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, July 30, 2015

Update for Thursday, July 30, 2015

Matters are getting clearer and murkier at the same time. The Taliban confirm that Mullah Omar is dead, but they don't say when he died. They also claim he died in Afghanistan and not, as has been widely believed, in Pakistan under the protection of the Pakistani government. [There is no particular reason to believe them on this point, obviously. -- C]

Although they have not announced it officially, the Taliban Shura in Quetta is reported to have appointed Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour as his successor. Well okay, but Mansour has been effectively running the organization for a while now, it appears, and if Omar really has been dead for more than two years, this would be a formality. I would also note that since the Taliban leadership is based in Quetta, Pakistan, it would have been odd for their leader not to have been there, as the Taliban claim. And there's this:

Afghanistan had said Omar died in April, 2013 in a Pakistani hospital, but Pakistani officials could not confirm that. "We are aware of the reports and trying to ascertain the details," Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman Qazi Khalilullah said.
That is ridiculous. Of course the Pakistani government knows whether Omar died in a hospital in Karachi or not. In any case, the peace talks in Pakistan have been suspended, while the Taliban office in Doha says it has never heard of them.

So, Michael Kugelman in Foreign Affairs thinks it odd that the Afghan government would make the announcement at this time, when the Pakistanis and the Taliban were still sitting on it, since it appears to have scuttled the peace talks, which supposedly the Afghan government wanted.  He doesn't really have an answer, except that it may have been a miscalculation -- maybe they thought it would help unite the Taliban movement and create a more credible interlocutor. Or maybe they knew it was about to come out anyway so they preempted it.

I really don't know what to make of all this, but we'll continue to watch it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Update for Wednesday, July 29, 2015

There is more to the story of the apparent death of Mullah Omar than we yet know. Afghan intelligence officials say he died in a Karachi hospital in April, 2013. It has been generally suspected that Pakistan was harboring him, which contributed to the tension between Afghanistan and Pakistan. But if the Pakistanis conspired to conceal his death for more than 2 years, that will not sit well at all.

As the Taliban has been fracturing, many have wondered why Omar did not make any public appearances, although statements have been issued in his name. The Taliban are continuing to deny that he is dead.

It is unclear what this will mean for the peace process. If he has indeed died, it is not clear whether the Taliban can present as a reasonably unified entity capable of negotiating. We will continue to follow this and update as there is news.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Update for Sunday, July 26, 2015

Taliban capture a police base in Wardoj, Badakhshan after 110 police surrender. The government had failed to resupply the base after roads washed out. After disarming them, the Taliban released the captives, as they continue to control the base.

A U.S. drone strike kills 5 people riding in a car in Nangarhar, near the Pakistan border. The dead are said to be insurgents.

Gunmen kidnap 14 civilians from a bus in Pul-e-Khumri, Baghlan, releasing 6 women who were among the 20 passengers. The motive is not yet known.

Two rockets strike Kabul International Airport on Saturday, but cause no significant damage.

Mia Hassan Adil, former head of the Kunar provincial council, is found beheaded in Nangarhar after being abducted on Friday.

Three hundred fifty airmen from Ellsworth AFB start 6 month deployment to "southwest Asia" in support of Afghan operations. The squad apparently operates B-1 bombers. Southwest Asia means the Middle East. The Persian Gulf countries are reluctant to admit to hosting U.S. air bases. The three major bases that launch operations in Afghanistan and against the Islamic State are al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, Ali al Salem Air Base in Kuwait and al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates. This deployment is likely to al Udeid which is the main hub for Afghan operations.

A bomb in Takhar province injures 9 people, while a second bomb in Jalalabad injures 4, on Saturday.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Update for Monday, July 20, 2015

Today the news is from Afghanistan. Yes, U.S. troops are still subject to enemy fire and no, they don't always respond accurately. The reported death toll of Afghan troops varies from 7 to 10 as 2 U.S. helicopters attack an Afghan army post in Baraki Barak district of Logar province. An unnamed U.S. military official says the "incident is under investigation."

Note that the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan purportedly ended at the end of last year. If this isn't "combat," what is it?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Update for Sunday, July 19, 2015

It's early, but the offensive to retake Ramadi is off to a slow start as an estimated fewer than 350 IS defenders hold out against 10,000 government and allied militia forces. The U.S.-led coalition has slowed the pace of air strikes due to a lack of targets. U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who made an unusual unannounced visit to Baghdad on Saturday, said that he asked commanders if it was time for U.S. troops to become involved in ground combat and they said "No, not at this point." [This is obviously political theater aimed at John McCain and other Republicans who are calling for an increased U.S. combat role. -- C]

Reported death toll from the Friday truck bomb attack at a market in the Shiite town Khan Bani Saad varies somewhat -- later stories tend to have it at 90 vs the 115 reported here by AP. In any event, the attack was explicitly aimed at civilians and intended to kill and injure as many as possible. This is a reminder that Sunni extremists' view of Shiite Muslims as heretics really is a primal motive for violence.

British PM David Cameron says he wants Britain to take an expanded role in the war with IS. It was recently revealed that although Parliament has authorized British action only in Iraq, Cameron has gotten around this restriction by allowing British pilots to attack targets in Syria under U.S. command. And, ex-U.K. army chief Lord Richards says the UK will have to send armored forces into combat to defeat IS.

It has gone virtually unreported in the U.S., but the Iraqi government continues to imprison members of an Iranian opposition force in a location called "Camp Liberty" where they are deprived of food and fuel and many have apparently died. According to an agreement, the 2,500 or so members of the Mujahedin-el-Kalqh were to have been processed and sent abroad as refugees, but four years later, this has not occurred.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Update for Thursday, July 16, 2015


As the Iraqi army and allied Shiite militias prepare the assault on Anbar province, tens of thousands of civilians are trapped in Fallujah and Ramadi. When those forces entered Tikrit in April, the city was largely deserted, but this time, IS is making sure the population cannot leave. As the cities are now besieged, food is in short supply. The U.S.-led coalition is not bombing the Fallujah area because most of the attacking forces there are Shiite militias, which the U.S. does not want to appear to be supporting. However, air strikes happening in the vicinity of Ramadi.

But even those who safely make it out of Iraq's Sunni heartland, where Islamic State has in part been able to tap into long-standing resentment of the Shi'ite-led authorities in Baghdad, complain that they are met with suspicion in the capital. "All roads were closed off, as if we are enemies of the government," said Saad Jaber, a 41-year-old who said he had been forced to stay with his brother in a town south of Falluja because he could not get to Baghdad. "The government was supposed to reward us and help us because we managed to escape from Daesh (Islamic State)," he said. "It's not our fault that the government is weak and unable to defend us."

 The U.S. has intensified its air campaign in Afghanistan, launching twice as many strikes in June as in recent months. The targets include former Taliban who have adopted the IS brand name, but most are focused on the Taliban.

And, the violence in general continues. Four children are killed by a bomb in Maidan Wardak. Five Afghan police are killed in an ambush in Laghman, while 6 Taliban are killed by a drone strike in Nangarhar. Another drone strike kills 10 Haqqani network fighters, also in Maidan Wardak, while a senior police officer, along with two others, is killed in Kandahar. Six police are killed by a suicide attack in Lashkargah.

Faryab province is under sustained assault, with militants controlling 40 villages and resident fleeing to Balkh. 

Afghanistan remained the world's most dangerous country for aid workers in 2014.

Mullah Omar is heard from for the first time in quite a while, endorsing peace talks with the Afghan government. However, with the Taliban increasingly fragmented, it is unclear whether he can deliver on any agreement.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Update for Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Sorry for the absence folks. The news was feeling kind of repetitive and I've been a bit down in the dumps, but I will pick up the pace again. -- C

As Iraq launches an offensive to retake ground in Anbar province, the U.S.-led coalition ramps up the pace of air strikes, with 39 in the past 24 hours.

Iraqi forces attack IS positions around Ramadi with rockets and mortar fire. The move on Ramadi is in part intended to isolate Fallujah. An Anbar provincial official claims the IS leaders are fleeing Fallujah and that the city is effectively besieged. [I cannot assess the credibility of this claim, I can't find corroboration for it.] An unnamed military official claims gains in the Fallujah area.

Residents of Mosul are steadily fleeing for Kurdistan as an offensive against that city is also promised.

Nevertheless IS claims responsibility for a series of bombings in Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad that have killed 39 people.

Iraq takes delivery of F-16s from the U.S.

WaPo has a relatively lengthy story on the offensive. The main push on Fallujah will  not happen until after Eid-al-Fitr, that is to say this weekend.

[I must say it is far too early to tell what success the Anbar offensive will have, but it does appear to have started in earnest. I will keep up with it in the next few days. It is also unclear how much participation there is by Sunni Arab fighters. It is a very important question whether the population will welcome the restoration of Iraqi government control if they perceive it as the re-establishment of Shiite dominance. -- C]

Old friend Muqtad al-Sadr goes all puritan on young people who hold open air parties in defiance of IS bombings. The parties are alcohol free but apparently music offends him.

Kurdistan president Barzani meets with U.S. ambassador Stuart Jones. Little detail on what they discussed but it likely concerns the relationship between Kurdistan and Baghdad. Kurdistan has been slowly but surely asserting more autonomy and strengthening its independent diplomatic ties.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Update for Wednesday, July 1, 2015

[Sorry, I was traveling yesterday and couldn't make a timely post in response to significant events.]

We may never sort out all the details, but Taliban suicide bomb attack on a U.S. convoy in Kabul kills 2 Afghan civilians and injures 24, some critically. (Latest account puts death toll at 10, and by the way puts a human face on some of them.) Two U.S. soldiers are said to have suffered minor injuries in the incident. However, this may have occurred as a result of the Afghan crowd turning on the Americans. According to the New York Times account, a member of the crowd may have stabbed an American soldier. Witnesses dispute whether the Americans only fired warning shots into the air, or shot and injured or killed people who were trying to come to the aid of blast victims. But as Times reporters Joseph Goldstein and Ahmad Shakib write, "The episode hinted at a lingering wellspring of anger against American troops even as the United States’ military presence in Afghanistan is receding."

Meanwhile, a border skirmish leaves 1 Afghan border police commander and 8 Pakistani soldiers dead in Paktika province -- an unfortunate incident as the two countries try to mend relations. (Pakistani sources report this as a "cross-border attack" by the Afghans, while Afghan sources report that the Pakistanis were trying to set up a checkpoint inside Afghanistan.)

And, in news from the narco-state, an Afghan general is accused of smuggling 20 kilograms of heroin, which in case you didn't know is a lot, but a drop in the bucket of the enormous current production in Afghanistan.

Khaama reports a less implausible than usual body count acknowledging the deaths of 10 government troops while claiming 44 militants  killed in the past 24 hours.

Evidently this doesn't constitute a "combat operation," since those have ended, but U.S. forces conducted a night-time raid on the home of an ex-jihadi commander in Parwan province, and destroyed weapons and ammunition. This individual had evidently defected to the government long ago, and "Sami Sameem, a lawmaker from Farah, said the US forces have no right to carry out raids on the houses of jihadi commanders. He said the ex-jihadists were fighting against the Taliban and foreign militants for the past several years. He alleged that the United States authorities in the country were conspiring against the Afghan government." However, other MPs questioned why the man had such a large cache of weapons.

U.S. drone kills 14 alleged militants in Nangarhar.