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

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Update for Saturday, February 28, 2015

Ghani and Abdullah will visit the White House on March 24. The Afghan co-presidency continues to be a bit awkward, but so far is muddling through. President Ghani will address congress the following day.

I was remiss in not linking to information about the attack in Kabul on Thursday. A suicide car bomber attacked a convoy carrying NATO Senior Civilian Representative in Afghanistan Ismail Aramaz, a Turkish national, who escaped. A Turkish member of the Resolute Support force (successor to ISAF) and an Afghan civilian were killed, along with the attacker.

Thirty travelers are abducted on the Kabul-Kandahar highway. The abductees are all members of the Hazara ethnic minority. There is dispute as to whether the perpetrators are Taliban, or bandits. Local elders are optimistic that they can win the negotiated release of the captives.

After avalanches kill at least 168 people in Panjsher province, Pakistan sends relief supplies, a sign of continuing warming relations. AFP now reports the toll in Panjsher was 186. (Such deadly avalanches are not uncommon in Afghanistan's mountains, but this is a particularly high death toll.)

 On Wednesday, the UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan reported that 1/3 of the 790 conflict-related detainees interviewed were tortured or mistreated.

In fiscal years 2011-2013, the U.S. made "condolence payments" of $2.7 million for deaths and injuries of Afghan civilians. In case that doesn't sound like a lot, the payments per incident were tiny:

An armored vehicle ran over a six-year-old boy’s legs: $11,000. A jingle truck was “blown up by mistake”: $15,000. A controlled detonation broke eight windows in a mosque: $106. A boy drowned in an anti-tank ditch: $1,916. A 10-ton truck ran over a cucumber crop: $180. A helicopter “shot bullets hitting and killing seven cows”: $2,253. Destruction of 200 grape vines, 30 mulberry trees and one well: $1,317. A wheelbarrow full of broken mirrors: $4,057. A child who died in a combat operation: $2,414.

Note that the mirrors are worth more than the child.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Update for Tuesday, February 25, 2015

Today I'm actually going to return to Iraq, with some in-depth analyses regarding the so-called Islamic State.

First, this essay has been much discussed around the blogosphere, but in case that was in precincts you don't visit, here is Graeme Wood's reporting on the organization's ideology. I'm not going to say much about it because if you're really interested, you'll read it. But the pistachio shell version is that they're conception of Islam is that it can only truly exist as a worldly power, i.e. the Caliphate; and that restoration of the Caliphate will bring about the end time. This is in fact an orthodox interpretation of Islam, although few, obviously, would endorse their tactics.

Zack Beauchamp, in Vox, wants us to know that they are not actually doing very well either militarily, or in their efforts at governance, and he sees the ultimate demise of the group as inevitable, although it's likely to take a long time. One reason is precisely their ideology, which compels them to take pragmatically ill-advised actions.

Maybe so, but meanwhile we're back to the plague of bombings of civilian targets reminiscent of the height of the previous civil war, with 40 people killed in various attacks in and around Baghdad.

But, the U.S.-led bombing campaign continues apace, with 16 strikes in Syria and 9 in Iraq in the past 24 hours. Weirdly, however, Texas congresscritter Lamar Smith is apparently unaware that this is happening. He is also apparently unaware of the substantial arms the U.S. has provided to the peshmerga, along with close air support, which has allowed them to regain territory previously lost; and of the thousands of Marines and special forces who are acting as trainers, advisers and spotters, and who may be involved more directly in the upcoming assault on Mosul.

Because the U.S. is once again involved in combat in Iraq, I'll keep the updates coming here.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Update for Saturday, February 21, 2015

Why is this not a surprise? Newly confirmed Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter visits Afghanistan, signals delay in planned U.S. troop withdrawal. According to the New York Times:

"Mr. Carter said that he had seen varying reports about Afghanistan, including some that said the Taliban were undergoing a resurgence and others that claimed that a small group of militants had rebranded themselves as members of the Islamic State.
"He said that he needed to travel to Afghanistan so that he could meet with senior American and Afghan officials and make his own assessment of the situation. He will begin with meetings with President Ashraf Ghani and with Mr. Ghani's chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah."

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Update for Wednesday, February 18, 2015

As Dancewater noted in the comments yesterday, the UN reports that Afghan civilian casualties rose 22% last year from the year before, with 3,699 civilians killed and 6,849 injured. This is the highest number since the UN started keeping track in 2009. (One wonders why it took them so long to get around to it.) Most are killed as bystanders in ground engagements, rather than by explosive devices, due to indiscriminate use of rockets and mortars. The report blames the majority of civilian casualties on insurgents.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Update for Tuesday, February 17, 2015

As you have noticed, I'm no longer documenting the daily grind of skirmishes and bombings. You can take it for granted that continues. However, I will try to post at least 2 or 3 times a week, especially as events warrant.

Taliban storm a police compound in Pul-e-Alam, Logar, and kill 22 police. One attacker detonated a suicide bomb at the entrance, clearing the way for the other 3 to enter. All the attackers were ultimately killed; the last detonated another suicide vest. [Reported casualty tolls vary but this seems to be the latest.]

In a separate attack in Kandahar province, 6 police are killed.

An office of the European Union issues a report stating that the Kabul government is losing control of the countryside. [Not that they ever had it.] The report states that insurgent and government casualties are now roughly equal. [Belying the consistently lopsided casualty reports issued by the government in which dozens of insurgents are typically claimed to be killed with no or minimal government casualties. That is why I have stopped linking to those press releases.] Excerpt:

In its latest report, Afghanistan Security Situation , released on 13 February, EASO noted that Taliban, Hezb-e Islami Afghanistan, and other insurgent groups operating in the country are carrying out more large-scale attacks against the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).

Referring to the 31 December 2014 termination of NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, the 211-page report says the withdrawal of foreign troops "has had an impact on the areas that they used to secure. In those areas, which are now left to the ANSF, insurgents increasingly take control of territory and attack administrative centres and security installations". . .

Noting that Afghanistan's security forces bore their highest numbers of casualties in 2013-14 since the insurgency started, the report says that "for the first time in the conflict, insurgents have been able to inflict nearly as many ANSF casualties as they suffered themselves".

Friday, February 13, 2015

Update for Friday, February 13, 2015

Just when you thought the U.S. war in Afghanistan was over . . .

U.S. Is Escalating a Secretive War in Afghanistan. NYT reports that data from a computer captured in October has led to an increase in operations by U.S. special forces against both al Qaeda and Taliban targets. 

The tempo of operations is “unprecedented for this time of year” — that is, the traditional winter lull in fighting, an American military official said. No official would provide exact figures, because the data is classified. The Afghan and American governments have also sought to keep quiet the surge in night raids to avoid political fallout in both countries.

“It’s all in the shadows now,” said a former Afghan security official who informally advises his former colleagues. “The official war for the Americans — the part of the war that you could go see — that’s over. It’s only the secret war that’s still going. But it’s going hard.”
One wonders whether any U.S. casualties from these top secret activities are publicly reported.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Update for Sunday, February 8, 2015

Note: DoD has reversed the decision to classify SIGAR reports on the status of Afghan forces. Information about specific units will still be classified, but the overall numbers and condition of forces will remain public. I do not, however, attribute this to the awesome power of Today in Afghanistan.

Also, based on new legislation, the army has approved Purple Hearts for victims of the 2009 shooting at Fort Hood. The perpetrator was acting on his own, but the new legislation allows the award because he had been in communication with a foreign organization.

Returning now to Afghanistan, Protesters block the Kabul-Jalalabad highway for 7 hours demanding an end to theft of land by armed gangs, to which they say the government has been indifferent.

Pakistani Taliban commander Omar Khalid Khorasani is inured in Nangarhar in an operation by Afghan security forces, but he is not captured and is said to be recovering in a safe place. [Interesting that Pakistani Taliban are in Afghanistan while Afghan Taliban have harbored in Pakistan.]

Pro-Taliban radio stations are broadcasting from Pakistan.

However, increasing military cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan suggests that the Pakistanis may no longer give shelter to Afghan Taliban.

But, the Taliban win favor from the population by providing effective civil justice, while government courts are corrupt and inefficient:

Western officials have long considered a fair and respected justice system to be central to quelling the insurgency, in an acknowledgment that the Taliban's appeal had been rooted in its use of traditional rural justice codes. But after the official end of the international military mission and more than $US1 billion in development aid to build up Afghanistan's court system, it stands largely discredited and ridiculed by everyday Afghans. A common refrain, even in Kabul, is that to settle a dispute over your farm in court, you must first sell your chickens, your cows and your wife.

Thousands of undocumented Afghans have been fleeing Pakistan  in the face of persecution, apparently inspired by the December attack on a school in Peshawar. Although the perpetrators were Pakistani, foreigners seem to be the targets of anger. Many of these people have resided in Pakistan for decades and do not have homes in Afghanistan to which to return.

Militants blow up a girls' school and a health clinic in Kunar. The school is totally destroyed.

Afghanistan imports most of its electricity. What you may not have known is that Logar, Paktia and Ghazni provinces don't have any. The government now promises they will get it within 2 years.

And the war goes on.

In Iraq, the decade-old curfew in Baghdad ends but 37 people are killed in bombings on the same day

Sunday, February 1, 2015

News of the Day for Sunday, Feb. 1, 2015

Officials claim 3 foreign insurgents killed by an Afghan military air strike  in Badakhshan province. The dead are said to include a Tajik and a Chechen. This is the first I have heard of Afghan forces using air power. The article does not say what type of aircraft was used.

The three DoD contractors killed earlier this week are identified as employees of Praetorian Standard, of North Carolina. They were Walter D. Fisher of North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Jason D. Landphair of Fayetteville, North Carolina; and Mathew E. Fineran of Summerville, South Carolina.

Protests continue in Kabul against Charlie Hebdo and 24 people are injured, including 17 police injured by thrown rocks and 7 injured protesters, apparently by police gunfire.

Eight cabinet ministers and the chief of the National Directorate of Security will be sworn in. However, 9 additional cabinet nominees have yet to be confirmed.

This is interesting. The Taliban claim to have captured IS leader Mullah Abdul-Rauf Kazim and 45 followers in Helmand province.

Meanwhile, it is reported that many Taliban fighters are going over to IS. According to this report, the motive is not so much greater ideological affinity as it is frustration over the Taliban's failure to establish governance over substantial territory.

A protest in Herat over a parliamentary decision to strip power from provincial councils. As I read this, provincial councils had a monitoring role over federal government activities, which has been eliminated. This is an issue of federalism, concerning the relative power of the federal government vs. the provinces.  However, the issue here seems to focus on corruption and governmental integrity, rather than policy, with each side claiming the other acts out of illicit self-interest.

Pakistan continues to arrest Afghans who are in the country illegally.