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

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Update for Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Afghan Taliban shura elects a successor to Mullah Mansour. Haibatullah Akhundzada is a long-time leader who headed the sharia justice system when the Taliban ruled in Afghanistan. Sirajuddin Haqqani and Mullah Omar's son Mohammed Yaqoob were designated as deputies. This move appears to be aimed at achieving stability and unity in the movement.

Akhundzada is an extremist religious leader whose views are seen as hawkish and the appointment does not seem likely to lead to a renewed peace process.

Indeed, the Taliban issue a recording of him vowing not to engage in peace talks.

Update: Jibran Ahmad for Reuters has some inside baseball on the Taliban leadership election.

And the fighting continues as the MoD announces 8 Afghan soldiers have died in battle in the past 24 hours, without specifying the circumstances. Although they do not consistently report on casualties, there are estimates that combat deaths average 4 per day.

Suicide bomber targeting court employees in Kabul kills 10.

In Iraq, IS is preventing civilians from fleeing Fallujah as Iraqi government and allied forces make slow advances on the city. While civilians attempting to escape have reason to fear being killed by IS forces, they also fear the Shiite militias participating in the assault. Civilians are reportedly being killed by indiscriminate shelling by the militias.

Kurdistan president Barzani says a referendum on independence will be held before the end of this year.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Update for Monday, May 23, 2016

The assault on Fallujah begins with Iraqi forces advancing through rural territory toward the city. The operation commander, Lt Gen Abdul Wahab Al Saadi, declines to predict how long the operation will take given the usual problems of booby traps and large civilian presence. Although civilians have fled toward the relatively safer north side of the city, they are unable to leave.

U.S. forces are not expected to enter Fallujah, but the U.S. has conducted air strikes in support of the offensive, and may provide air support from Apache helicopter if asked, and U.S. artillery can reach Fallujah from Taqaddum air base. Lest we forget, 100 U.S. troops died in Fallujah in 2014.

Turning to Afghanistan, president Obama says the death of Mullah Mansour is confirmed .

Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif says the assassination was a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty, and that Pakistan has protested. The Pakistani's also claim that the person purported to be Mansour carried a valid Pakistani ID under a different name, and had recently entered the country from Iran. The driver worked for a commercial service which he had hired. [That turned out to be a really bad assignment. -- C]

The Taliban leadership meets in Pakistan to consider a successor. A likely possibility is Sirajuddin Haqqani, whose election would put an end for now to prospects for peace talks. The U.S. has placed a $5 million bounty on his head and would presumably kill him also if it gets the chance. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Update for Sunday, May 22, 2016

U.S. and Afghan governments say a U.S. drone strike in Ahmad Wal, Balochistan, Pakistan, kills Mullah Akhtar Mansour, who had consolidated power as leader of the Afghan Taliban following the death of founding leader Mullah Omar. Mansour's driver was also killed. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says that Mansour was an obstacle to peace, although it is clear that peace talks cannot proceed in the near future as the Taliban will be engaged in a succession struggle. The decision to assassinate a specific individual in Pakistani territory was reportedly authorized by president Obama.

Pakistani reaction so far is muted, with a demand for "clarification."

Pakistan's relationship with Mansour had deteriorated  and it is possible that the Pakistanis agreed to the action (although they certainly will not say so publicly).

A report from the area says that a destroyed car and 2 charred bodies were found, but identifies the bodies as people other than Mansour and his driver.

One civilian is killed and 7 injured in a rocket attack in Herat.

NATO airstrikes in Kunduz said to kill 13 militants.

A tribal elder is shot dead in Kunduz  by persons unknown.

The Iraqi army advises civilians to leave Fallujah as an offensive against the city is imminent. However, although the army has promised to create safe corridors, at present civilians are not permitted to leave by IS and are suffering from severe shortages of necessities.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Update for Friday, May 20, 2016

Thousands of Sadrist protesters storm the Green Zone, briefly occupying the parliament and entering the Prime Minister's office before they are driven off by security forces using live ammunition. Dozens are reported wounding and there are also reports of an unspecified number of fatalities.

Even as the Iraqi state is in turmoil, slow military gains against IS continue, with the capture of the town of Rutba, opening the road from Amman to Baghdad.

Meanwhile, the grinding violence continues in Afghanistan, as a UN security guard is killed and another UN staffer injured in a shooting in Kabul.

Roadside bomb kills 11 civilians in Baghlan.

Government claims offensive in Helmand kills 13 militants, does not mention any government casualties. Also reports air strikes in Ghazni killing 29, and the deaths of an ANA general and a district police chief in Kandahar and Ghor, respectively.

NATO votes to continue the mission in Afghanistan past 2016. U.S. will maintain troop level of 9,800 this year.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Update for Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Matthieu Aikins, in the NYT, reports evidence that Afghan troops manipulated U.S. forces into the attack on the Kunduz hospital. This speculation has long hung over the incident, and is reinforced by the insistence of Afghan military spokespeople in the ensuing weeks that the attack was justified. Obviously the U.S. doesn't want to admit this publicly because it does cast the alliance in a bad light.

IS bombing campaign in Shiite areas of Baghdad continues, with another 70 or so dead. (Reported casualty totals, as always, vary somewhat among sources.)

Amnesty International condemns the attacks, which is hardly surprising. However, I note it here because it is true that the IS bombings intentionally target civilians, and have no military purpose other than undermining the Iraqi government.

Antagonism between Sadrists and the Iraqi government nearly resulted in violence last month. The political crisis remains unresolved.

Glenn Greenwald's Intercept is expanding public access to the Snowden files. Much of the newly released material concerns the U.S. occupation of Iraq, as discussed here on Gawker.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Update for Monday, May 16, 2016

Thousands of Hazara demonstrate in Kabul, putting the city in a security lockdown. The proximal cause of the demonstration was the government's decision to re-route a power line, originally proposed to pass through Bamiyan, where most Hazara live. The transmission line would carry power from Turkmenistan to Kabul, but also provide electricity to the territory through which it passes. Only 30% of the Afghan population has access to electricity. However, the demonstration expressed broader frustration with government failure and what the Harzara perceive as discrimination. (They are mostly Shiite and were severely persecuted under Taliban rule.)

The government has delayed the project to consider providing more electricity to Bamiyan.

This demonstration ended largely peacefully. However, in response to recent bomb attacks the capital has become a labyrinth of blast walls.

Four police are killed by a bomb attack in Farah.

Air strike in Baghlan province is said to have killed 13 militants following clashes in the area.

Afghan government is working on a peace deal with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a notorious warlord unaffiliated with the Taliban, whose militia has not been active lately.

In Iraq, as IS continues to slowly lose territory it has been retaliating with a bombing campaign against civilian targets in the Baghdad area. Five attacks on Sunday left more than 100 people dead. While the Iraqi government sees the attacks as a sign of desperation, they have the effect of further undermining the weak government and fostering greater instability.

Kurdish parties are meeting to discuss whether to end their boycott of parliament.

Government forces continue to advance in Anbar, now undertaking to recapture the town of Rutba.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Update for Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Car bomb at an outdoor market in Sadr City kills at least 63 people. (Most reports currently give the toll as 64 but the linked Asharq al-Awsat story is otherwise relatively detailed.) IS takes responsibility. IS also says it was a suicide attack, but Iraqi officials deny that.

Shiite pilgrims are in Karbala to recognize the birthday of Imam Hussein. Presumably security is tight but I can find no mention of it. (This Shiite source says millions of pilgrims are there but I expect that's an exaggeration.)

Italy will send 500 troops to protect the Mosul dam as an Italian contractor works to repair it.

In AfghanistanTaliban overrun two checkpoints near Lashkar Gah and kill 15 police.

Suicide car bombing in Nangarhar kills 10 civilians, injures 23.

President Ghani is off to London to attend an "anti-corruption summit." This after British PM Cameron is overheard telling the Queen that Afghanistan is one of the two most corrupt countries on earth. I don't tend to agree with Mr. Cameron but . . .

I didn't have a chance to note the joint U.S.-Afghan commando raid that freed Ali Haider Gilani, the son of a former Pakistani PM who had been held captive in Afghanistan by al Qaeda. Gilani is now back in Pakistan.