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, December 12, 2017

Update for Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Under auspices of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Iraqi leaders participate in a two day conference to prepare for national reconciliation.

However, they have a long way to go. A mortar attack in Tuz Khurmato from Kurdish controlled hills kills two people and injures 20. Shiite militias plan to attack Kurdish forces in the region. (These appear to be splinter groups, not affiliated with the major Kurdish parties.) Meanwhile, Kurds accuse the militias of indiscriminate shelling of Kurdish villages.

While Muqtada al-Sadr has called for his own militia to disarm, other Shiite militias are not.

Turkish, Iraqi and U.S. military leaders will meet to discuss security issues.

A question is what exactly U.S. forces are still doing in Iraq now that IS has been defeated. The administration omitted the number of troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria from its semi-annual report to congress. So U.S. taxpayers don't even get to know how many are there, let alone why.

Funeral for army corporal Todd McGurn who died in Iraq on November 25. The incident has not been publicly explained.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Update for Wednesday, November 29, 2017

New U.S. strategy in Iraq will have 1,000 U.S. troops conducting combat operations against Taliban and IS. This has happened with essentially no public discussion in the U.S. and no debate in congress.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will go to Europe to try to convince NATO allies to put more troops into Afghanistan but will face resistance:

“The allies can do more,” said Shashank Joshi, a security analyst at the Royal United Services Institute in London. “The issue is they don’t want to do more. They have a much more cynical, pessimistic view of the country. For all those reasons, I don’t think you will see European allies pile in with the expectation that a final push is going to turn things around.”
British PM May visits forces in Iraq, and discusses security cooperation with PM Abadi.

U.S. forces deploy to a base in Kirkuk but they are not expected to intervene in ongoing ethnic conflicts in the area. The reason for the move is unclear.

Shiite militias are said to continue to attack Kurdish civilians in Tuz Khurmatu.

U.S.-led coalition (probably meaning the U.S.) attacks targets in Anbar, claims to have killed "a number" of militants and destroyed a weapons cache.

DynCorp workers plead guilty to engaging in a corrupt scheme with an Iraqi general. So what else is new?

Pentagon report puts the number of U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria higher than previously stated. There are nearly 9,000 in Iraq and 1,720 in Syria, according to the report. "Pentagon spokesman Rob Manning said on Monday that security concerns and political sensitivities prohibited full disclosure for the time being, but he pledged to be "as transparent as" possible." Again, this is happening with no public discussion in the U.S. and no debate in congress. Note that the source is the BBC -- I have not seen this reported by major U.S. media.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Update for Tuesday, November 21, 2017

U.S. State Department officials formally accuse Secretary of State Tillerson of violating U.S. law by excluding Iraq and Afghanistan (along with Myanmar) from a list of countries that conscript child soldiers. According to Reuters:

Keeping the countries off the annual list makes it easier to provide them with U.S. military assistance. Iraq and Afghanistan are close allies in the fight against Islamist militants, while Myanmar is an emerging ally to offset China’s influence in Southeast Asia.

Documents reviewed by Reuters also show Tillerson’s decision was at odds with a unanimous recommendation by the heads of the State Department’s regional bureaus overseeing embassies in the Middle East and Asia, the U.S. envoy on Afghanistan and Pakistan, the department’s human rights office and its own in-house lawyers.
U.S. more than triples the rate of bombing in Afghanistan, with  653 munitions delivered by airstrikes in October 2017 compared to 203 in October 2016. Of course strikes against IS in Iraq and Syria are down as that group is largely defeated.

Suicide bombing at a food market in Tuz Khurmatu kills 21 and injures 60. The town was recently recaptured from IS, which is being blamed for this attack. It is ethnically mixed, and was in dispute between the Baghdad government and Kurdistan. (The BBC report is not quite accurate in stating that Iraqi forces "retook" it from peshmerga. In fact as Amnesty International reports, "Tuz Khurmatu was under the joint control of the Kurdistan Regional Government forces, the Population Mobilization Units (PMU) and local police, until Iraqi government forces supported by factions of the PMU took control of the city on 16 October." When government forces took the city, Kurdish neighborhoods were looted and burned.  -- C)

Iranian president and military leadership say IS has been defeated.

Friend of the blog Chet draws our attention to the U.S. military buildup in Somalia where U.S. forces have more than doubled to over 500. Note that all of this military activity (remember Niger?) is taking place with no public debate, or even awareness.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Update for Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Kurdistan movement for independence appears to be over, at least for now, as the Kurdistan Regional Government issues a statement affirming the unity of Iraq.

An earthquake centered near Halabja causes severe damage and hundreds of deaths in Iranian Kurdish region. The damage is relatively little in Iraqi Kurdistan, due to higher quality construction, but not insignificant. There are 10 known dead in Iraq and fears for the integrity of a dam on the Diyala river, as well as damaged and destroyed buildings. The death toll in Iran is, as usual, largely attributable to unreinforced masonry construction. (Halabja was the site of the notorious chemical attack by the Saddam Hussein regime in 1988.)

Jan Egeland of the Norwegian refugee council warns that new humanitarian challenges loom in Iraq following the defeat of IS. Three million people remain displaced and the cleavages in Iraqi society are creating new refugees and the prospect of new conflicts. Meanwhile international attention may be fading in the face of enormous rebuilding needs.

Two bombings in Baghdad kill 9 people. These occurrences remain common, and are now so routine as to receive little attention.

A law proposed in parliament would allow girls as young as nine to be married. It is based on a school of Shia jurisprudence and would apply only to Shiite citizens. While the law is unlikely to pass, this is an indication that the secular nature of the Iraq regime is under challenge.

Iraqi forces continue to take remaining IS territory near the Syrian border, apparently with little resistance.

Analysis by John Jenkins finds that the failure of the Kurdish bid for independence has enhanced Iranian influence in the region.

And indeed, Iran will already receive oil from the Kirkuk fields

Monday, November 6, 2017

Update for Monday, November 6, 2017

U.S. soldier killed in a combat operation in Logar province, Afghanistan on Saturday is identified as 33-year-old Sgt. 1st Class Stephen B. Cribben. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group in Fort Carson, Colorado. The circumstances of the death have not been further described publicly.

Reports of civilian casualties in a NATO operation in Kunduz. There are conflicting reports on the number of casualties.

A district official in Faryab is assasinated.

The acting governor of Jawzan says IS is making gains in the province after defeating a rival Taliban faction. (IS in Afghanistan is really a branding of a breakaway faction of the Taliban. That they have any operational link with the group in Syria and Iraq is doubtful, particularly now that IS in that region has been reduced to a remnant.)

And indeed, the eradication of IS territorial control in Iraq continues with the rapid recapture of Quaim. IS still holds the town of Rawa and some remote desert outposts.

There are reports that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was in Rawa and has now fled to Syria, purportedly in a yellow taxi. (I'm not sure how anybody would know this. -- C)

Kurdistan PM Nechirvan Barzani offers a deal to hand over border controls and oil revenues to Baghdad in exchange for 17% of  the federal budget.

However, there are reports that the federal government is taking a harsher attitude, and may want to reduce or eliminate the prerogatives of the KRG.

Suicide bombers attack a Shiite mosque in Kirkuk, killing at least five.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Update for Monday, October 30, 2017

Editor's note: I have very consciously limited our scope to Iraq and Afghanistan, simply because I felt I needed to keep focus and conserve my resources. However, it has seemed arbitrary to exclude Syria, where U.S. troops are deployed and the same forces that contend in Iraq are also central to the conflict. Now friend of the site Chet urges us to pay more attention to the little-discussed deployment of U.S. troops to other conflict zones, notably Africa. The recent deaths of 4 soldiers in Niger marked the first many Americans even knew of the deployment there -- including members of congress. Now we learn of an Army Green Beret who was found murdered in Mali "on a secret assignment," with suspicion falling on Navy SEALS. If we still want to claim that we live in a democracy, we need a public explanation of why these troops are in these places, and what they are doing there. And we need congress to take responsibility for decisions about war and peace, which the constitution gives them the sole power to do. Somehow we have forgotten that.

In the wake of the failed independence bid, KRG president Barzani resigns. Protesters stormed the parliament building during the closed door meeting in which he made the announcement. Later, in a public statement, he vowed to continue the fight for independence and defended the independence referendum. He accused the United States of betrayal.

The U.S. commends his decision to resign and also parliament's move to devolve presidential powers to other institutions. [I'm not entirely sure what the latter means but it may be an attempt to ameliorate the partition of Kurdish government between the KDP and the PUK. We'll see. -- C]

Offices of the PUK and Goran party are looted and burned in Dohuk. [Goran is a "third way" party that has worked to end tribalist politics. -- C]

Barah Saleh indeed hopes that we will see the end of tribalism in Kurdish politics, but fears Baghdad will not play a sufficiently constructive role.

In light of these developments, Iran will re-open borders with Kurdistan.

Negotiations for new federal arrangements between Baghad and Erbil are ongoing, currently between military representatives who are discussing territorial issues. Border control and aviation [and oil?] will be discussed  by the ministries of interior and finance.

Soldier killed in the helicopter crash in Logar, Afghanistan Oct. 27 is identified as Chief Warrant Officer Jacob M. Sims of Juneau, Alaska. He was assigned to 4th Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Update for Sunday, October 29, 2017

A U.S. military service member is killed, 6 injured in a helicopter crash in Logar. NATO command says enemy action was not involve. Local sources say the helicopter hit a tree.

Thirteen Afghan police are killed in attacks on checkpoints in Kunduz.

Nine police and 12 Taliban killed in fighting in Ghazni.

Deputy governor of Kunar province, Mohammad Nabi, in Pakistan for medical treatment, is allegedly abducted. He is reportedly an activist in Hezb-e-Islami, presumably the Khalis faction since the organization founded by Gulbuddin Hekmyatar is considered a terrorist organization, whereas the non-violent faction is a registered political party in Afghanistan.

Fighting in Zabul kills 6 police and 8 militants.

Taliban said to burn hundreds of houses in villages in Sar-e-Pul. The motive is not explained but presumably the locals have opposed them.

U.S. state department officials say Taliban still have safe haven in Pakistan.