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, October 31, 2015

Update for Saturday, October 31, 2015

NY Times reports an increasingly desperate situation for government forces in Helmand and Uruzgan. "The details of the battles sweeping up to important district centers were as grim as the death toll. In telephone interviews, Afghan soldiers and their officers described feeling abandoned by their government, often left with only scant supplies of ammunition and fuel, their situation increasingly desperate in the face of Taliban fighters who seem to have grown in number." The soldiers report a lack of heavy weapons, a lack of air support, and a lack of medevac resources. They report watching their comrades bleed to death because they cannot be evacuated. Analysts say that despite their superior numbers, the government forces are hampered by corruption which often deprives units of supplies and ammunition. Helmand province is the heart of the opium growing region and therefore represents a substantial economic prize for the insurgents.

A rocket strikes a mosque in Kandahar province, killing six. Daesh (IS) militants are blamed. The intended target was apparently a security post.

Air strike in Ghazni kills 12, said to be insurgents. (As we know, there is no effort to verify the identity of people killed in these attacks. Any "military aged male" is assumed to be a legitimate target.)

Taliban block roads to 6 districts in Paktia, leaving the residents cut off.

The Netherlands prepares to prosecute Sadeq Alamyar, accused of an atrocity in Karala, Kunar province in 1979 in which 1,000 men and boys were murdered. This is a reminder of how long the Afghan people have suffered from conflict.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Update for Friday, October 30, 2015

It looks like we may need to change the name of the blog once again, this time to Today in Iraq and Afghanistan (and Syria?) as U.S. special forces will now be deployed to Kurdish territory in Syria, and while the Obama administration insists that "we are not in combat" in Iraq, Col. Steve Warren in Baghdad tells reporters:

"We’re in combat,” he said, speaking via video feed to reporters at the Pentagon. “That’s why we all carry guns.  That’s why we all get combat patches when we leave here. That’s why we all receive imminent danger pay. So, of course it’s combat.” Officials say the ground mission is primarily an advisory, not combat, one, but say American personnel are bound to encounter combat or kinetic situations from time to time, as they did in Hawijah. How often that occurs may depend on whether Obama approves proposed steps that would expand U.S. operations in Iraq and Syria, including embedding American troops with Iraqi units closer to the front lines.
Waist deep in the Big Muddy.

Meanwhile, a rocket attack on a former U.S. military base housing the Iranian dissident group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq kills 23. This is a somewhat complicated story for those new to Iraqi affairs, but the organization -- which was an armed insurgency -- was harbored by Saddam Hussein whose government was hostile to Iran. After the U.S. invasion, when a Shiite led government took power, it no longer wanted to protect the group but the international community has prevented them from acting against it. (They were moved from their previous location to the former Camp Liberty.) Despite its hostility to the Iranian regime, the U.S. classified the MEK as a terrorist organization (whatever that means). In any event, their fate is still undecided. Meanwhile, no-one has taken responsibility for the attack.

UNICEF says 2 million children in Iraq currently have no schooling.

People continue to flee IS-held territory to Kurdistan.

In Afghanistan, relief is still slow to arrive to remote regions affected by the recent earthquake.

"As of Friday, the government assessment teams and rescue personnel have failed to reach all affected districts in Kunar. The quake destroyed scores of houses. Villagers are staying in open spaces amid fears of aftershocks. They are in urgent need of food and warm clothes. The weather is very cold during the night. We also need food and blankets," Habid added. "People in remote areas are digging debris to find remnants of food for children."
Now this is just weird. The United States Agency for International Development can’t pinpoint the location of nearly two dozen health facilities it funds in western Afghanistan, potentially putting them at risk for attack, and obviously meaning there is no meaningful oversight of the use of the funds.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction conducted site inspections at 23 of the 63 health facilities USAID funds in the province of Herat. It found only 12 of the facilities it visited were within one kilometer of the location provided by USAID, according to a new report. Seven facilities were more than five kilometers away.  The watchdog’s review of information about the other 40 medical facilities in the province was only able to confirm the existence of 19 of the sites. “For the remaining 21 facilities, USAID provided old or unclear photographs which did not demonstrate the physical location or existence of the purported facility,” the report said.
 The Guardian reports that the exodus from Afghanistan is growing as people lose hope for the future.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Special Post for Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Obama considers escalating the U.S. role in ground combat in Syria and Iraq. That means fighting with Iranian backed Shiite militias in Iraq, and against them in Syria, among other interesting puzzles.

We were knee deep in the Big Muddy, the big fool said to push on.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Update for Monday, October 26, 2015

A massive earthquake has struck northwest Afghanistan, which was felt over a wide area of central and south Asia. There are reports of substantial numbers of deaths in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but communications with the most affected region are out. It will be some time before we have any sort of a picture of the damage and possible political aftermath. I will post as I can today when there is more information.

Information about the quake is still just trickling out. Of course the reported death toll is still rising but there isn't much point in following the play by play as it ticks up. We'll actually know something later. Meanwhile, I've been reluctant to link to leaks from the Kunduz hospital bombing because they are probably self-serving, but someone has been leaking to AP and it may be instructive as to where they are trying to go with this. The excuse of the day seems to be that the green berets who called in the strike thought the hospital had been overrun by Taliban, was under their control, harbored heavy weapons, and was the base for firing against U.S. troops. There is a hint dropped that maybe they confused the MSF facility with an Afghan ministry of health facility that had been overrun.

I'll give the anonymous AP reporters credit -- they are properly skeptical, on numerous very good grounds. They can't say it, but I can. This is bullshit. Read the story if you are interested, it seems to me reasonably informative. Of course the self-investigation has been delayed once again. If we ever learn the truth, I doubt there will be accountability.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Update for Thursday, October 22, 2015

A U.S. commando is killed in combat in Iraq, in a joint operation with Kurdish forces near Hawija. The operation freed prisoners and also resulted in the capture of some IS fighters.

Update: U.S. soldier killed in action is identified  as army Master Sergeant Joshua L. Wheeler of Roland, Oklahoma, assigned to U.S. Army Special Operations Command in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

More information on the raid near Hawija in which a U.S. soldier died. The Kurdistan government requested U.S. assistance in the raid, apparently after receiving intelligence that the captives faced imminent risk of execution. They also apparently believed there were Kurds among the prisoners, but they were all Arab members of the Iraqi security forces, local residents, or IS fighters suspected of spying. In addition to the dead American, 4 peshmerga fighters were injured in the action. Five IS fighters were captured and an unstated number killed.

U.S. has deployed A-10s to Incirlik to participate in strikes against IS.

Meanwhile, returning to Afghanistan, former staff sergeant Robert Bales, who murdered 16 Afghan villagers, gives an interview to GQ in which he is sorry for letting down his buddies but still thinks he did the right thing by murdering Afghans. Seriously. Not that it matters, the only way he's coming out of prison is feet first. (We hope.)

Afghan forces are said to counterattack to recover the town of Babaji from the Taliban, who overran it on Friday. Most civilians were able to flee but some remain trapped. They are near the city of Lashkar Gah which is considered threatened. The Taliban are armed with Russian heavy machine guns, rocket launchers, and mortars.

Kunduz provincial council is concerned about the weapons the Taliban captured when they overran the city,.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Update for Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The state of the war continues to be highly volatile, with Lashkar Gah said to be under serious Taliban pressure and civilians fleeing. Highway One between Kandahar and Herat is also threatened.

Accounts of this incident vary somewhat, but the standard report is that 18 police are missing and presumed captured after Taliban overrun a remote district in Faryab. Warlord Rashid Dostum, who is a Vice President but who has his own militia and is not affiliated with the Afghan military, is put in charge of operations in the area.

UN and Afghan officials express concern about use of child soldiers by Taliban.

Taliban dissidents trying to unite around an alternative to Mullah Mansour.

Three UN security guards are injured by an explosion in Jalalabad.

In an unusual incident, A U.S. F-16 fighter jet was damaged by small arms fire in Paktia on October 13.  It was forced to jettison fuel tanks and weapons before returning safely to Bagram. In order for this to have happened, it must have been flying very low and slow, suggesting it was providing close air support, perhaps to U.S. special operations forces.

Not doing himself any good, Afghan defense minister Masoom Stanekzai continues to claim that the MSF hospital in Kunduz was a Taliban sanctuary, implying that the U.S. attack on the hospital was justified. (The scenario that the Pentagon has been leaking, which I have refrained from linking to, is that Afghans called in the strike and the U.S. commanders who authorized it failed to confirm the nature of the target. That might spare somebody a court martial for mass murder, but not for dereliction of duty.)

Germany, Turkey and Italy will go along with the U.S. and keep troops in Afghanistan.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Update for Thursday, October 15, 2015

It looks like this blog will be around for a while, as President Obama announces U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan, and will engage in combat against al Qaeda. [Apparently bombing Taliban and hospitals is not "combat."] The current force level of 9,800 will be maintained through "most of next year," with a reduction to 5,000 to follow. However, no date for full withdrawal is proposed.

Oh, about those "non-combat" drone strikes. The Intercept has another leaker who provides details on the drone war. [Warning: Annoying GIF at the link that may cause an epileptic seizure.] For those who prefer a summary, The Hill hits the high points:

According to documents leaked to The Intercept, the Operation Haymaker campaign killed 219 people between January 2012 and February 2013, but only 35 were the intended targets. 
During one five-month stretch of the campaign, nearly nine out of 10 people who died in airstrikes were not direct targets, The Intercept reported. 
All 200 deaths, however, were declared "EKIA," or “enemy killed in action," even though there was no definitive evidence they were enemy targets. 
“If there is no evidence that proves a person killed in a strike was either not a [military-age male], or was a MAM but not an unlawful enemy combatant, then there is no question,” said the source who leaked the documents to The Intercept. “They label them EKIA. 
“Anyone caught in the vicinity is guilty by association,” the source continued. When “a drone strike kills more than one person, there is no guarantee that those persons deserved their fate. … So it’s a phenomenal gamble.”
Collateral damage, don't you know.

And MSF has a new complaint, that a U.S. tank forced its way into the bombed out Kunduz hospital, evidently in order to investigate. However, 

MSF was not informed in advance and did not give permission for the intrusion. "The incident violated an agreement with investigators that MSF "would be given notice before each step of the procedure involving the organization's personnel and assets."
"Their unannounced and forced entry damaged property, destroyed potential evidence and caused stress and fear," it said in a statement, adding that an MSF team had arrived at the hospital earlier in the day.

MSF has also raised the death toll from the bombing to 24, saying that 2 missing staff members are presumed dead.

Tom Engelhart on the massive failure of intelligence that led to the Kunduz debacle.

NYT's Allisa Rubin on the Taliban's war on women in Kunduz. "In a methodical campaign, the Taliban relentlessly hounded women with any sort of public profile, looted a high school and destroyed the offices of many of the organizations that protected and supported women in Kunduz." Many leaders of women's programs and causes in Kunduz will not return due to threats.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

News of the Day for Wednesday, October 14, 2015

It turns out that 14 years is not nearly long enough. White House officials tell the New York Times Obama is likely to abandon his plan to withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan. (I linked to New York magazine's cover of this because of the NYT subscription policy which may exclude some readers.) He is apparently giving in to pressure from many in the foreign policy establishment. According to the report, he is contemplating reducing U.S. forces to 5,000 from the current 9,800, tasked mostly with fighting al Qaeda and the Islamic State. [Again, really a breakaway faction of the Taliban.]

Returning residents of Kunduz continue to face food shortage.

Taliban overrun two police posts in Helmand province and kill 29 border police, including 8 who were taken prisoner.

UN official warns of a deteriorating humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, saying current relief funding is half of what is needed, with 130,000 people newly displaced this year.

The Taliban have threatened TOLO and 1TV over their reporting on Taliban atrocities, most notably reports of rapes in Kunduz. The linked story reports the Wolesi Jirga condemning these threats. They also continue to accuse Pakistan of being behind the Afghan Taliban.  Here is an interview with Tolo founder Saad Mohseni about the threats. [I frequently link to Tolo. They support secular, constitutional government in Afghanistan but are not afraid to criticize government corruption and failure. One unquestionable gain for Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban has been a flourishing independent media.] Bakhtar weighs in with a defense of free press. Here is a statement by the International Federation of Journalists.

Contrary to several earlier reports, and somewhat inexplicably, a new survey says that opium production has sharply decreased. [The source and reliability of the data is not given, however. It is very difficult to accurately track illegal activities, obviously.]

The Kabul-Kandahar highway continues to be blocked, stranding hundreds.

UPDATE: Andrew Quilty, in Foreign Policy, presents a photo essay of the destroyed MSF hospital. Note that he observed the burned remains of numerous people, presumably many of those so far unaccounted for. The death toll is undoubtedly well above the 23 confirmed so far. Note also, this is what happens any time a building is attacked by an AC-130. We just usually don't get to see it.


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Update for Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Taliban announce what they are calling a strategic withdrawal from Kunduz, purportedly to avoid further civilian casualties. In fact they had been largely pushed to the city's outskirts already. Electricity is slowly being restored but apparently water supply remains problematic. Many displaced people still cannot return because the Taliban have blocked highways from Baghlan.

A joint U.S.-Afghan operation in Kandahar province dismantles 2 al Qaeda bases. Apparently U.S. ground forces were involved in the operation but details are not made public. According to U.S. Brigadier General William Shofner, the operation resulted in the seizure of substantial amounts of weapons and intelligence.

Taliban so far have failed to enter Ghazni but fighting continues on the periphery and the Taliban continue to block the Kabul-Kandahar highway.

Suicide bomber kills 1 police officer, injures another in Kandahar province.

New York Times editorial board asks if Pentagon is telling the truth about Afghanistan. (I've already given my answer.)

Monday, October 12, 2015

Update for Monday, October 12, 2015

A Royal Air Force Westland/Aerospatiale SA 330E Puma HC.2 medium transport helicopter crashed attempting to land at the Resolute Support Mission HQ in Kabul, killing 5 of the 10 people on board. Recent information is that the dead are 2 British personnel from the 230 and 33 Squadrons, Royal Air Force; and 2 U.S. service members and 1 French civilian. Officials state that the incident was not due to hostile action.

A United Nations employee is murdered in Kandahar in a street ambush. As the victim, Torpikai Alfat , was a woman, a provincial official speculates that this is part of the Taliban's ongoing campaign to terrorize working women.

Two police are killed and 2 injured by an IED attack on their vehicle in Wata Pur, Kundar.

A UN report, which has not been publicly released, finds the Taliban insurgency more widespread than at any time since their downfall in 2011. Among the key points:

  • United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has over the past two weeks evacuated four of its 13 provincial offices around the country.
  • Highway One, a ring road connecting all of Afghanistan's main cities, has long suffered repeated Taliban ambushes and roadblocks in southern Afghanistan. Government officials generally avoid much of the route.
  • In many districts that are normally [probably meant "nominall" -- C] under government control, like Musa Qala in Helmand Province and Charchino in Uruzgan Province, government forces hold only the government buildings in the district center and are under constant siege by the insurgents.
 This contrasts with Gen. Campbell's recent testimony before  Congress, in which he said specifically that Afghan forces hold Musa Qala and other districts that are not really under government control.

Taliban close the Kabul-Kandahar highway near Ghazni City, and issue threats:

Noorullah, a resident of Ghazni City who left for Kandahar in the morning, was stopped along with other passengers by the insurgents in Shahbaz area. Hundreds of the guerrillas had gathered to intercept a large number of vehicles on both side of roads, but there was no sign of the presence of security forces in the locality, he claimed.
A resident of Andar district said: “We were going to Ghazni City but the Taliban stopped us on our way. They told us to inform our relatives in the city to leave because they wanted to attack the city.”

Most shops in the city are closed, and officials refuse to discuss the situation with media. Reuters has further discussion of the Ghazni situation.

I do not know the truth of these accusations by retired State Department employee Peter Van Buren, but as you await the investigation of the U.S. attack on the hospital in Kunduz -- the investigation of the perpetrators by themselves, that is, keep in mind the following factual points.

  • The Taliban commit atrocities -- as do Afghan government forces, to a lesser degree. But that is beside the point, we're talking about the U.S.
  • An attack by an AC-130 is not like an attack by a jet bomber, which drops bombs from high in the air which land in a general area. The AC-130 precisely hits what it targets. In this case, it hit the same building, quite precisely, in 5 separate attacks.
  • We do not know what the crew of the gunship thought the building was, or far more importantly what their commanders thought it was they had ordered the gunship to attack. However, the U.S. command possessed the information that it was a hospital, and it's hard to see what else they might have thought it was.
  • It is clear, from statements by Afghan government officials, that they requested the strike on the hospital because they knew, or believed, that senior Taliban personnel were there. (In fact they have bragged about it.) This may well be true, but if so, they were receiving treatment for their injuries, alongside civilians and Afghan government forces, and they were unarmed. 
Draw your own conclusions.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Update for Friday, October 9, 2015

Although accounts have placed the death toll from the U.S. attack on the MSF hospital in Kunduz at 22, MSF now says that 33 people are still missing, including 24 of their staff and 9 patients. They believe that bodies may remain in the hospital, but they have no access.

In a further clarification, the attack lasted for 1 hour and 15 minutes and consisted of 5 separate bombing runs. The attacking aircraft exclusively targeted the main hospital building, sparing all other buildings and hospital grounds. A detailed report from the New York Times says the building contained the emergency room, intensive care unit, blood lab and X-ray area. MSF says there was no active ground combat in the area that night, in fact it was unusually calm. The hospital was treating injured Afghan soldiers, Taliban combatants, and civilians, but there were no weapons inside the compound. [Note: Injured combatants receiving medical treatment, under international law, are no longer considered combatants and may not be attacked. Whatever the explanation for this event, it was not an "accident." -- C] 

Attackers enter a restaurant in Kabul and fire indiscriminately, shooting 5 people of whom 2 subsequently die. The attackers were then shot dead by security forces.

People begin to return to Kunduz but food shortages continue. Afghan forces continue a house-to-house search for insurgents.

The Afghan government reports 246 civilians killed in September, a substantial increase from August. They also report, as usual, an implausibly asymmetrical toll of combatants, 3,760 insurgents vs. 349 government forces. [This "body count" braggadocio is reminiscent of the U.S. in Vietnam, for those of you old enough to remember. -- C]

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Update for Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Gen. Campbell continues to change his story, now telling the Senate Armed Services Committee that the attack on the MSF hospital in Kunduz was authorized within the U.S. chain of command, but that targeting the hospital constituted an unexplained "mistake."

The attack was carried out by an AC-130 gunship, a slow, low-flying prop plane bristling with many kinds of weapons including cannons, missiles and guided bombs. The plane orbits its target and can sustain fire over an extended period, as happened in this case.

It turns out, according to Gen. Campbell, that the lesson is that the U.S. war in Afghanistan must continue for a longer time. "Campbell told lawmakers that he has given the White House a plan, containing various options and “pros and cons,” for keeping a larger force in Afghanistan beyond January 2017. The administration is considering it, the general said."

There is currently no international humanitarian assistance in Kunduz, as fighting in the city continues. Insurgents have once again taken down the Afghan flag from the city's central roundabout and are engaging government forces with captured tanks. The population still does not have food or water and circumstances are growing desperate.

NATO defense ministers will meet in Brussels on Thursday to discuss the Resolute Support mission.

Joanne Liu, president of MSF says:

Statements from the Afghanistan government have claimed that Taliban forces were using the hospital to fire on Coalition forces. These statements imply that Afghan and US forces working together decided to raze to the ground a fully functioning hospital, which amounts to an admission of a war crime.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Update for Monday, October 5, 2015

Government forces appear to be in control of central Kunduz although fighting continues.

The city continues to suffer from severe shortages  of food and medicine. "There is a shortage of blood and medicines at the Kunduz Regional Hospital. The hospital building is crowded with injured persons, some of them lying in walkways for lack of hospital beds," according to a witness interviewed by Xinhua.

Afghan officials make statements appearing to try to justify the attack on the MSF hospital. Note that even if Taliban were present on the grounds, the action would still constitute a war crime, which means such statements would actually be an admission of guilt.

Update: And, right on cue, Gen. Campbell says the air strike was requested by Afghan forces, was not in response to a threat to U.S. forces as previously claimed.

In the incident early Saturday, Campbell said Afghan forces advised U.S. special operations forces on the ground that they needed U.S. air support, and the airstrike ensued. He said several civilians were “accidentally struck.”
Right. Accidentally. While specifically and precisely bombing the ER, the operating room, and the intensive care unit. Repeatedly. Over an hour. Makes perfect sense to me.

The Long War Journal provides an overview of the state of the battlefield, including a map. According to their analysis, 27 of Afghanistan’s 398 districts are under Taliban control, and another 36 districts are contested. "“Control” means the Taliban is openly administering a district, providing services and security, and also running the local courts. Often, the district centers are under Taliban occupation or have been destroyed entirely." The Taliban have a presence in additional districts.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Update for Sunday, October 4, 2015

Update: Al Jazeera is reporting that the Taliban have recaptured much of Kunduz. There is no corroboration as of 10:45 ET, but according to their reporter:

Al Jazeera's Qais Azimy, reporting from Puli Khumri just south of Kunduz, said that at around 1200 GMT, Taliban fighters launched counter-attacks, driving back government forces from the areas, where they had earlier made gains.

"It is a very fragile situation. Afghan security officials are telling us that they are suffering from lack of leadership and coordination," he said.
The Daily Mail reports that British special forces are engaged in ground combat in Kunduz.

Death toll in hospital bombing is now 22.

MSF abandons the Kunduz hospital, which is no longer functional. Critically injured patients have been moved to other hospitals. MSF's account of the attack makes it clear that this was not a case of collateral damage, but rather a precisely targeted assault on the key facilities of the hospital.

MSF stated in the statement that from 2:08 a.m. local time until 3:15 a.m. local time Saturday, MSF's trauma hospital in Kunduz was hit by a series of aerial bombing raids at approximately 15 minute intervals and the main central hospital building, housing the intensive care unit, emergency rooms, and physiotherapy ward, was repeatedly hit very precisely during each aerial raid, while surrounding buildings were left mostly untouched.
 MSF has so far declined to identify the victims.

TOLO provides an eyewitness account from a nurse. Read.

Afghan forces recapture Tala-Barfak in Baghlanbut Taliban take Kohistanat in Sar-e-Pul.

I have been discrete about any possible explanation for the hospital bombing. But I refer you to Glenn Greenwald who is less cautious. You may have read that Afghan MoD has claimed that there were Taliban firing from within the hospital grounds. MSF categorically denies this, saying that the hospital gates were locked at night and that the Taliban had in any case respected their demand not to carry weapons on the grounds. However, the hospital did treat everybody in need. Says Greenwald:

Several reports suggest that this hospital has been viewed with hostility because it treats all injured human beings, regardless of which side they’re on. “The hospital treated the wounded from all sides of the conflict, a policy that has long irked the Afghan security forces,” reports the NYT. Al Jazeera notes that “a caretaker at the hospital, who was severely injured in the air strike, told Al Jazeera that clinic’s medical staff did not favour any side the conflict. ‘We are here to help and treat civilians,’ Abdul Manar said.” That same caretaker added: “Several women and children are also killed in the strike. I could hear them screaming for help inside the hospital while it was set ablaze by the bombing. We are terrified and speechless.”
That would provide a possible motive -- but if this was done intentionally, it is indeed a war crime, and prosecution should go as far up the chain of command as responsibility lies.

A personal note: I am not clear in my own mind about what the U.S. role in Afghanistan should be at this time. While the U.S. has enormous obligations to the Afghan people, it is not obvious how best to discharge that debt. I do think that the air war must end. Unfortunately, efforts at development aid have mostly resulted in debacles.  At the same time, most Afghans, in most of the country, do not want Taliban rule, while of course from my own value perspective the Taliban ideology is disastrous, particularly for women and girls but also for any hope of economic and cultural development. How can the international community best support the aspirations of the Afghan people?


Saturday, October 3, 2015

Update II for Saturday, October 3, 2015

[I didn't want this information to step on the previous post -- C]

DoD identifies casualties from crash of C130J at Jalalabad Oct. 2.

Killed were: 
Capt. Jonathan J. Golden, 33, of Camarillo, California. 
Capt. Jordan B. Pierson, 28, of Abilene, Texas. 
Staff Sgt. Ryan D. Hammond, 26, of Moundsville, West Virginia. 
Senior Airman Quinn L. Johnson-Harris, 21, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
All four were assigned to the 39th Airlift Squadron, Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. For more information, media may contact the 7th Bomb Wing Public Affairs Office at 325-696-2863.
Also killed were: 
Senior Airman Nathan C. Sartain, 29, of Pensacola, Florida. 
Airman 1st Class Kcey E. Ruiz, 21, of McDonough, Georgia.
Both were assigned to the 66th Security Forces Squadron, Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusetts. For more information, media may contact the 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs Office at 781-225-1686.
The Telegraph's Danielle Moylan has more detail  on MSF's account of the U.S. air attack on their hospital in Kunduz. Some accident:

“This attack is abhorrent and a grave violation of International Humanitarian Law,” said Meinie Nicolai, MSF President. “We demand total transparency from Coalition forces. We cannot accept that this horrific loss of life will simply be dismissed as ‘collateral damage’.”

MSF said that for more than an hour, beginning at 2:08am, their hospital was hit by a series of aerial bombing raids every 15 minutes. The main central hospital building, housing the intensive care unit, emergency rooms, and physiotherapy ward, was repeatedly hit very precisely during each aerial raid.

“The bombs hit and then we heard the plane circle round,” said Heman Nagarathnam, MSF Head of Programmes in northern Afghanistan. “There was a pause, and then more bombs hit. This happened again and again.

“When I made it out from the office, the main hospital building was engulfed in flames. Those people that could had moved quickly to the building’s two bunkers to seek safety. But patients who were unable to escape burned to death as they lay in their beds.”
UN rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein says that an attack on a hospital is a war crime.


Update for Saturday, October 3, 2015

Hoo boy. U.S. airstrikes hit Kunduz hospital operated by Doctors Without Borders, killing 9 Medecins Sans Frontieres (the French name the group uses internationally) staff and injuring at least 37 additional people. (I've linked to the CNN account because, believe it or not, it seems to be among the most comprehensive currently available.) Thirty people are unaccounted for and the casualty toll is expected to rise.

MSF says it warned the U.S. and Afghan military of its precise coordinates, and that the attack continued for 30 minutes after they told military officials they were under attack.

The Telegraph now puts the death toll at 50, and provides  video of the burning wreckage.

A U.S. army spokesman says an air strike "may have caused collateral damage." "The U.S. Embassy in Kabul said in a statement that it "mourns for the individuals and families affected by the tragic incident at the Doctors Without Borders hospital." The statement didn't mention the airstrike."

Meanwhile, Taliban have surrounded 200 Afghan soldiers in Kohistanat, Sar-e-Pul and are at risk of a massacre if they do not receive air support.

[The hospital bombing has overwhelmed other reporting from Afghanistan. I'll provide an update on the situation in Kunduz and elsewhere as soon as I can get more information. -C]

Update as of 12:40 ET: Confirmed death toll in Kunduz hospital bombing now stands at 19, including 12 MSF staff, 4 adult patients, and 3 children.

The U.S. Department of Defense says only that the U.S. "conducted an air strike against individuals threatening the force and that the action may have caused collateral damage to a nearby hospital. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter calls it a "tragic incident."

However, this does not correspond to the description of the attack provided by MSF, which says:

"At 2:10 am (2040 GMT) local time... the MSF trauma centre in Kunduz was hit several times during sustained bombing and was very badly damaged," the organisation, known by its French initials, said.
MSF spokeswoman Kate Stegeman told AFP 16 [now 19] people were killed in the bombardment, among them three children, and 37 were wounded.
The charity said the bombing continued for more than 30 minutes after American and Afghan military officials were first alerted they were being hit.
"All parties to the conflict, including in Kabul and Washington, were clearly informed of the precise location (GPS coordinates) of the MSF facilities," the statement added. 

The Afghan Defense Ministry claims that a "group of terrorists" were firing from the building.

TOLO's report on conditions in Kunduz, while spinning heavy praise for the ANA, makes it clear that the city is far from fully recaptured:

TOLOnews journalist Sharif Amiry – who was the first journalist to make his way into the city of Kunduz – said the security forces were being attacked by the Taliban from civilian homes, where they are hiding. "There is heavy fighting between the security forces and Taliban near civilian homes," reported Sharif, who is embedded with a convoy of security forces clearing the city from insurgents.

"Taliban are hiding in civilian homes but the security forces are trying their best to protect civilians and move the injured people to hospitals." An injured Kunduz resident who was being moved to the hospital called for mercy from the Taliban.  . ."The situation has not normalized and the fighting still continues on the streets," said Sharif.

Sharif also says the university is in control of the Taliban.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Update for Friday, October 2, 2015

U.S Air Force C-130J transport aircraft crashes shortly after takeoff from Jalalabad, killing 6 U.S. military personnel, 5 civilian contractors working for the U.S. military, and 3 Afghan civilians. (Most accounts give the death toll as 11 and omit the Afghan civilians, who may have been on the ground.) Taliban claim to have shot the craft down, the U.S. denies it. It is unusual for C-130s, which are 4 engine prop planes, to crash.

Although government forces have recaptured most of Kunduz, fighting continues in the city. Meanwhile, Taliban take control of Warduj in Badakhsan province nearby. Warduj is on the highway to Tajikistan.

The ICRC says that medical personnel and supplies are urgently needed in Kunduz. Supplies are ready to be flown from Kabul once security at the Kuduz airport improves.

Amnesty International says witnesses have claimed Taliban in Kunduz hunted down specific individuals, committed rapes. Taliban are also accused of looting but police say local people also took advantage of the chaos to loot. The head of Kunduz public health department says 50 civilians are known dead and 372 have been admitted to hospitals, while hundreds of injured are as yet unable to get to hospitals. The city apparently remains without power, water or food.

UPDATE: As of 11:30 ET, DPA is reporting a far more dire state of affairs for the Afghan government in Kunduz and Baghlan province than claimed, and in fact disputes the report that government forces have regained control of most of Kunduz. According to witnesses in the city, while government forces have recaptured government buildings:

"The Taliban still control parts of the city and they are battling Afghan forces to retake control of the ground they have lost," said Sayed Asadullah Sadat, an elected member of the Kunduz provincial council.  . . .

"At least half of the city is controlled by the fighters," a Kunduz resident, who identified himself as Baryalai, said, adding that battles were taking place before their very doors. "We cannot get out for fear of being caught in the crossfire. Our children are starving and families who are able to flee have little to nothing financially to continue their trip," the resident said.

DPA also reports, without further comment, that 100 U.S. and other coalition forces are actively engaged in combat. DPA further reports that 4 of the 6 districts of Kunduz province are under Taliban control, and that the Taliban have also taken an additional district in Baghlan, Tala Wa Barfak, which the security forces abandoned without a fight.

As this is a different picture than we are getting from other sources, I will continue to monitor and update with corroboration or counter-claims as information emerges.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Update for Thursday, October 1, 2015

Although the Afghan government claims to have recaptured Kunduz, and many headlines simply state this as a fact, many sources say this is not true and that fighting continues. Stars and Stripes:

After residents reported some calm moments in the morning, however, they later described a fluid situation with gunbattles continuing as security forces fought to clear the city.
“You can’t say who is winning in these areas; one moment the government advances and then the Taliban,” said Aminullah Aideen, a member of the provincial council.

By Thursday afternoon, residents in the city center said fighting had resumed, with Afghan and Taliban forces play-ing a deadly game of capture the flag in the main square.

“Taliban took over the main square again and the flag that was raised by the army is again changed to” the white Taliban flag, said Mohammad Sakhi, a resident of downtown Kunduz who only hours before had jubilantly described waking up to government troops securing the area.
I will hold off on the Kunduz situation until it becomes more clear. Meanwhile, Taliban overrun Khawja Ghar in Takhar province, which of course security forces deny. These Taliban advances in the north of the country have taken many observers by surprise, who perceived the Taliban's greatest strength as in the south, in the Pakistan border regions.

A sailor supporting the U.S. operation in Afghanistan has died in a non-hostile incident in Bahrain. The incident is being investigated as a suicide.