigrants and visitors of every sort from predominantly Muslim countries coming to the United States.  It’s hardly an accident that ISIS has taken to calling the president’s proposed executive order to do just that “the blessed ban” and praising Donald Trump as the “best caller to Islam.”  Such actions only confirm the extremist narrative: that Muslims are unwelcome in and incompatible with the West, that liberal plurality is a neo-imperial scam.

Finally, you would feed the common perception in the region that Washington’s support for Israel and assorted Arab autocrats is unconditional.  To do so, you would go out of your way to hold fawning public meetings with military strongmen like Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and suggest that, when it came to Israel, you were considering changing American policy when it comes to a two-state solution and the illegal Israeli settlements in Palestine.  Such policies would feed another ISIS narrative: U.S. support for illiberal despots and the failure of the Arab Spring is proof that practicing Muslims and peaceful Islamists will never successfully gain power through the democratic process.