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, April 30, 2015

Update for Thursday, April 30, 2015

You may recall last week that we noted three U.S. soldiers had been injured by a bomb attack on their MRAP, and we found that curious. Well, the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan isn't over after all. Here, the Arkansas Post-Gazette largely recycles the NYT report, but since the Times is throwing up a paywall, this is the link you get. Excerpt:

Months after President Barack Obama formally declared that the United States' long war against the Taliban was over in Afghanistan, the U.S. military is regularly conducting airstrikes against low-level insurgent forces and sending special operations troops directly into harm's way under the guise of "training and advising." . . .

Rather than ending the U.S. war in Afghanistan, the military is using its wide latitude to instead transform it into a continuing campaign of airstrikes -- mostly drone missions -- and special operations raids that have in practice stretched or broken the boundaries publicly described by the White House.

And apparently the mission is creeping for Romania as well. (Didn't know they still have troops there? They have 625.) Four Rumanian soldiers injured by a bomb attack. "The ministry said they were on a patrol some 8 kilometers (5 miles) south of the military base in Kandahar Thursday morning as part of the "Resolute Support" mission when the vehicle blew up."

And why is the mission creeping? Because Afghan forces can't secure the country. Afghan forces struggle to break the seige of Kunduz. "Afghan security forces continued to battle Taliban in the northern city of Kunduz on April 30 in a bid to push them outside of the city limits.. . .Meanwhile, up to 2,000 Taliban fighters continued to hold territory in four other parts of Kunduz Province, giving them positions from which to besiege Kunduz city -- including positions to the south of the city where the strategic Kunduz Airport is located."

And, Fighting in Afghanistan this year could kill and injure a record number of civilians and force a growing number of people from their homes, aid agencies said.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Update for Saturday, April 25, 2015

Friend Chet directs our attention to a report of 3 U.S. soldiers seriously injured by an explosion in spite of their being in an MRAP:

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, April 22, 2015 -- A team of airmen assigned to the 455th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron here traveled to Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan,Sunday to provide in-flight medical care to three servicemembers.
The U.S. Army soldiers sustained multiple injuries after their mine resistant ambush protected vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device. . . .

Because the three service members Sunday experienced brain injuries, "there's a potential of swelling which could cause life-threatening medical emergencies. So our primary responsibility was to monitor their neuro status in relation to the stress of the flight, as well as monitor their pain and give them scheduled medications."
CenCom doesn't usually report non-fatal injuries. The point of this article was to brag about the Air Force medical service. But this reminds us that yes, Afghanistan is still dangerous for U.S. forces and this is undoubtedly not the only significant wounding event this year.

Of course it's a lot worse for Afghans. Today a mortar attack hit a house and killed 5 members of a family and wounded 11 in Laghman province. Ten people were kidnapped on the Kabul-Jalalabad highway by persons unknown. An explosion in Kandahar kills 2 people.

And so, with growing insecurity, MPs are calling for revocation of the bilateral security agreement:

Following unprecedented rise in insecurity countrywide, particularly in northern provinces, a number of lawmakers on Saturday urged the government to revoke the bilateral security agreement (BSA) with the United States, as according to them, security situation has deteriorated after inking of the security deal with Washington.

They said that the northern provinces will fall into hands of militants if the government was reluctant and did not take proper security measures in the areas. “Security situation is worsening countywide, especially in Badakhshan,” said Abdul Latif Pidram, an MP from northeastern Badakhshan province. He nudged the government to cancel the BSA because the security pact could not bring security to the country and the people. “Violence and terror attacks increased and our people became more insecure after signing of the security deal with the US,” he said.

They don't say what they would replace it with. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Update for Monday, April 20, 2015

Now this is interesting. Der Spiegel reports that IS is the product of a calculated strategy led by a former Baathist intelligence officer. The implication is that Islamist ideology is being used to manipulate people by a leadership that has purely secular objectives -- to regain power lost when the U.S. invaded Iraq. The mastermind was Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi, who used the pseudonym Haji Bakr. He was killed in a firefight in the Syrian town of Tal Rifaat in January, 2014. Documents in his possession were secretly kept their and have now been seen by Der Spiegel reporters. Money quotes:

What Bakr put on paper, page by page, with carefully outlined boxes for individual responsibilities, was nothing less than a blueprint for a takeover. It was not a manifesto of faith, but a technically precise plan for an "Islamic Intelligence State" -- a caliphate run by an organization that resembled East Germany's notorious Stasi domestic intelligence agency. . . .

Sharia, the courts, prescribed piety -- all of this served a single goal: surveillance and control. Even the word that Bakr used for the conversion of true Muslims, takwin, is not a religious but a technical term that translates as "implementation," a prosaic word otherwise used in geology or construction. .. .

There is a simple reason why there is no mention in Bakr's writings of prophecies relating to the establishment of an Islamic State allegedly ordained by God: He believed that fanatical religious convictions alone were not enough to achieve victory. But he did believe that the faith of others could be exploited. 
Not that these revelations will change anything, I suppose. Faith is impervious to facts. But it does clarify where the responsibility for this historic disaster truly lies.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Update for Saturday, April 18, 2015

Suicide bombing in Jalalabad kills 35, injures more than 100. (The death toll is variously reported as 33, 34, or 35, a confusion which is reflected in the linked DPA report.) A former spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, Shahidullah Shahid, now purporting to speak for the Islamic State, claims responsibility on behalf of that group, naming the bomber as one Abu Mohammed. The group calling itself IS in Afghanistan consists of a disenchanted faction of the Taliban. It is not clear whether they have any allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi or have any material support from the organization in Iraq and Syria; nor that there are foreign fighters with allegiance to IS in Afghanistan in any substantial numbers. Nevertheless, the fragmentation of the Taliban and the rise of what are likely irreconcilable factions makes the prospects for peace more tenuous.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, intensified fighting in Anbar has left thousands of refugees from Ramadi stranded near Baghdad. The government has barred them from entering the city due to security concerns.

"Tens of thousands of displaced civilians have escaped from Ramadi in the past few days, but on arrival at Baghdad, they are denied entry unless they have a sponsor in the capital," Masrur Aswad, a member of the non-governmental group the Higher Commission for Human Rights, said. "Now the displaced are staying in the open air on the edges of Baghdad without having a shelter and basic needs," he said in a press statement.
Note that these refugees are Sunni Arabs who no doubt will continue to perceive the Shiite dominated government as failing to protect them or represent their interests.

Government forces have regained control of most of the Baiji oil refinery, which IS fighters overran earlier this week. Reinforcements are heading for Ramadi as well and the city is less imperiled than it was yesterday.

In Tikrit, recently re-captured by government forces and Shiite militias, a mass grave has been discovered containing the remains of some of the 1,700 Shiite soldiers massacred by IS when they seized the city last June.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Update for Thursday, April 16, 2015

Today, we are still in Iraq, where IS has launched an offensive in Anbar and captured 3 Ramadi villages. Government forces retain control of the city center, but a provincial council member has told the BBC that the insurgents are close to the government compound. Some 2,000 families hav fled toward Baghdad and are currently without shelter.

Ned Parker, Reuters Bureau Chief, was forced to flee Iraq after reporting on atrocities committed by Shiite militias in Tikrit. Parker was threatened on social media and television. He says that PM Abadi has defended him in a statement in English, but criticized reporting from Tikrit in Arabic. His original report is here. It describes the killing of a captured fighter, looting, and arson, by the Shiite forces.

Our friend Chet informs us that DoD has announced the death of an airman "supporting operation Inherent Resolve" in a non-combat incident at a base in "southwest Asia." That means the Middle East; the U.S. is discrete about its use of bases in Arab countries for operations in Afghanistan. the deceased is Tech. Sgt. Anthony E. Salazar, 40, of Hermosa Beach, California, 577th Expeditionary Prime Base Engineer Emergency Force Squadron, 1st Expeditionary Civil Engineer Group, U.S. Air Forces Central Command. The incident is under investigation.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Update for Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Those of you who remember Today in Iraq will know that the Nisour Square massacre in 2007 preoccupied us for a long time. We never believed that there would be justice in the incident, but a federal judge has sentenced 4 of the perpetrators to what amounts to life in prison. They continue to maintain their innocence and insist that they acted in self defense, but the evidence is clear that nobody shot at them. The original investigation was botched, perhaps deliberately, and the Bush Justice Department tried to find reasons not to prosecute, but the trial finally happened.

The Bush Administration paid Blackwater something like $1 billion to provide mercenary services in Iraq. Why hire mercenaries instead of having the military do the job it exists to do? That's an interesting question. Unfortunately, this was only one of innumerable instances of mercenaries murdering Iraqis. But it happened to result in prosecution.

Meanwhile, PM Abadi is in Washington asking for money and weapons. The administration has indicated he'll likely get what he wants. Obama has already pleged $200 million in humanitarian aid.

But what as the result of the previous U.S. investment in the Iraqi military? It was completely squandered, as soldiers involved in the former round of training have discovered upon their return.

Colonel Schwemmer said he was stunned at the state in which he found the Iraqi soldiers when he arrived here. “It’s pretty incredible,” he said. “I was kind of surprised. What training did they have after we left?”
Apparently, not much. The current, woeful state of the Iraqi military raises the question not so much of whether the Americans left too soon, but whether a new round of deployments for training will have any more effect than the last.
Car bombs kill 20 people in and around Baghdad.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Update for Sunday, April 12, 2015

It's been a rough weekend. A Taliban attack in Jurm, Badakhshahn results in death, capture or injury to 33 ANA soldiers. Khaama doesn't clarify how many were killed but at least 14 were captured and of those, 4 are said to have been beheaded. MoD spokesman says 20 militants were also killed. TOLO says 20 ANA killed, which with 14 captured actually adds up to 34.

Five aid workers with Save the Children, captured in March, are found dead, their bodies riddled with bullets, in Uruzgan. They were apparently killed because their captors' demand for a prisoner exchange was rejected.

Bomb in Siagard, Parwan province injures 11 on Saturday.

100 schoolboys are sickened, apparently by tainted beans, in Herat. It is unclear if this was a deliberate act.

A police officer is killed and 2 are injured by an explosion in Kandahar city.

In another incident in the same city, 2 civilians are injured.

Three Taliban killed by a "foreign" drone in Kunar. (Gee, I wonder who those foreigners are?)

Scores of families are in debt peonage in Nangarhar.

Corruption in Ministry of Defense fuel contracts is said to exceed $200 million. Whistleblowers claim senior government officials are involved.

The UN says civilians are being killed at an increasing rate due to the intensification of ground combat. Overall, 655 civilians were killed and 1,155 injured in the first quarter of this year.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Update for Thursday, April 9, 2015

I held off yesterday because the shooting of a U.S. soldier by an ANA soldier was ubiquitously covered by the corporate media and I wanted to see if I could get any additional information. The Afghanistan Times does have a few scraps, which I have not seen reported elsewhere. The dead U.S. soldier has yet to be identified, but AT offers the following:

  • The attacker was a 2-year veteran of the ANA, who had been in combat several times and had a clean record.
  • His name is Abdul Azim, a native of Laghman province
  • In addition to the dead U.S. soldier, 7 U.S. soldiers were injured (I have not seen this reported elsewhere)
  • U.S. fire killed 2 ANA soldiers, one of whom may have been an innocent bystander (I have not seen this reported elsewhere either
  • Azim has not been linked to insurgents and his motive is unknown.
Taliban assault on a court compound in Mazar-i-Sharif, Balkh province, kills 10, including 4 prosecutors and 5 police, and injures more than 60. The 4 attackers are also killed.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Amnesty International Report on Violence Against Women in Afghanistan

I thought this worth its own post.

Amnesty raises alarm over rising violence against female leaders and activists. Excerpt from al Jazeera:

Afghanistan is turning its back on women leaders and activists and leaving them vulnerable to violence, Amnesty International said Tuesday, urging the international community to stand up for women's rights.
Women politicians and rights campaigners have endured an escalating number of targeted car bombings, grenade attacks and killings of family members, the London-based rights group said in a report.
“Laws meant to support them are poorly implemented, if at all, while the international community is doing far too little to ease their plight,” the report said.
Most of the threats come from the Taliban and other armed opposition groups, but government officials and local warlords also commit abuses against women leaders and activists, the report added.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Update for Sunday, April 5, 2015

There is considerable confusion about the current state of the Taliban and the prospects for peace talks. Yesterday, NBC reported that Mullah Omar is preparing to enter peace talks, with an implication that Pakistan is sincere in saying that it will no longer harbor the Afghan Taliban and that this may have driven him to negotiations.

Today, however, Khaama reports that he may be dead,  or in any event has delegated authority to Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor; and that the Taliban may have split into three factions, perhaps because of his death. Another possibility is that Pakistan, which has obviously been harboring him, now has him in custody and has incapacitated him.

It is unclear whether all this bodes well or ill for the prospects for peace. Certainly the emergence of factions which no longer answer to Omar or his successors means that a comprehensive peace is not possible. Leaders who have adopted the Islamic State brand are apparently responsible for the kidnapping of 31 Hazaras in February. Meanwhile, a high level of violence continues.

A bomb kills 7 people in Logar.

A bomb near a police station in Kundoz injures 10.

Explosion in Helmand injures 3 soldiers and 3 civilians.

On Thursday, a suicide bomb attack on a protest in Khost killed 17 and injured dozens. Since then, the death toll has risen to 20 and the National Directorate of Security says the Haqqani network was responsible.

A sticky bomb injures an attorney in Kundoz.

100 insurgents storm police outposts in Farah, leading to death of 5 police, 4 militants and a clergyman. Communications in the area were also knocked out by damage to a radio tower.

Motorcycle bomb in Baghlan kills 4, injures 5.

Teachers at Nangarhar university go on strike  because money intended for their salaries was stolen by gunmen on the Kabul-Jalalabad highway, and evidently they have not been paid

Former member of a provincial council in southern Ghazni is injured by a would-be assassin.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Update for Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Iraq claims victory over IS forces in Tikrit, although in fact pockets of resistance remain.

State television showed Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, accompanied by leaders of the army and police, the provincial governor and Shi'ite paramilitary leaders, parading through Tikrit and raising an Iraqi flag. . . . With explosions and gunfire still audible, and columns of smoke dotting the horizon, Interior Minister Mohammed al-Ghabban told reporters that security forces were fighting to clear the city's last Islamic State holdout, the northern neighbourhood of Qadissiyah.

The city is nearly abandoned, and the "liberation" was accomplished largely by Shiite militias, as there is still no effective Iraqi national army. Unless Abadi can find a way for citizens to return and establish effective local governance, garrisoned and protected by forces they can trust, and receiving fair treatment and proportionate services from the Baghdad government, this will not be a victory but just the beginning of a new phase in Iraq's civil war. C

In Afghanistan, the Pentagon cannot account for $45 billion spent before 2010. How much of it was actually stolen or squandered is unknown -- they just didn't have a system to keep track of it. No, this is not an April fool joke.

Some powerful Afghans and government agencies have not paid their electricity bills for 10 years.

Anand Gopal says the Taliban tried to surrender in 2001-2002, but the U.S. needed an enemy to fight:

So you had a particular type of situation in January or February of 2002, where you had thousands of soldiers, mostly Special Forces soldiers, on the ground in Afghanistan, but you had no Al-Qaeda, and the Taliban as a military movement was essentially defunct. So in other words, you had thousands of soldiers on the ground without an enemy to fight.But we had a political mandate, and that mandate was that we're here to fight a war on terror, and you're either with us or against us. This Manichean worldview essentially categorized Afghans into two categories, which were either terrorists or good guys, really doing away with all of the shades of gray that make the reality of Afghanistan.And so this was a contradiction. How did that contradiction get resolved? Well, in a very profound and I would say very tragic way this contradiction got resolved, which is that the U.S. allied with the warlords. Local commanders and strongmen. And in effect, the enemies of those warlords became the enemies of the United States.

Parliamentary election will be postponed for one year, "due to some reasons."