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, 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.