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

Friday, June 24, 2016

Update for Friday, June 24, 2016

As Iraqi forces close in on the last remaining pocket of IS resistance in Fallujah, tens of thousands of civilian refugees continue to suffer in the blazing desert heat without adequate food, water, shelter or medical care. The Iraqi government bars them from approaching Baghdad. Most men remain in detention. Excerpt:

“The police told us that if you are from Habbaniyah, from Saqlawiyah or Fallujah they won’t let you cross. They twisted my arm and said: ‘Next time we will do worse’," says an old woman from Fallujah who declined to give her name. Habbaniyah and Saqlawiyah are townships near Fallujah.

A hotbed of Sunni militancy since the US invasion in 2003, Fallujah and its inhabitants are viewed with deep distrust by Iraq’s Shia-dominated government. Those seeking medical treatment in Baghdad are turned back even if they have a referral from a local hospital.

“If it says Saqlawiyah in your ID they won’t let you cross the bridge. All I want is to cross so I can take him to the hospital," says Nadia, a desperate young mother with a sick six-month-old son.
Iraq veteran and now U.S. congressman Seth Moulton says the U.S. is not doing enough to bring about political reconciliation in Iraq, without which there can be no military solution.

And sure enough, the U.S. may be sending in more troops.

UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq says assault on Mosul could displace an additional 2.3 million people.

Denise Natali discusses the profound obstacles to partitioning Iraq. (I agree that it would be a very hard road to stability and prosperity, especially for a Sunni Arab state, but it's going to happen one way or another. -- C)

Iraqi forces continue to advance toward Tikrit, and also toward Mosul, according to Salahuddin Operations Command.

The so-called "Vicar of Baghdad," actually a British clergyman, has been suspended by a charity he runs after accusations that he paid to ransom Yazidi sex slaves. Under British law, ransoming terrorist hostages is illegal.

Update regarding Afghanistan: Without providing any specifics,  U.S. officials tell the AP that U.S. air strikes against the Taliban have resumed under the new presidential authorization. You may recall that when Operation Enduring Freedom ended in 2014, the U.S. policy was changed to permit direct engagement only with al Qaeda and later IS, not the Taliban.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Update for Wednesday, June 22, 2016

As of Tuesday, the U.S. military was saying that the Iraqi government was exaggerating the success so far in Fallujah and that 2/3 of the city remained contested . Nevertheless, Iraqi commanders continue to claim that they are in a mopping up stage.

Regardless of the stage of battle in Fallujah, the humanitarian disaster continues unabated as refugees lack any shelter whatsoever and face critical shortages of food and water.

U.S. military leaders are not asking president Obama to send humanitarian aid, rather they are preparing to ask for more U.S. troops to be sent to Iraq.

Turkey continues its air campaign against the PKK. (I don't routinely link to these stories, this is pretty much a daily occurrence, but we get no information on the effectiveness of these strikes. The Kurdish Regional Government does not object, as far as I can tell.)

As you probably know, the pentagon normally does not publicly announce non-fatal combat injuries. They are now being explicit about this. U.S. forces are being injured in Iraq and Syria, but it's a secret. Unless they die.

[I may have an update later today including Afghanistan news.-- C]

Monday, June 20, 2016

Update for Monday, June 20, 2016

In Kabul, a suicide bomber targets a bus carrying Nepalese security guards to their work at the Canadian embassy, killing 14. There are conflicting claims of responsibility from the Taliban and IS.

Ten civilians are killed and 40 injured in a bombing in Badakhshan. The Taliban deny involvement; there is as yet no claim of responsibility.

Talks between Afghanistan and Pakistan on border issues continue after last week's deadly skirmish.

Nine militants are said to have been killed in gun battles in Kunduz. There is no mention of government casualties. (Often they occur but are not reported, as can be deduced from weekly casualty totals.)

Air strike said to kill 11 IS affiliates in Nangarhar. The report does not state whether the operation was carried out by U.S. or Afghan forces.

A reporter for Xinhua covers opium farming in Kandahar. He says farmers dislike being involved, but the financial benefits are irresistible.

In Iraq, there are reports that more than 350 Yezidi women were rescused in Fallujah. However, a Yezidi official denies this, calling the claims by Shiite militias unreliable.

The Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat describes the condition of 50,000 refugees from the Mosul region as "captivity" as they languish in a refugee camp in Syria near the border of Kurdistan, Turkey and Syria. Although the headline says they are "suspected of working with ISIS," in fact the problem seems to be that there is no safe place for them to go since Turkey and Kurdistan will not accept them. [The story of al-Hawl refugee camp is important and little-known. It was established by the UNHCR during the 1991 Gulf War to house Iraqi refugees. Since then it has accepted Palestinians who were ejected from Iraq during the 2003 U.S. invasion. That it now houses refugees from the Mosul are is confirmed by AFP. I will try to find out more. The area was briefly held by Islamic state but has been recaptured by Kurdish fighters.]

CNN's Ben Wedeman reports on the refugee crisis in all of Iraq, where there are nearly 5 million internally displaced persons.  He reports specifically on the miserable conditions in a camp housing refugees from Fallujah.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Update for Sunday, June 19, 2016

Refugee camps are overwhelmed as civilians continue to flee Fallujah. The UN says that 82,000 people have fled, with perhaps 25,000 more on the way, but there is no shelter for them. One camp with 1,800 people has a single latrine. Because the Shiite government does not trust Sunni Arabs from Anbar, they are not allowed to go to Baghdad. While the government has taken over screening of military age men and many have been processed and released, many others remain missing.

Fighting in Fallujah continues but it seems to be characterizable as a mop-up operation. Government forces were cautious in approaching the hospital but when they stormed it, they found no patients inside. Shiite militias have remained outside of the city. Baghdad Operations Command expects the fighting to be over in a "few days."

However, it's still war. A senior Iraqi officer was killed by indirect fire near the city.

In case it gives you a thrill, you can watch video of Harrier jets taking off from the amphibious assault ship U.S.S. boxer in the Mediterranean to strike IS targets. The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit is in the Mediterranean along with the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman, as the U.S. assaults IS from both the  Mediterranean and the Gulf.

With the apparent success of the Fallujah operation, Iraqi and Kurdish forces are beginning the long-anticipated move toward Mosul. The first target, as we noted earlier, is Qayyarah and its airfield, across the Tigris from Kurdish-held territory.

Indian foreign policy specialist Brahma Chellaney argues that the U.S. policy of trying to ally with Pakistan is feckless. Since invading Afghanistan, the U.S. has given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid and provided sophisticated, powerful weapons in hopes that Pakistan would pressure the Taliban into a peace agreement. Instead, Pakistan has continued to harbor the Afghan Taliban leadership, not to mention Osama bin Laden. Says Chellaney:

The reality is that the medieval Taliban will neither be defeated nor seek peace until their Pakistani sanctuaries are eliminated. No counterterrorism campaign has ever succeeded in a country when the militants have found refuge in another. While Obama recognizes the imperative of eliminating terrorist sanctuaries, he has failed to do what is needed. . . .

A better approach would be to link aid disbursement to concrete Pakistani action against militants, while officially classifying ISI as a terrorist entity. Such a move would send a strong signal to Pakistan’s military – which views the Taliban and other militant groups as useful proxies and force multipliers vis-à-vis Afghanistan and India – that it can no longer hunt with the hounds and run with the foxes.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Update for Friday, June 17, 2016

The battle for Fallujah is certainly not over, but government forces have seized the city hall and IS forces have fled from some areas freeing civilians to leave. However, refugee camps cannot cope with the influx.

A 69-year-old Fallujah resident, who escaped al-Joulan quarter said they noticed militants evacuating early in the morning, taking vehicles loaded with food and fuel. “The news started spreading quickly and we prepared to leave from as early as 5am,” he added. “The Iraqi army was some 3 kilometres away from my home. We were thousands leaving the city…when we reached the armed forces we were given food and water but the army trucks transporting families to the camps were full.”

Marc Lynch at the Carnegie Endowment discusses the sectarian nature of the conflict in Iraq.

A narrative of Sunni victimization at the hands of Shias and Iran has dominated much of the Arab media and social media. Al-Jazeera has taken the lead in crafting this highly sectarian narrative about the Fallujah operation as an Iranian and Shia-militia campaign to exterminate Sunnis. Kasim has inflamed his significant public with a barrage of these incendiary Twitter polls. Those polls, for all their lack of scientific validity, tell a frightening story: 72 percent of respondents said they supported the Islamic State over the Shia militias in the battle of Fallujah; 84 percent said that the Iranian occupation posed a greater threat than the Islamic State; and 86 percent said the goal of the Fallujah campaign was to consolidate Iranian occupation of Iraq rather than to fight terrorism.
The UN is concerned about a resurgence of polio among the Fallujah population, which has had no vaccination program since the IS takeover in 2014. Approximately 40,000 people have already fled Fallujah and there are believed to be about the same number left. At this point, there appear to be no resources to meet their needs.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Update for Thursday, June 16, 2016

UN commision of inquiry says that IS is continuing its genocide of the Yazidis. This is not exactly news but the report is more conclusive than previous UN statements. AFP writes:

Based partly on interviews with survivors, the report found that IS “sought to erase the Yazidis through killings, sexual slavery, enslavement, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment.” The group was holding Yazidis in conditions “that bring about a slow death,” and was transferring Yazidi children from their families to live with IS fighters, “cutting them off from beliefs and practices of their own religious community,” the report said.

Al Jazeera reports that civilian men fleeing Fallujah say they have been tortured by Shiite militias.

Norwegian Refugee Council says it is running out of supplies at camps for people displaced from Fallujah and warns of catastrophe both in Fallujah and in the camps.

"Make no mistake: There is absolutely nothing safe for civilians fleeing Fallujah. No safe exits, no safe passage, no safe haven without risking their lives," [NRC's Jan] Egeland said. "They risk being shot at, killed by explosive devices on the roads, or drowning while crossing the river.". . .
"Those who flee IS-controlled areas and manage to make it to safety will soon find out there is very little we can offer them: we are running out of food, drinking water and medical services," the NRC said.

Masrour Barzani, son of the Kurdistan president and himself a high-ranking official, says that Iraq should devolve into 3 states. He calls for some unspecified form of federation but three co-equal capitals. [Among the difficulties with this proposal would be the viability of the Sunni Arab state, which would be an impoverished landlocked state with no petroleum. Also, the population of Baghdad is mixed.]

In Afghanistan, there appears to be a cease fire that is holding so far in the border skirmish with Pakistan, although the proximal cause of the dispute, the location of a border fence being erected by Pakistan, has not been resolved. Note that Afghanistan does not officially accept the Durand line, the border drawn by a British official in 1893, when Britain controlled Afghanistan.

The widely accepted practice of men having sex with boys in Afghanistan is exploited by the Taliban to infiltrate police facilities and kill hundreds of police.

"The Taliban are sending boys -- beautiful boys, handsome boys -- to penetrate checkpoints and kill, drug and poison policemen," said Ghulam Sakhi Rogh Lewanai, who was Uruzgan's police chief until he was removed in a security reshuffle in April amid worsening violence, AFP says. "They have figured out the biggest weakness of police forces -- bacha bazi [pedophelia]," he told AFP.

Militants assassinate a district governor in Bamyan.

Head of a district development council is assassinated in Logar.

For some reason, the U.S. is considering cancelling planned troop withdrawals  and keeping troops in Afghanistan at the current level of 9,800 through 2017.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Update for Tuesday, June 14, 2016

For the first time since October, 2014, a U.S. Army Apache helicopter has engaged in direct combat in Iraq. The attack destroyed a car or truck bomb near the town of Qayyarah, south of Mosul. The U.S. has been pressing Iraq to accept involvement of Apaches in combat and the Iraqi government has finally consented.

The Iraqi army, after an embarrassingly stalled offensive, has recaptured the village of Nasr, also south of Mosul.

Doctors without Borders says that the thousands of civilians fleeing Fallujah lack adquate shelter and clean water.

Hundreds of men are missing from among the refugees, whose families fear for their fate at the hands of Shiite militias. Some, however, may be in detention while being screened by government forces, and will eventually be released. The government says 6,000 men have been detained of whom 1,000 have already been released and that most of the rest will be soon. (We shall see.)

Officials claim continuing advances in the Fallujah area,

In Afghanistan, a border skirmish between Afghan and Pakistani forces is in its third day. It seems quite odd that the governments are unable to put a stop to this.  One Afghan soldier has died in the fighting.

Nine Afghan soldiers are killed and 5 injured in an attack on their post in Nimroz. Some wounded are in critical condition. There are said to have also been an unknown number of Taliban casualties.