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

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Update II for Saturday, October 3, 2015

[I didn't want this information to step on the previous post -- C]

DoD identifies casualties from crash of C130J at Jalalabad Oct. 2.

Killed were: 
Capt. Jonathan J. Golden, 33, of Camarillo, California. 
Capt. Jordan B. Pierson, 28, of Abilene, Texas. 
Staff Sgt. Ryan D. Hammond, 26, of Moundsville, West Virginia. 
Senior Airman Quinn L. Johnson-Harris, 21, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
All four were assigned to the 39th Airlift Squadron, Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. For more information, media may contact the 7th Bomb Wing Public Affairs Office at 325-696-2863.
Also killed were: 
Senior Airman Nathan C. Sartain, 29, of Pensacola, Florida. 
Airman 1st Class Kcey E. Ruiz, 21, of McDonough, Georgia.
Both were assigned to the 66th Security Forces Squadron, Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusetts. For more information, media may contact the 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs Office at 781-225-1686.
The Telegraph's Danielle Moylan has more detail  on MSF's account of the U.S. air attack on their hospital in Kunduz. Some accident:

“This attack is abhorrent and a grave violation of International Humanitarian Law,” said Meinie Nicolai, MSF President. “We demand total transparency from Coalition forces. We cannot accept that this horrific loss of life will simply be dismissed as ‘collateral damage’.”

MSF said that for more than an hour, beginning at 2:08am, their hospital was hit by a series of aerial bombing raids every 15 minutes. The main central hospital building, housing the intensive care unit, emergency rooms, and physiotherapy ward, was repeatedly hit very precisely during each aerial raid.

“The bombs hit and then we heard the plane circle round,” said Heman Nagarathnam, MSF Head of Programmes in northern Afghanistan. “There was a pause, and then more bombs hit. This happened again and again.

“When I made it out from the office, the main hospital building was engulfed in flames. Those people that could had moved quickly to the building’s two bunkers to seek safety. But patients who were unable to escape burned to death as they lay in their beds.”
UN rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein says that an attack on a hospital is a war crime.


Update for Saturday, October 3, 2015

Hoo boy. U.S. airstrikes hit Kunduz hospital operated by Doctors Without Borders, killing 9 Medecins Sans Frontieres (the French name the group uses internationally) staff and injuring at least 37 additional people. (I've linked to the CNN account because, believe it or not, it seems to be among the most comprehensive currently available.) Thirty people are unaccounted for and the casualty toll is expected to rise.

MSF says it warned the U.S. and Afghan military of its precise coordinates, and that the attack continued for 30 minutes after they told military officials they were under attack.

The Telegraph now puts the death toll at 50, and provides  video of the burning wreckage.

A U.S. army spokesman says an air strike "may have caused collateral damage." "The U.S. Embassy in Kabul said in a statement that it "mourns for the individuals and families affected by the tragic incident at the Doctors Without Borders hospital." The statement didn't mention the airstrike."

Meanwhile, Taliban have surrounded 200 Afghan soldiers in Kohistanat, Sar-e-Pul and are at risk of a massacre if they do not receive air support.

[The hospital bombing has overwhelmed other reporting from Afghanistan. I'll provide an update on the situation in Kunduz and elsewhere as soon as I can get more information. -C]

Update as of 12:40 ET: Confirmed death toll in Kunduz hospital bombing now stands at 19, including 12 MSF staff, 4 adult patients, and 3 children.

The U.S. Department of Defense says only that the U.S. "conducted an air strike against individuals threatening the force and that the action may have caused collateral damage to a nearby hospital. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter calls it a "tragic incident."

However, this does not correspond to the description of the attack provided by MSF, which says:

"At 2:10 am (2040 GMT) local time... the MSF trauma centre in Kunduz was hit several times during sustained bombing and was very badly damaged," the organisation, known by its French initials, said.
MSF spokeswoman Kate Stegeman told AFP 16 [now 19] people were killed in the bombardment, among them three children, and 37 were wounded.
The charity said the bombing continued for more than 30 minutes after American and Afghan military officials were first alerted they were being hit.
"All parties to the conflict, including in Kabul and Washington, were clearly informed of the precise location (GPS coordinates) of the MSF facilities," the statement added. 

The Afghan Defense Ministry claims that a "group of terrorists" were firing from the building.

TOLO's report on conditions in Kunduz, while spinning heavy praise for the ANA, makes it clear that the city is far from fully recaptured:

TOLOnews journalist Sharif Amiry – who was the first journalist to make his way into the city of Kunduz – said the security forces were being attacked by the Taliban from civilian homes, where they are hiding. "There is heavy fighting between the security forces and Taliban near civilian homes," reported Sharif, who is embedded with a convoy of security forces clearing the city from insurgents.

"Taliban are hiding in civilian homes but the security forces are trying their best to protect civilians and move the injured people to hospitals." An injured Kunduz resident who was being moved to the hospital called for mercy from the Taliban.  . ."The situation has not normalized and the fighting still continues on the streets," said Sharif.

Sharif also says the university is in control of the Taliban.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Update for Friday, October 2, 2015

U.S Air Force C-130J transport aircraft crashes shortly after takeoff from Jalalabad, killing 6 U.S. military personnel, 5 civilian contractors working for the U.S. military, and 3 Afghan civilians. (Most accounts give the death toll as 11 and omit the Afghan civilians, who may have been on the ground.) Taliban claim to have shot the craft down, the U.S. denies it. It is unusual for C-130s, which are 4 engine prop planes, to crash.

Although government forces have recaptured most of Kunduz, fighting continues in the city. Meanwhile, Taliban take control of Warduj in Badakhsan province nearby. Warduj is on the highway to Tajikistan.

The ICRC says that medical personnel and supplies are urgently needed in Kunduz. Supplies are ready to be flown from Kabul once security at the Kuduz airport improves.

Amnesty International says witnesses have claimed Taliban in Kunduz hunted down specific individuals, committed rapes. Taliban are also accused of looting but police say local people also took advantage of the chaos to loot. The head of Kunduz public health department says 50 civilians are known dead and 372 have been admitted to hospitals, while hundreds of injured are as yet unable to get to hospitals. The city apparently remains without power, water or food.

UPDATE: As of 11:30 ET, DPA is reporting a far more dire state of affairs for the Afghan government in Kunduz and Baghlan province than claimed, and in fact disputes the report that government forces have regained control of most of Kunduz. According to witnesses in the city, while government forces have recaptured government buildings:

"The Taliban still control parts of the city and they are battling Afghan forces to retake control of the ground they have lost," said Sayed Asadullah Sadat, an elected member of the Kunduz provincial council.  . . .

"At least half of the city is controlled by the fighters," a Kunduz resident, who identified himself as Baryalai, said, adding that battles were taking place before their very doors. "We cannot get out for fear of being caught in the crossfire. Our children are starving and families who are able to flee have little to nothing financially to continue their trip," the resident said.

DPA also reports, without further comment, that 100 U.S. and other coalition forces are actively engaged in combat. DPA further reports that 4 of the 6 districts of Kunduz province are under Taliban control, and that the Taliban have also taken an additional district in Baghlan, Tala Wa Barfak, which the security forces abandoned without a fight.

As this is a different picture than we are getting from other sources, I will continue to monitor and update with corroboration or counter-claims as information emerges.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Update for Thursday, October 1, 2015

Although the Afghan government claims to have recaptured Kunduz, and many headlines simply state this as a fact, many sources say this is not true and that fighting continues. Stars and Stripes:

After residents reported some calm moments in the morning, however, they later described a fluid situation with gunbattles continuing as security forces fought to clear the city.
“You can’t say who is winning in these areas; one moment the government advances and then the Taliban,” said Aminullah Aideen, a member of the provincial council.

By Thursday afternoon, residents in the city center said fighting had resumed, with Afghan and Taliban forces play-ing a deadly game of capture the flag in the main square.

“Taliban took over the main square again and the flag that was raised by the army is again changed to” the white Taliban flag, said Mohammad Sakhi, a resident of downtown Kunduz who only hours before had jubilantly described waking up to government troops securing the area.
I will hold off on the Kunduz situation until it becomes more clear. Meanwhile, Taliban overrun Khawja Ghar in Takhar province, which of course security forces deny. These Taliban advances in the north of the country have taken many observers by surprise, who perceived the Taliban's greatest strength as in the south, in the Pakistan border regions.

A sailor supporting the U.S. operation in Afghanistan has died in a non-hostile incident in Bahrain. The incident is being investigated as a suicide.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Update for Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Taliban appear to solidify control of Kunduz as they seize a hilltop fortress on the city's edge, seal roads, and conscript young men. However, government forces repelled an assault on the airport. U.S. troops are said to be in the area, although their role is unclear, and the U.S. has launched at least 3 air strikes.

Al Jazeera reports that the Taliban have captured enough weapons in Kunduz to "fight for months," even as the city is without electricity and food prices have doubled.

IRIN reports that the Doctors Without Borders facility is the only medical clinic operating in the city, and is overwhelmed by a continual influx of casualties. IRIN also reports that government-supported militias have been abusive to the civilian population, and president Ghani is criticized for relying on them instead of building up government forces with clear loyalty to the state.

Time magazine quotes analysts who are pessimistic about the future of the Afghan government, including Anthony Cordesman who says "Afghanistan is now caught up in a much broader series of crises: political, governance, economics, security, and Afghan force development. In each case, the transition since U.S. combat forces left at the end of 2014 is failing."

UPDATE: New York Times reports that reinforcements are unable to reach Kunduz from Kabul or Mazar-i-Sharif because the Taliban hold territory in Baghlan that they would have to pass through.

It was not clear on Wednesday whether the front line in the north was still in Kunduz or was rapidly shifting south into Baghlan. That, at least, was how residents of Baghlan’s provincial capital, Pul-i-Kumri, were feeling.

“It is true, people are evacuating the city today,” Zabihullah Rustami, a former member of the provincial council, said by telephone. He had done so himself, he said, relocating to his rural district to the east. “People who are enemies of the Taliban are leaving,” he said, and the city was rife with “rumors that the Taliban might attack and take over the city.”
Forces in Pul-i-Kumri say the city is in danger, as Taliban forces overrun nearby police positions.

Meanwhile, U.S. forces near Kunduz have come under fire, and are said to have "engaged in combat."

Monday, September 28, 2015

Update for Monday, September 28, 2015

Taliban forces enter Kunduz, seize parts of the city. While the Kunduz police say they will drive the invaders out, the latest report is tht they have hoisted their banner over the city's main square. According to the AP, the Taliban now control half the city, including government buildings.

Suicide car bombing at a cricket match in Paktika kills 9, injures 50. The attack apparently targeted government officials who were watching the game.

Militants claiming association with the Islamic State attack multiple police posts in Nangarhar, temporarily seizing control of two of them, although Afghan forces say they have recaptured them. This is really a breakaway faction of the Taliban, apparently headed by one of Mullah Omar's former associates.  They have clashed with main Taliban forces as well as the government.

The Wolesi Jirga summons key officials to testify on the deteriorating security situation.

UPDATE: It is now reported that Kunduz is in the control of the Taliban. 

"Kunduz city has collapsed into the hands of the Taliban," Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told the Associated Press. Residents are fleeing the city. Doctors Without Borders say they have treated more than 100 injured people, with 36 in critical condition. Afghan security forces are vowing to retake the city. 

France24 quotes a local journalist saying that government forces fled, allowing the Taliban to seize government buildings and free hundreds of prisoners. They have also taken control of the highway routes to town and the road linking Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

Afghan Deputy Chief of Staff Gen. Murad Ali Murad claims the security forces fled in order to avoid civilian casualties. [Why there would be fewer civilian casualties in the promised assault to retake the city he does not explain.]

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Update for Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A NATO soldier from the Republic of Georgia is killed in action while on patrol outside Bagram air base. According to the New York Times, the patrol was undertaken to find the possible source of a rocket attack on the base. Such attacks are common.

The Department of Defense announced the death of a U.S. soldier, also at Bagram, in a non-combat incident. Spc. Kyle E. Gilbert, 24, of Buford, Georgia, died Sept. 21. He was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, New York.

Taliban control Dand-e-Ghori in Baghlan province  despite a recent agreement between the government and local elders. The Taliban have forbidden girls to attend school in the area and have also taken control of the curriculum.

Although Gen. John Campbell denies there is a policy to ignore sexual abuse of boys in Afghanistan many troops say otherwise. Special Forces Sgt. Charles Martland, who was discharged from the army for confronting an Afghan officer who had raped a boy, lost his appeal for reinstatement.