The present-day U.S. military qualifies by any measure as highly professional, much more so than its Cold War predecessor. Yet the purpose of today’s professionals is not to preserve peace but to fight unending wars in distant places. Intoxicated by a post-Cold War belief in its own omnipotence, the United States allowed itself to be drawn into a long series of armed conflicts, almost all of them yielding unintended consequences and imposing greater than anticipated costs. Since the end of the Cold War, U.S. forces have destroyed many targets and killed many people. Only rarely, however, have they succeeded in accomplishing their assigned political purposes. . . . [F]rom our present vantage point, it becomes apparent that the “Revolution of ‘89” did not initiate a new era of history. At most, the events of that year fostered various unhelpful illusions that impeded our capacity to recognize and respond to the forces of change that actually matter.

Andrew Bacevich

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Update for Thursday, January 29, 2015

As a reminder, I am now generally posting only on days where there are significant developments. The daily drumbeat of bombings, assassinations, and skirmishes goes on, but we're no longer trying to fully document it. (Which we never were in the first place since we depend on what is reported in the English language media.)

But, significant developments today.

Three U.S. contractors, and one Afghan, are killed in a shooting at Kabul International Airport. Some sources are describing this as an insider attack, including Reuters which says the shooter was an Afghan soldier. Although the exact role of the "contractors" has not been publicly described, Reuters calls them "advisers," while Russian media are calling them "military contractors." Note that while U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan is advertised as 10,500, the presence of an undisclosed number of mercenaries obviously changes that picture.

And speaking of undisclosed: The U.S. military has now declared that basic information in the regular reports of the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction is henceforth classified. This includes the amount of U.S. taxpayer dollars being spent on salaries, training and equipment for the Afghan military, and even the size of the Afghan military and police, attrition rates, and the cost of U.S.-funded infrastructure projects. Gen. Campbell claims that making this information public could somehow benefit the enemy. Lawmakers of both parties are unhappy.

Speaking for myself:  In fact, of course, the only people they are keeping secrets from are the American people. After spending $6 trillion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, you would think the American people would have a right to know what they are getting for their money, and how it is still being spent. But given that both interventions have been catastrophic failures, convincing you to continue ponying up is challenging. If they stop telling us what is happening, will we forget about the whole thing? We shall see.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Update for Sunday, January 25, 2015

Afghan ambassador to Pakistan announces Pakistan will repatriate 1.6 million Afghan refugees, based on an agreement among the countries and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. However, there does not appear to be any timeline for the process.

At the same time, Pakistan is arresting and apparently deporting unregistered refugees.

Generally, relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan appear to be thawing, with high level military contacts and evidence that Pakistan will no longer support Afghan insurgents. NATO is trying to faciliate increased cooperation between the two countriesHowever, it appears India is skeptical of this and is concerned about its investments in Afghanistan as foreign troops leave.

Since I'm not posting every day, of course we are no longer recording all reported security incidents. But just to reflect the general level of violence I will link to recent reports on days I do post.

Car bomb near Kabul airport (now renamed after Hamid Karzai) injures 2, results in temporary closure of the airport.

Motorcycle bomb injures 2 police, 1 civilian in Panjwaee, Kandahar province. This same report says police found 2 bodies elsewhere in Kandahar, their killers unknown; and discusses the appearance of IS in Zabul and Helmand. (Seems a bit of a non-sequitur but there it is.)

 Two border police killed, 2 injured by an explosion in Jalalabad on Saturday.

Also on Saturday, gunmen kill a police officer in Lashkargah.

Protest grow in Zabul and Farah against depictions of the prophet by the French magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Ghani accedes to parliament and will replace cabinet nominees with dual citizenship.

Cabinet nominees are presenting their platforms to parliament in pursuit of votes of confidence. Parliament will hear all the nominees before starting to vote.

From our friend Chet, a CNN feature on depression and suicide by military and veterans' spouses and family members.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Update for Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Political turmoil continues as parliament rejects 7 cabinet nominees over dual citizenship. These include the nominees for Interior and Foreign Minister. Of course, given the decades of war and the period of Taliban rule, many educated Afghans have been expatriates. The nominees can be considered if they drop their second citizenship.

Human Rights Watch reports attacks and threats against journalists in Afghanistan are on the rise, with 2014 being the most violent year on record. "An already fragile media freedom has been jeopardised still further by intimidation and violence from both state and non-state figures, combined with a lack of government protection and waning international support."

NYT reports that internal divisions in the Taliban have created an opening for IS. This has been noted before, but the NYT goes into more depth. It is not entirely clear whether IS just provides a new brand for some Taliban factions in Helmand, or if there really are strong ties with the organization in Syria and Iraq and an influx of foreigners.

India offers a workaround to the Pakistani blockade of Afghan exports.

And of course, the low-level war continues with 8 civilians dead in Ghazni, and 4 ANA soldiers killed in Kunduz along with a claimed 23 militants. (As always, no way to confirm these typically lopsided casualty reports.)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

News of the Day for Sunday, January 18, 2015

(I actually would have posted sooner but I've had Internet access problems.)

Five Pakistani men are arrested in Afghanistan in connection with the Peshawar school massacre. Pakistani says it has detained additional people on its own territory.

Four Afghan Public Protection Force soldiers are killed, 14 injured in a suicide bombing in Helmand. The APPF is a special unit that protects foreign compounds and provides highway escort.

A district education director is murdered in Ghor province.

Army spokesman announces yet another "clearing" operation in Dangam, Kunar, on Friday, claims great success. (This battle has been going on for weeks, and is always being won. We shall see.)

A poll finds widespread distrust in the peace process, with many believing that High Peace Council members do not really want peace.

Afghanistan and Pakistan are in a dispute over fees charged to Afghan importers at the port of Karachi. Lest we forget, Afghanistan is landlocked and must depend on a viable relationship with Pakistan for access to world markets.

A death sentence is pronounced for the killing of two Finnish aid workers last July.

Taliban shoot down a helicopter, killing the ex-boyfrend of Britney Spears. (No, I'm not making this up.) John Sundahl, 44, was working as a private helicopter pilot. He met Britney in AA and helped her get sober.
Unknown armed men murder journalist Aqil Waqar in Hajian village of Batikot district, Nangarhar province.

Five health care workers are abducted in Herat.

Two civilians are injured in an explosion in Kandahar.

Nominee for Minister of Agriculture Mohammed Yaqub Haidari is wanted for tax evasion in Estonia

Afghan National Army commander General Murad Ali Murad confirms that Islamic State is active in Afghanistan.

Monday, January 12, 2015

News of the Day for Monday, January 12, 2015

At long last, president Ghani announces cabinet nominees. The 3 month delay was apparently caused by disputes between Ghani and Abdullah. There are as yet no nominees for Attorney General or Chief Justice.

Reuters gives a run-down of the nominees for major positions. There is certainly plenty of political diversity, based on my quick reading. NYT discusses the horse trading behind this and suggests that the national unity government will continue to be stressed.

After previous denials, Afghan officials confirm that IS agents are operating in Helmand.

A police officer kills the district governor and police chief of Nawzad, Helmand, and injures other senior officials. TOLO calls the district Nad Ali. The place has quite a history.

Institute for War and Peace Reporting discusses the challenges faced by NGOs in Afghanistan.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

News of the Day for Sunday, January 11, 2015

A couple of stories today indicating that some militants in Af-Pak are adopting the Islamic State brand, and that foreigners identifying with IS are coming to the region. First, a video posted on-line shows a former Taliban spokesman addressing a crowd to announce that various Afghan and Pakistani leaders have pledged allegiance to IS. A Pakistani soldier is then beheaded with a machete.

Meanwhile, the police chief of southern Zabul says that Arab militants have entered the area, with their families. It is not clear how extensive support for IS is in the region or how seriously one should take all this.

Residents of Sangin, Helmand, also say IS is operating in the area.

Drone strike kills 8 in Nangarhar. But that doesn't count as "combat."

District intelligence agency chief and another person are injured by a roadside bomb in Herat.

Afghan national (association) football coach is stabbed, hospitalized. Unclear if the motive was personal or political.

Another one of those massive body count stories, with provincial police chief claiming 183 insurgents killed in month-long operation in Dangam, Kunar,  vs. 6 Afghan government dead. You'll have to decide if this is credible.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

News of the Day for Saturday, January 10, 2014

(As I've said,  won't be posting here every day but I will try to keep up with events as they merit.)

Remember that new cabinet that was supposed to be announced last week, then Wednesday? Monday is now the official date. We shall see.

Meanwhile, president Ghani apparently offered some government posts to Taliban figures as a way of promoting the peace process, but they refused the offer. These were low-influence posts with little policy relevance, and the three individuals who were offered jobs aren't really active Taliban, they're Taliban associates living openly. Even so.

No real surprise, but hundreds rally in Uruzgan in support of the attack on Charlie Hebdo. However, most political leaders, including president Ghani, condemned the attack.

A protest we hope will have a more positive result is against corruption in Paktia.

I don't get this. Kabul airport will be guarded by Azerbaijani peackeepers. Isn't Afghanistan supposed to be in charge of its own security now?

Eight deminers, working for an international NGO, are abducted in Logar. Overall, attacks on de-miners increased by 50% last year. (Many of the explosions we read about injuring and killing civilians are actually from old ordinance, and the specific victims were not intended targets. Afghanistan is full of mines from decades of war.)

District police chief killed in an ambush in Sar-e-Pul.

Twelve civilians kidnapped in Sar-e-Pul, perpetrators and motive as yet unknown.

Ghani is expected to sign a security pact with Iran. Content is not stated, but sources of irritation between the two countries are drug smuggling, and the treatment of Afghan migrants to Iran. They have a common foe, however, in Sunni extremism.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

News of the Day for Wednesday, January 7, 2015

It's been another violent day, with 2 children killed by an explosion in Kandahar province (possibly an accidental encounter with an old mine), 10 children injured, 7 critically, by a separate explosion in the same province, a bomb killing a judge in Jalalabad, 6 construction workers murdered in Baghlan, and a suicide attack injuring 3 police officers in Khost.

Taliban burn the house of a district governor in Maidan Wardak.

Report says 20 cabinet nominees have been selected but for some reason the public announcement, promised for today, did not occur.

About half of pharmaceuticals sold in Afghanistan are smuggled and are likely to be counterfeit or spoiled.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

News of the Day for Sunday, January 4, 20015

A female doctor and her husband are murdered in a home invasion in Ghazni city. No claim of responsibility so far, and the exact motive is unknown. However, this report does attribute the act to "militants."

According to a spokesman for Ghazni's provincial governor, a battle to secure the Kabul-Kandahar highway has resulted in the death of 15 militants and 1 "security personnel." (Not clear if this is ANA, Afghan National Police, or local police.) As usual, there is no independent corroboration of the casualty total.

Insurgents kill 9 police. Five are killed in an ambush in Logar early today. Four are found dead in Pul-i-Alam, Wardak after having been abducted on Saturday.

Despite billions in aid money, Afghanistan's orphanages are deplorable. Much of the funding intended to benefit orphans is lost to corruption.

Ministry of Defense says 5 Afghan soldiers killed in an explosion, 35 militants killed in various operations. Again, no corroboration for the body count, and no details given. The Ministry of the Interior, in a separate statement, claims Afghan National Police killed 34 insurgents, with zero government or civilian casualties reported. As usual, I do not link to this because it is not credible.

A poll finds that 38% of Americans say the Afghan war was worth fighting; 56% say it was not. Oddly, that makes the war more popular now than it was last July, although it's hard to see how results are looking any better.

Taliban orders fighters to take precautions to avoid civilian casualties and property damage.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

News of the Day for Saturday, January 3, 2015

Just a few items worth passing on today. First, do you see any irony here?

ISLAMABAD, Jan 3 (KUNA) -- At least eighteen rebels were killed in air strikes by foreign forces in southeastern Paktika province of Afghanistan on Saturday, said police. . . .

The air strikes came at a time when Taliban rebels have paced up their attacks on security forces following drew back of NATO/ISAF forces from Afghanistan handing over the security control to Afghan forces.

So, no U.S. combat role except for . . . oh, bombing.

Although local warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum recently announced that thousands of militants would soon be surrendering in his fiefdom of Jowzjan, the reality appears to be otherwise. "But now according to the local officials, the insurgents have rather boosted their activities and that in the Turkmenistan border, raising deep concerns for both the countries." A large-scale military operation is planned in the area.

Delays in filling cabinet posts and other government vacancies  have left public agencies in disarray.

In one province, police officials have been fired and not replaced despite a rash of violent crime. In another, frustrated parents are calling their legislators to get copies of school records. In the capital, no phones were answered at one federal ministry last week — an unusual occurrence even by lax Afghan standards. In another ministry, idle office workers made a video of one another dancing in the halls, which was later shown to a reporter.
Azam Ahmed in the NYT discusses the state of the Afghan Taliban. In a pistachio shell, the movement has become fragmented. The first generation of military leadership has largely been replaced, and factions differ in their ideology. In some areas, they are less severe in their rule; not so in others.

 In Iraq, the turmoil continues. Islamic state abducts 170 civilians from two northern villages where people burned the IS flag. (This will not turn out well for them.) U.S. led coalition continues air strikes, but this report reminds us of the rather odd political context. The pentagon reports 12 strikes in Syria, while Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve reports separately on 11 stries in Iraq. In other words these are not technically the same operation. In an apparent sectarian attack, three Sunni clerics were murdered in Basra on Thursday.

Friday, January 2, 2015

News of the Day for Friday, January 2, 2015

(I'm so accustomed to posting on Sundays that I titled yesterday's post as Sunday. I've fixed it.)

There's a difference, it seems, between what happens when U.S. troops bomb wedding parties, and what happens when Afghan troops do it. Afghan troops arrested for deadly attack on a wedding party in Helmand. It's still not clear what happened, they may have mistakenly responded to celebratory gunfire. People may debate the standards for holding soldiers criminally responsible for battlefield actions, but there has to be accountability.

Afghan MP Fawzia Koofi discusses the status of women in the country. Parliament has so far failed to pass the Elimination of Violence Against Women act (EVAW), although many of its provisions are included in an executive decree. Koofi trust president Ghani, but it is not clear what will happen with the foreign presence greatly reduced.

Increasing presence of armed gangs in Kabul alarms residents.

Explosion kills a border policeman in Jalalabad, injures another.

Mark Thompson in Time discusses the cost  of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to U.S. taxpayers. Spoiler alert - it's between $4 and 6 trillion. The cost of keeping one soldier in Afghanistan for a year is $3.9 million. But we can't afford decent public schools in many places, or affordable higher education. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

News of the Day for Thursday, January 1, 2015

Now it's the Afghan army that gets to do this.  Rocket fire kills 28 people at a wedding party in Sangin, Helmand. Fighting was going on in the area, but apparently the fire came from the ANA, not the Taliban. An investigation is underway. (Details are pretty horrific.) What is it about weddings that seems to attract missiles?

Mine kills 2 civilians in Kandahar province.

Taliban attack a convoy of would-be defectors in Jawzjan, resulting in 5 deaths, although it is not specified on which side the casualties were.