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, March 19, 2018

Update for Monday, March 19, 2018

Today is the 15th anniversary of the start of the illegal war of aggression against Iraq. Meteor Blades at Daily Kos offers an observance.

Incredibly, 43% of Americans polled think the invasion was justified.

Medea Benjamin and Nicholas Davies review death toll for Truthout.

Turkish troops enter Kurdistan in pursuit of PKK.

Campbell McDiarmid reviews the state of Iraq today. Excerpt:

With dead relatives, lost opportunities and a feeling of insecurity, many Iraqis remain less interested in elections and democracy than taking care of their loved ones. "I don't want to be wealthy; I want to have a decent life, I want to be safe, I want my family to be safe," said Zaki, who spent two years in American-run prisons on spurious accusations of supporting the rebellion. The ongoing violence even makes many Iraqis nostalgic for the relative stability under the former strongman.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Update for Sunday, March 18, 2018

Pentagon identifies the 7 airmen who died in a helicopter crash on Thursday near Al Qa'im in western Iraq. The crash is not believed to be the result of hostile action. (Some witness reports say the helicopter struck power lines.)

Iraqi Parliament speaker Salim al-Jabouri says the Baghdad government supports Turkey's military action against the PKK.

However, KDP head Arafat Karam says that the Kurdish Regional Government would have to approve any such action on its territory, and has not yet done so. (Note, however, that the KRG has repudiated the PKK and has not protested Turkish air strikes against it on its territory in the past.)

A Kurdish MP opposes any Turkish military operations in Iraq  and denounces Turkish president Erdogan.

Ethnic divisions in Tuz Khurmatu are a microcosm of the problems facing Iraq. Excerpt:

In years past, walls went up to protect against car bombs. Then Shiite Turkmens erected walls to guard against Islamic State after its resurgence in 2014. Now even after the jihadis have been driven out of the city, the walls still stand, and Tuz Khurmatu remains a flash point with an unstable melange of sects and ethnicities. Once united to fight Islamic State, Kurds, Turkmens and Arabs resumed viewing each other with hostility and suspicion.
"Without a doubt, Tuz Khurmatu is a case study for Iraq 2.0. It's the most violent, most divided place in the country. You have so many layers of conflict," said Michael Knights, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Residents of eastern Baghdad protest deteriorating government services.

A member of Parliament says the country no longer needs a U.S. military presence and accuses the U.S. of "plotting" to expand its military bases.

IS booby traps continue to kill and injure civilians in Fallujah.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Update for Wednesday, March 14, 1018

U.S. forces undertake major initiative to secure Kabul. Taliban have established a substantial presence in the city and recently carried out several high-profile attacks.

“Kabul is our main effort. To harden Kabul, to protect the people of Kabul and the international community that are here,” U.S. General John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, told a group of reporters on Wednesday.
The remarks underscored the high degree of concern about the Taliban’s intent to stage high-profile attacks in Kabul, which are aimed at undermining the Afghan government and international resolve after 16 years of war.
They are also a reminder that while U.S. and Afghan officials speak with growing confidence about the prospects of peace talks with elements of the Taliban, the military is also making long-term preparations for an extended conflict, including in the capital.
Afghanistan experiences a massive tide of internally displaced people. "With more than 1.5 million Afghans – roughly 4 percent of the population – displaced after four decades of conflict, and 448,000 added in 2017 alone, relief agencies are scrambling to provide help as the dominant narrative of Afghan social and political progress, pushed for years by US and Western governments, fades into memory."

Thousands of civilians flee districts in Jowzjan province where IS is making gains.

Afghanistan deploys more troops to Farah province amid increased insurgent attacks. A major pipeline project is planned for the area. Most recently, attack on a checkpoint kills 10 members of security forces.

Suicide attack in Helmand kills 2 police.

Another bombing in Helman kills 6 border guards.

Heavy shelling in Kunar from locations in Pakistan.

In IraqBaghdad has allowed Kurdistans airports to reopen to international flights.

But U.S. forces aren't going anywhere. U.S. upgrades base in Quyyara. "Security sources in Baghdad disclosed that the US is expanding its military build-up in al-Qayyara, South of Mosul, to build its largest ever base in Iraq on the eve of parliamentary elections in the country despite the strong opposition expressed by the public, senior politicians and armed popular groups."

Matthew Sheffield discusses the U.S. administrations military posture.

Now that he’s had a full year of the presidency under his belt, Trump appears to have moved even further away from a restrained foreign policy and into the “conflict of civilizations” perspective that views America as waging a global war with Islam. That view was once relegated to the fringes of Republican foreign policy, too extreme even for the Paul Wolfowitz types who called the shots in the second Bush presidency. Trump's nomination of Pompeo, a man noted for his hostile attitude to Muslims, to lead U.S. foreign policy makes this point blatantly obvious.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Update for Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Afghan president Ghani proposes peace talks with Taliban, including a rapprochement with Pakistan. The detailed offer includes allowing the Taliban to open an office in Kabul, and removing sanctions against their top leaders. The document also insists on protection for women's rights. However, the Taliban are demanding direct talks with the United States as a condition for further negotiation.

U.S. State Department spokesperson says there is no military solution to the Afghan conflict. The U.S. appears to be essentially aligned with Ghani's initiative.

The Afghan government has called for closure of the Taliban office in Qatar, which was supposed to be the basis for an earlier peace initiative but which has been ineffectual. In response, a Taliban spokesperson called for withdrawal of U.S. forces as a precondition for talks. 

In the meantime, however, the war continues, with 5 or 6 police killed (reports conflict) and at least 30 people kidnapped in two incidents on the Kandahar-Uruzgan highway.

Paul Rogers of the Oxford Research Group discusses the situation in Iraq  15 years after the U.S. invasion. Excerpt:

This very broad remit [of the Authorization to Use Military Force of September, 2001] has enabled the US military, often in collaboration with countries such as Britain, Australia and others, to engage in operations in many different countries in what is now the seventeenth year of war. At its root is a cultural norm which prioritises the use of military force at the expense of other approaches and, in particular, pays relatively little attention to the underlying factors which enable movements such as al-Qaida, IS and others to maintain support even when facing overwhelming military odds.
That still leaves the issue of whether Trump is right about the latest perception of success and the consequent need to re-orientate the US military posture in the direction of China or Russia. Here, though, the ORG report and more recent work within the organisation suggest that this is as mistaken as Bush’s “mission accomplished” declaration. Raqqa may have fallen and IS dispersed but a more pertinent indication would be the ambushing and killing of four US Special Forces soldiers in Niger on 2 October last year.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Update for Thursday, February 22, 2018

Pentagon and State Department claim that president has the legal authority to keep U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria forever, in letters to Democratic Senator Tim Kaine. Kaine "sharply criticized the administration’s reasoning and said in a statement that Trump risks “acting like a king by unilaterally starting a war.” The administration bases its reasoning on the Authorization to Use Military Force of 2002, which referred to al Qaeda and which the Bush administration used to justify the invasion of Iraq (which had nothing to do with al Qaeda).

“Now the Trump Administration is going even further, claiming that the 2001 AUMF also allows the U.S. military to strike pro-Assad forces in areas devoid of ISIS to protect our Syrian partners who seek Assad’s overthrow,” Kaine said Thursday. “It is clear the Trump Administration is crossing a Constitutional line.”
 By the way, did you hear anything about this in the U.S. corporate media?

The United States-led coalition has said it had killed 841 civilians in its operations against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. That's just what they cop to.

Washington Institute for Near East Policy discusses the problem of Iraq's militias. The government has relied on largely Iranian backed militias in the fight against IS. The peshmerga are answerable to the Kurdish governing parties (though not really to the KRG as a unified entity). [This analysis seems to treat them as essentially similar problems, but clearly they are not. The peshmerga will neither be absorbed into the army of the Baghdad government nor disband; and their existence is not necessarily problematic if Baghdad and Erbil can achieve a reasonably amicable federation. -- C]

Kurdish delegation arrives in U.S. to meet with officials.

First U.S. troops assigned to work with battalion level Afghan forces arrive. They will be closer to the front lines than current advisors.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Update for Thursday, February 15, 2018

Stephanie Savell of a certain Ivy League university discusses America's unknown wars. You should read the whole thing but here are a few bullet points.

  •  In one fashion or another, the U.S. military is now taking some sort of action against terrorism -- a staggering 76 nations, or 40% of the countries on the planet.
  • Last October, when news came out about four Green Berets killed by an Islamic State affiliate in the West African nation of Niger, congressional debates revealed that American lawmakers had little idea where in the world our troops were stationed, what they were doing there, or even the extent of counterterrorism activity among the Pentagon’s various commands.
  • Since 2001, the so-called "war on terror" has cost the U.S. $5.6 trillion.
  • As of 2016, about 14,000 American soldiers and contractors and 380,000 inhabitants of [Afghanistan, Pakistand and Iraq]  had been killed. To these estimates, you have to add the deaths of at least 800,000 more Afghans, Iraqis, and Pakistanis from indirect causes related to the devastation caused by those wars, including malnutrition, disease, and environmental degradation. [NB: Other estimates are higher, she is being conservative.]

We have no public debate about this and little attention in the media.

NATO will create a formal training mission in Iraq to "project stability" in the Middle East. Uhuh.

Kurdish military base in Kirkuk province comes under rocket attack, attackers are unknown as of now.

British army officer dies in an accident at al Asad military base in Iraq.

Donor conference yields $30 billion in pledges for Iraq reconstruction out of more than $80 billion estimated to be needed. U.S. contributes nothing, except for what appears to be a $3 billion line of credit for fossil fuel investment.

We get e-mail:

I was a combat advisor with a SFAT team in northern afghanistan during 2012.  The army has gone through various acronym changes to basically provide the same concept to the afghan forces.  First there was MTT - military training team, then ETT - embedded training team to STT - stability transition team, to SFAT - security force advisor team.  The only thing that changed was the composition of the team and equipment.  

I worked with a COL in the ANSAF, he was in his position for at least 5 years, during which he had almost 12 different advisors.  He used to joke that if they didn't like the advisor, he would just ignore them.  I was lucky and the COL wasn't corrupt.  But corruption was rampant through out the higher officers.  Promotions and assignments are sold, gas is stored offsite and sold on black market.  The LTG that controlled our compound was accused by the CIA of theft and corruption, but we couldn't touch him.  Just a revolving door of us money going through the country into the pockets of a select few.  Nothing will change until we get out.  I just don't understand why the senior policy makers and military staff doesn't come up with a clear exit policy.  I guess as long as we are over there, the senior US military personnel are assured of promotions and advancements.

I was in the northern part of the country, and used to get called by the Corp of Engineers to come sign for a COP that they had completed, but no body was occupying it.  When we started shutting down and reducing forces, the Corp would not stop building useless and un-needed facilities because the money was "already allocated".

Anyway, amazing how everybody ignores the obvious, and we continue to pump $45B a year into the cesspool.
Thanks lieutenant colonel.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Update for Thursday, February 8, 2018

As I feared, we're going to have to start covering Syria. U.S. air strike said to kill 100 Syrian troops after they attack a base of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish militia allied with the U.S. Here is further detail from Reuters. "Some" U.S. troops are embedded with the SDF but none were reported injured.

Seth Frantzman discusses the paradoxes of U.S. alliances in the region.

Erdogan vows to extend the assault on Afrin to Idlib.

Iraqi army and Shiite militias launch a fresh assault on militants in the Tuz Khurmatu region, with U.S. air support. Peshmerga confirm that they coordinated in the effort which indicates that this was legitimately an attack on IS remnants. The militia say they will withdraw from Kurdish villages after the operation.

One reason the Taliban can control territory in rural Afghanistan is because they offer honest justice and services. This article discusses the burden on the citizenry of government corruption in Farah province.

U.S. conducts air strikes in Badhakshan against Taliban targets.