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, April 30, 2016

Update for Saturday, April 30, 2016

Iraq's political crisis deepens as Sadrist protesters enter the Green Zone and storm the parliament chamber over failure to make political reforms. Many members of parliament fled, others are hiding in fear of the mob, although only fairly minor violence has been reported. All roads into the capital are closed. [I should note that although Muqtada al-Sadr leads a sectarian militia that was accused of atrocities against Sunnis during the civil war, he claims to be an Iraqi nationalist and that his current protest is a condemnation of the sectarianism of the Shiite-dominated government. What his long-term intentions may be is unclear.]

Suicide truck bomb attack on a market in Nahrawan, southeast Baghdad, kills 19 and injures 48. Although this attack caused many more casualties than the recent attack in Brussels, it will of course be largely ignored in the U.S. and Europe. [Some reports say the target was a nearby Shiite pilgrimage procession, but recent reports say the marketplace was the target.]

Update on the Kunduz hospital attack: Matthew Rosenberg in the NYT has details on the heavily redacted report released yesterday by the Pentagon. All I can say is, even if this is true, if this is the standard the U.S. military uses to decide whether to destroy a building full of human beings,  "intention" has nothing to do with it. This is a war crime. You don't blow people up if you don't know who they are.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Update for Friday, April 29, 2016

Perpetrators of the attack on the MSF hospital in Kunduz that killed 42 civilians will receive sternly worded letters. Yes, this means their military careers are over, but that's the worst of it. The Pentagon has apparently released a heavily redacted version of its internal investigation of the incident, which is 3,000 pages long. As soon as some close reading of it is available, I'll put it up here. But there doesn't seem to be any news beyond what has already been leaked. As The Guardian reports:

According to the then-commander of US forces in Afghanistan, John Campbell, elite US forces operating out of Kunduz called in an airstrike on a building seized by the Taliban miles from the hospital. But the AC-130 launched early, flew off course, dodging what the inquiry determined was a surface-to-air missile, and experienced a series of on-board communications and sensor system failures largely cutting it off from the ground during the pre-dawn mission. After a further sensor failure, crew mistakenly became convinced the hospital was the area it was ordered to attack through visually identifying the likeliest physical location. A higher headquarters, based hundreds of miles away at Bagram airfield, failed to recognize the coordinates the crew provided for strike permission as belonging to the hospital.
In other words, it is not a violation of military law to destroy a building and kill the people inside it without knowing for sure what it is and who the people are. Mistakes were made.

Update: I jumped to the conclusion that the 16 would likely see their military careers come to an end. Not so. Stripes is reporting that some of them will undergo retraining or counseling and may return to their former jobs including 3 air crew members.  Wow. Just wow.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Update for Thursday, April 28, 2016

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden makes an unannounced visit to Baghdad where he will hold "meetings with (the) Iraqi leadership focused on encouraging Iraqi national unity and continued momentum in the fight against ISIL," according to a statement. Exactly what Biden can contribute to resolution of Iraq's political crisis is not explicitly stated.

Meanwhile, Iraqi authorities have shut down al Jazeera's Baghdad bureau and forbidden its reporters from working in the country. The authorities cite only unspecified "violations of the official codes of conduct." [The company's Qatari sponsors are of course at odds with the Iranian sponsors of the Baghdad government. Just sayin'. --- C]

It seems IS is adapting to loss of oil revenue by opening fish farms and car dealerships. No telling how lucrative this will be.

In Afghanistana prosecutor is murdered in Heratan Australian aid worker is kidnapped in Jalalabad, and 3 police officers are killed in an "insider attack" in Laghman

The Afghan government continues to question the motives and actions of Pakistan regarding the Afghan Taliban as a Taliban delegation from its Qatar office visits Islamabad, shortly after Afghan president Ghani rejects the possibility of talks with some Taliban factions.

U.S. special envoy Richard Olson also accuses Pakistan of harboring "terrorist groups," presumably referring to Taliban and Haqqani network.

Afghanistan plans to complain to the UN Security Council about Pakistan.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Update for Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Taliban explode a truck bomb near the Kabul headquarters of the agency that protects high-ranking politicians, then enter the building and shoot occupants, killing 28 people and injuring more than 300. The most recent account puts the death toll at 30, and says there was a single gunman in addition to the suicide bomber.

Yet another poisoning attack on schoolgirls, this time in Takhar.

Russian ambassador to Afghanistan says the situation in the country is dire, that the Taliban threaten the existence of the Afghan state. However, Russia is still willing to accept Taliban participation in the government if they fulfill the conditions for national reconciliation.

However, the former Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan says there is no progress in the peace process. (I link to IRNA and Sputnik only when they represent viewpoints, not for factual information. -- C)

Pakistan foreign ministry claims it sincerely supports the Afghan peace process, but they are compelled to make this assertion because they have so far failed to deliver their clients, the Afghan Taliban, to the talks.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Update for Monday, April 18, 2016

Available details are scant, but a statement by the Kurdish regional government says U.S. and Kurdish special forces killed a senior IS official and two of his aides in a "helicopter raid." Reuters also reports that U.S. special forces captured an unidentified individual in a separate raid a day earlier.

Al Jazeera reports on serious ethnic conflict in Tuz Khurmatu, where Kurds and Turkmen live in separate ghettos amid constant threats of violence.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter is in Iraq to discuss escalating the U.S. role in the conflict.

PM Abadi calls for an emergency meeting of parliament to resolve the political crisis, as demonstrations led by Muqtada al-Sadr continue.

Update:  SecDef Carter now says specfically that the U.S. will send 217 additional troops to Iraq including special forces and Apache attack helicopters in what is still labeled a "train and advise" mission although in fact U.S. forces are already engaged in combat, and I don't think those helicopters are going to be advising anybody. "Carter said the Mosul effort will bring U.S. troops “closer to the action” by remaining close to Iraqi forces as they advance toward the city." The U.S. will also provide $415 million in financial assistance to the peshmerga. The publicly declared number of U.S. troops in Iraq will now be 4,100. (The true number is actually higher as the Pentagon does not count troops on short-term deployment.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Update for Wednesday, April 13, 2016

I have previously noted the U.S. State Dept. survey that found widespread belief in Iraq that the U.S. actually support IS. This is actually a line pushed heavily by Iranian media, to which I generally do not link because Iran's media is entirely under state control and is unreliable. Ayatollah Kahmenei now says publicly that the U.S. backs IS. This is also the line of Syrian state controlled media, so it's a joint campaign.

If you think it's true, it appears the U.S. isn't doing a very good job of it, as Iraqi forces continue to advance, capturing more of Hit and proclaiming they will shortly control the city. The U.S. also continues to claim it is conducting regular air strikes against IS, and posting video to prove itThe U.S. State Dept. says IS has lost 40% of the territory it once controlled in Iraq and that IS forces are at their lowest since 2014.

However, it may be too late for Iraq, according to a report by international monitoring groups.

"The division of Iraq on sectarian lines continues apace," Mark Lattimer, the executive director of the Minority Rights Group International, told Al Jazeera. "Both forces loyal to the Shia-led government and the KRG are using the liberation of territories from ISIS to engineer demographic changes.

"The vast majority of Iraq's ... IDPs are being denied the possibility of returning to their homes, despite the fact that many of them have been liberated," he added. "Unless a coherent strategy for return and reconciliation is put in place, the possibility of a democratic, multicultural Iraq will be gone within the next few years."
IS continues the destruction of Iraq's cultural heritage, in this case destroying the Mashqi Gate near Mosul which dates back to the rule of Sennacherib in the 7th Century BC.

Iraq's parliament is in emergency session as the struggle continues over PM Abadi's attempted political reforms. The Atlantic Council has a discussion of the political crisis.

Just a reminder that the humanitarian disaster in Fallujah continues.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Update for Friday, April 8, 2016

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry makes an unannounced visit to Baghdad, after meeting with representatives of the Gulf monarchies in Bahrain. His visit is generally interpreted as a show of support for the Abadi government and his attempted reforms.

Meanwhile, conditions are dire in the beseiged city of Fallujah where children are dying of starvation and the hospital has run out of supplies. IS has prevented people from leaving even as fire from Iraqi forces is contributing to civilian casualties. The Organization for Islamic Cooperation has called for urgent relief, though it is unclear how relief can be delivered given IS control of the city and ongoing combat.

Polling by the U.S. State Dept. finds that 1/3 of Iraqis believe the U.S. supports the Islamic State, and that the U.S. is conspiring to control Iraq's natural resources. [The latter was the original plan behind the 2003 invasion, but it has largely been abandoned by now. -- C]

U.S. may establish additional "fire bases" in Iraq to support the advance on Mosul.

IS is said to be netting up to $200 million a year from the sale of plundered antiquities, according to the Russian ambassador to the UN. Although the claim appears in part to be intended as a criticism of Turkey, through which the loot transits and toward which Russia is hostile, it is credible.

Iraqi troops have reached the center of Hit.


Secretary Kerry will visit Kabul on Saturday.

U.S. air strikes kill 17 people in Paktika. The provincial police chief says the dead were all militants, but another local official says they were all civilians. A third says at least some of the casualties were civilians.

Disarray, dysfunction and corruption in the Afghan government endanger the regime's survival.

Rod Nordland in the NYT reports that the opium industry corrupts all sides in Helmand. This is worth an extended excerpt -- but do follow the link.

President Ashraf Ghani’s envoy for Helmand, Maj. Gen. Abdul Jabar Qahraman, has been given the task of fixing the situation. He says that a big part of the reason Helmand has become so difficult is that so many of its combatants have a financial stake in the continuation of the drug trade and of the war itself — something he hopes to undo by getting all sides talking to one another.

He calls the problem fourth-wife syndrome. The fourth wife — four is the most allowed under Islam — is often several decades younger than the husband, so her father can demand a high price for the bride. . . .

The Taliban shadow governor for the province, Mullah Manan, is from a poor family, yet recently he took a young girl as his fourth wife. “Where did he get this money?” General Qahraman said. “He had to pay a lot for such a marriage, and his father didn’t even own a donkey.” As a counterpoint, he mentioned that the Afghan National Police commander in Nad Ali district, Hajji Marjan Haqmal, had also just paid 3 million afghanis for a young, fourth wife — around $42,000, or more than three years’ salary for a district commander.


Sunday, April 3, 2016

Update for Sunday, April 3, 2016

As Iraqi forces advance slowly toward Hit, they liberate 1,500 prisoners from an underground dungeon. The prisoners included security forces and civilians.

The advance on Hit has been slowed, however, by trapped civilians.

Displaced people begin to return to Ramadi, but there is no electricity. About 3,000 families are said to have returned to those districts which have been cleared of mines. This is out of some half million people who fled, however. Meanwhile, additional civilians continue to be displaced by fighting.

The UN expects the flood of refugees from the assault on Mosul to swell to 1 million, and there are no resources in place to deal with the problem.

Kurdish MPs demand that the Yazidi city of Shingal (or Sinjar) be declared a "ruined city," a designation that would direct reconstruction funds to the area. The Yazidi speak a Kurdish language and the Kurds have demonstrated solidarity with them, despite their minority religion. However, the city lies outside of what has been the Kurdish autonomous region and its incorporation into Kurdistan is resisted by the Baghdad government.

Parliament has designated all of Anbar province ruined, with 80% of infrastructure destroyed. Reconstruction costs are estimated at $20 billion, of which the Islamic Development Bank has pledged only $250 million. The Iraqi government currently has no significant resources to contribute to the effort.

Salah Naswari in al Jazeera discusses the political reforms. PM Abadi has nominated a new slate of ministers said to be technically competent and politically non-partisan. He will make other personnel changes. Muqtada al-Sadr has voiced support for the moves and called off his occupation of the Green Zone. However, the current ministers will need to resign and parliament will have to approve the new slate. The current power sharing arrangement with ethno-sectarian quotas is also an obstacle to effective governance. The Kurds continue to move toward secession, while Sunni Arabs will see the reforms as merely further marginalizing them. As an example of the problems posed by ethnic politics, Turkmen are demanding representation in the cabinet.