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, May 30, 2015

Saturday, May 30, 2015: requiem for a nation

When I started posting here a decade ago, the site was called Today in Iraq. Our long-term vision was of a stable, secular, multi-ethnic and multi-confessional Iraqi state. That was what most Iraqis wanted as well, but the political organization and leadership to make it happen never emerged. Political parties organized on sectarian lines, and the horrific civil war ensued. The U.S. succeeded in putting  a lid on the cauldron temporarily, by equipping and financing the Shawa movement among Sunni Arabs and keeping a short rein on the Shiite-dominated Iraqi army. But the Kurds always really wanted independence and the Shiite political leadership had no intention of sharing power in a secular state.

I remember writing here, at one point, "Won't anybody stand up for Iraq?" But nobody did.

Whatever you think of Fareed Zakaria, I must sadly agree with him. Iraq is no more. It is not that the Iraqi army is unwilling to fight. It's that it is unwilling to fight to defend Sunni communities. Most Sunni Arabs despise the Islamic State but they have nowhere to go. They are unwelcome in Baghdad and the government is not providing adequately for the displaced. And, as Zakaria tells us, the polls are clear:

Iraq today no longer exists. In 2008, 80 percent of those polled said they were “Iraqi above all.” Today that number is 40 percent. The Kurds have taken every opportunity to further enhance their already considerable autonomy. I recently asked a Kurdish politician how many Kurds would support independence for their provinces. He replied, “Somewhere between 99 percent and 100 percent.” . . .Washington can provide aid, training, arms, air power—even troops. But it cannot hold together a nation that is falling apart.
For all Iraqis who hoped for a different outcome, including our friend Riverbend who I hope is safe and well somewhere, I am truly sorry.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Update for Monday, May 25, 2015

On Memorial Day, I note that Americans have nearly forgotten that we still have troops deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in support of operations there at sea and in bases in other countries. Although they currently have limited exposure to combat situations, deployment is still stressful to military personnel and their families. Non-combat related deaths and injuries usually get only local attention.

On May 22, DoD announced the death of Petty Officer 3rd Class Ryan D. Burris, 24, of Lisle, Illinois, died May 21, in Abu Dhabi, UAE, of a non-combat related incident at Zayed Military City. As of yet, no information about the incident has been made public. Via friend Chet, here is information about PO Burris from the local television station.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, as U.S. troops mark Memorial Day, the fighting intensifies.

A suicide truck bomb attack on the Provincial Council in Kalat, Zabul kills 5 people and injures 62. Three of the injured are Council members. Another account puts the number of injured at 73.

Taliban attack several police checkpoints in Helmand, killing at least 10 officers, with other accounts putting the number at 13.

Update: Taliban are besieging a police compound in Helmand with 19 police and 7 soldiers dead so far.  "Napas Khan, the police chief in the Naw Zad district, told The Associated Press by telephone that the insurgents had advanced to within 20 meters (65 feet) of the compound after seizing police vehicles and weapons and blocking all roads out of Naw Zad." Note that this is not asymmetrical warfare. The Taliban are winning a pitched battle against fortified positions.

What could possibly go wrong? Afghan government forms local militias and enlists help of warlords to fight Taliban in the north of the country. Excerpt:

As part of the latest government effort to rein in the Taliban, who have vowed to disrupt the democratically elected Ashraf Ghani administration, several thousand Afghans from the country’s north are expected to be mobilized to fight the Taliban in areas where the military and police forces have failed to halt the group’s advance. The strategy to turn to irregular forces is deemed risky by many who fear that the move could trigger civil strife in a country still haunted by memories of the atrocities of a civil war in the 1990s. “We have experienced this failed experiment of militia-making before,” Fawzia Koofi, a member of parliament from Badakhshan, one of the provinces where Kabul is planning to form the militias, told the Times. “This will spread the war from house to house, starting rivalries as everyone begins arming their own groups.”

Xinhua rounds up violence yesterday, resulting in the deaths of 19 people.

In case you thought the end was in sight for U.S. involvement, Gen. Campbell says NATO hopes to establish a base in Afghanistan on a more or less permanent basis, meaning U.S. troops will remain in the country long after Barack Obama has left office.

 In Iraq, the political situation continues to deteriorate along with the military situation. U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter says that Iraqi forces lacked any will to fight in Ramadi, where they fled in the face of a numerically far inferior IS force and abandoned U.S.-supplied equipment including several tanks. This did not sit well with Iraqi officials.  But as the linked article makes clear, the U.S. strategy in Iraq depends on the government regaining the trust and loyalty of Sunni Arabs and incorporating Sunni fighters into its military. This has not happened. In fact, by one account, the IS force that captured Ramadi numbered 150, before which 6,000 Iraqi troops fled.

British Major General Tim Cross agrees with the SecDef. "It’s interesting that the secretary used that [will to fight] expression because we use that expression in the British army and our argument is that it’s about a moral cohesion in your army. It’s about the motivation to achieve what it is you’re setting out to achieve and it’s about effective leadership … and it’s this will to fight that I think is fundamentally at the heart of the issue with the Iraqi military. There’s no cohesion, there’s no strong leadership. They’re really struggling and I don’t think there’s any doubt about that."

Of course, the Iranians are blaming the U.S.

Predictably, John McCain is calling for the U.S. to expand its combat role in Iraq, as similar calls for an expanded combat role are heard in Australia and the U.K. We shall see where this goes.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A must read

From Scott Ritter. His main point is to put much of the blame for violent Islamic radicalism on the Saudi royal family, but he doesn't spare the U.S. either. I recommend you read the whole thing (I don't otherwise recommend the Puffington Host), but here are a couple of important paragraphs.

Iraq is but one of the more visible manifestations of this post-Cold War reality. American force of arms could remove a dictator, but was -- and is -- incapable of transforming a society against the will of the indigenous population. When America toppled Saddam, it unleashed regional forces -- Iranian, Arab, Kurd, Sunni, and Shia -- that were not understood then, and are not understood now. America continues to mistake tactical victories - the fall of Baghdad, the capture of Fallujah, the death of Zarqawi, the "surge" -- for strategic vision. Not one of America's tactical successes in Iraq has withstood the test of time, and yet America continues to look to them as a template for future action that, in doing so, cements failure as the only possible outcome. The ultimate irony of the blame game is that it locks those who purport to seek a solution to the problem of ISIS into evaluating and assessing the symptoms associated with ISIS rather than the disease that spawned ISIS. Since America's involvement in Iraq is itself such a symptom, any search for a solution that predicates success on continued American involvement is itself doomed to fail. Failure to accurately identify the root cause of a problem leads to solutions that solve nothing.

It is high time American policy makers understood that, when it comes to the issues of Iraq, Syria, and ISIS, America is the problem, not the solution. As a country we need to stop buying into a Saudi-backed narrative that lays the blame for the ongoing unrest in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere at the feet of Iran, and instead recognize that those responsible for the ongoing regional conflagration reside in Riyadh. If we stop trying to unilaterally solve the myriad of problems that rage in the Middle East, then perhaps the Saudi government will stop instigating them. If not, then they alone will reap the consequences. The days of Saudi monopoly over the global oil economy are long past. A resurgent American domestic oil production capacity, combined with the looming possibility of Iranian oil reentering the global economy in a meaningful way, liberates American decision makers from the trap of Saudi-driven policy. With or without the fall of Ramadi, ISIS is not America's problem to solve. Sometimes the only way to win is to walk away.

Not going to happen I fear. I'm sensing Obama would like to, but he knows it's politically impossible.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Update for Saturday, May 16, 2015

A few developments of note since I last posted.

In Iraq, a major defeat for the Iraqi government as IS captures Ramadi, the capital of Anbar (and a city where many Americans died). From The Economist:

THE DAY before Islamic State (IS) swept Ramadi, the largest city in western Iraq and the capital of Iraq’s biggest province of Anbar, the head of the province’s 13 Sunni tribes warned that its loss was a foregone conclusion. From his seat of exile across the border in Jordan, Tarik Alabdullah al-Halbusi protested that the government had broken its promises. It had reneged on earlier commitments to arm and integrate Anbar’s Sunni tribesmen into Iraq’s Shia-dominated security forces and turned to its allied Shia militias to fight IS instead. This was a huge mistake. Fearful of being overrun and expelled by the Iran-backed militias, his Sunni tribesmen have been turning in droves to IS. “They give jobs to the unemployed and pay salaries on time,” Mr Halbusi said.
In other words, nothing has changed. Abadi is no different from his predecessor -- he will not arm Sunni Arabs or incorporate them into the national army. He is not the Prime Minister of Iraq, but of Shiite Iraq. As long as that continues, there will be no Iraq and IS will continue to win victories.

U.S. Special Forces kill an IS commander in Syria. They raid a compound in Deir Ezzor, intending to capture Abu Sayyaf, but he is killed in a firefight. U.S. troops suffer no casualties, according to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. They capture Sayyaf's wife, and rescue a Yazidi captive. According to Carter, "Abu Sayyaf was involved in ISIL's military operations and helped direct the terrorist organization's illicit oil, gas, and financial operations as well." [However, this is not a war the U.S. can fight and win. As long as there is no such thing as Iraq, the Sunni Arabs of Iraq will have nowhere else to turn but IS. That appears to be where matters stand and as far as I'm concerned, the only interest of the U.S. in this mess is to protect Kurdistan.  C]

In Afghanistan, Taliban justify Wednesday's attack on a guesthouse in Kabul  in which 9 foreigners, including 1 American, were killed. “Every foreigner from an invading country especially NATO is considered an invader. We don’t classify any of them as civilian,” Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said in a Twitter posting on Friday. [However, I note that 5 Afghan citizens were also killed, along with 4 Indians and 2 Pakistanis. Neither of those countries has invaded Afghanistan.]

Taliban kidnap 27 people in Paktia

U.S. drone strike kills 4 militants in Nangarhar.

Ministries offer the usual implausible body count for the past 24 hours, 138 insurgents and 16 government soldiers. Believe what you will. Still, that's a higher government toll than they generally admit to.

Air strike kills 5 militants in Nangarhar. Presumably U.S.

Chief prosecutor for Paktia is shot dead in Kabul.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Big Lie

(Crossposted from Stayin' Alive)

Jeb Bush tells Faux News that he would have invaded Iraq in 2003 had he been president, based on the intelligence available at the time.

That's what they all say. Except the "intelligence" was fake, as we all actually know. Paul Pillar, who was National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005 is probably the right person to ask

The most serious problem with U.S. intelligence today is that its relationship with the policymaking process is broken and badly needs repair. In the wake of the Iraq war, it has become clear that official intelligence analysis was not relied on in making even the most significant national security decisions, that intelligence was misused publicly to justify decisions already made, that damaging ill will developed between policymakers and intelligence officers, and that the intelligence community's own work was politicized. As the national intelligence officer responsible for the Middle East from 2000 to 2005, I witnessed all of these disturbing developments. . . .

The administration used intelligence not to inform decision-making, but to justify a decision already made. It went to war without requesting -- and evidently without being influenced by -- any strategic-level intelligence assessments on any aspect of Iraq. . . .

Official intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs was flawed, but even with its flaws, it was not what led to the war. On the issue that mattered most, the intelligence community judged that Iraq probably was several years away from developing a nuclear weapon. The October 2002 NIE also judged that Saddam was unlikely to use WMD against the United States unless his regime was placed in mortal danger.
Will the corporate media call out Bush on this Big Lie? No, because they were complicit.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Update for Monday, May 4, 2015

A U.S. air strike in Aleppo province, Syria on Friday killed 52 civilians. According to the British-based Observatory for Human Rights, this brings the total of civilians killed in U.S. operations in Syria to at least 118. The Reuters report goes on to say "The U.S.-led air strikes have had little impact on the hardline Islamic State group, slowing its advances but failing to weaken it in areas it controls."

Anbar provincial council calls on the government to protect refugees from criminal gangs in Baghdad province. (Last I heard they weren't being allowed into the city proper.)

Tikrit (in Salah-u-Din province) remains a ghost town. Residents fear returning as militias remain in control.

Iraqi journalists face imprisonment and murder

In Afghanistan, Taliban attacks in Badakhshan kill 16 police. DPA, apparently referring to the same incident, says the dead were soldiers and that there were 18 of them. The accounts are very different and I can't reconcile them.

Update: This appears to be the correct account of the Badakhshan incident. Taliban overran 10 police checkpoints in Warduj district. Seventeen police are known dead and 26 are missing.



Sunday, May 3, 2015

Update for Sunday, May 3, 2015

Starting with Iraq, it's flying well under the radar here in the U.S., but believe me, in Iraq, people have noticed that the U.S. House Armed Services Committee wants to break up the country. You might think this would be a matter of sufficient interest to people in the U.S. that the corporate media would bother to report on it, but for the most part, they haven't. The committee's markup of the Defense Authorization Act originally called on the U.S. to recognize Kurdistan as an independent country. That's gone, but the bill as sent to the House floor on a vote of 60-2 does call for U.S. arms to go directly to Peshmerga and Sunni Arab tribal forces, not by way of Baghdad.

The Iraqi Parliament voted to reject any direct arming of Kurdish and non-governmental Sunni Arab forces, but that was the Shiite majority and as the linked article notes, the Kurds want those weapons.

I don't link to Fars for hard news because it's not reliable, but in this case, it's the propaganda I'm interested in. An Iranian official condemns the vote in congress as part of a western plan to break up Iraq.

"A specific plot is at work in the region to disintegrate Iraq, Syria and Yemen and the westerners are attempting to disintegrate Iraq into three smaller countries, Syria to two states and Yemen to two a Northern and a Southern state," [Secretary of the Expediency Council Moshen] Rezayee said in a press conference in Tehran on Sunday.
Actually this is not paranoid. Many U.S. political leaders, including Joe Biden, have called for the breakup of Iraq over many years now. Don't get me wrong -- it may eventually happen. But the U.S. intentionally making it happen, and giving weapons to the remaining pieces, is another matter.

Back in Afghanistan, the Taliban offensive in Kunduz has resulted in thousands of internally displaced persons. The Afghan security forces -- and their U.S. advisers, special forces, and drone buddies -- failed to detect the massing of Taliban forces ahead of the attack. Afghanistan still does not have a defense minister, 7 months after the election.

Talks between the government and Taliban have begun in Qatar. The sides are not calling these "peace talks," but they attendees are people who would likely participate in peace talks. The meetings are hosted by the Pugwash Conference, which for those who don't know is an association of scientists who originally met to work for nuclear disarmament and which continues to be an informal conduit for communication between hostile powers.

A mass trial in the lynching of Farkhunda is underway. The trial has been postponed for one day to investigate "the nationality of an Arab-speaking man who was arrested soon after the murder on suspicion of having jammed police radios during the incident." Nineteen of the defendants are police officers.