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

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Update for Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Please, God, no: Trump Finds Reason for the U.S. to Remain in Afghanistan: Minerals:

President Trump, searching for a reason to keep the United States in Afghanistan after 16 years of war, has latched on to a prospect that tantalized previous administrations: Afghanistan’s vast mineral wealth, which his advisers and Afghan officials have told him could be profitably extracted by Western companies.
 Uh huh. It turns out that most of the valuable deposits are in Helmand province, which is controlled by the Taliban; there aren't any roads; and then of course there's the corruption. But as the reporters on this, Mark Landler and James Risen, helpfully point out:

Mr. Trump has said little publicly about Afghanistan since being elected. But his thinking about what the United States should reap for its military efforts was made clear in another context soon after his inauguration. Speaking to employees of the C.I.A., the president said the United States had erred in withdrawing troops from Iraq without holding on to its oil.
“The old expression ‘To the victor belong the spoils,’” Mr. Trump declared. “You remember?”
I may vomit.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Update for Monday, July 24, 2017

At least 26 are dead in a suicide car bomb attack on a bus carrying government workers in a Shiite neighborhood of Kabul. (The linked story raises the prospect of a sectarian element to the attack but the relevance of the location is not entirely clear.) The Taliban claimed responsibility.

News is just now emerging of an attack on a hospital in Ghor in which 35 civilians were killed. The Taliban have captured the Taywara district where the hospital is located. (I am usually reluctant to link to Press TV, an Iranian government property which is often unreliable. However accounts of this incident are still scant and I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of this report.)

And, in this context, I should note that a provincial official in Ghor accuses Iran of assisting the Taliban in seizing Taywara. This seems improbable but who knows?

Head of Ghor provincial council says 100 civilians have been killed by Taliban.

Battles in Kandahar said to leave 12 police and 21 militants dead.

Fred Kaplan writes that the U.S. administration has yet to decide on the purpose of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, let alone a strategy:

What is the aim of our involvement in Afghanistan: to defeat the Taliban (scant chance, given that we couldn’t manage the feat with 100,000 troops during Barack Obama’s first term), negotiate a settlement (with whom, to what end), help reform the Afghan government (we tried doing that for a long time, too, to no end), collaborate with old foes to fight off the growing presence of ISIS (about which much has been said lately), or simply train and supply the Afghan army (which, again, we’ve been doing for a long time, to little avail)? No decision can be made about troop levels without first answering those questions.
After those questions are asked, a more basic question must be answered: How long are we going to keep at this? How many more billions of dollars, or hundreds of lives, is the contest worth? What are the stakes of this fight, compared with the stakes of many other fights and interests in the world?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Update for Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Human Rights Watch says a site has been discovered in Mosul where Iraqi forces executed 24 civilians. "A shopkeeper in a neighborhood west of Mosul’s Old City directed the observers to an empty building where “17 male corpses, barefoot but in civilian dress, [were] surrounded by pools of blood,” according to HRW."

However, it is not clear who these men were and Iraqi forces have been exacting revenge on individuals associated with IS, or believed to be. Excerpt:

Speaking to The Associated Press, four Iraqi officers from three different branches of the military and security forces openly admitted that their troops killed unarmed and captured Islamic State suspects, and they defended the practice. They, like the lieutenant, spoke on condition of anonymity because they acknowledged such practices were against international law, but all those interviewed by AP said they believed the fight against IS should be exempt from such rules of war because militant rule in Iraq was so cruel.
However, the killings risk tipping Iraq back into the cycles of violence that have plagued the country for over a decade, according to Belkis Wille, Iraq researcher with Human Rights Watch. The Islamic State group was able to attract recruits in the past because of people’s anger over abuses, including arbitrary detentions, torture and extrajudicial killings, she said.
Mosul is far from secured, as a booby-trapped house explodes, killing 13.

More than a million civilians remain displaced from Mosul and many have no homes to return to:

Those who ventured back to Mosul found wrecked houses, destroyed schools and hospitals, and water and power shortages, alongside the threat of gunfire and booby-traps.
Whole neighborhoods of Iraq's second city are reduced to the crumpled ruins of what were once homes and businesses -– much of the destruction due to air strikes and artillery by the U.S.-led coalition. Charred wrecks of cars litter the streets.
"The end of the battle for Mosul isn't the end of the ordeal for civilians. The humanitarian situation not only remains grave, but could worsen," the Norwegian Refugee Council, one of many international organizations and governments helping the relief and rehabilitation effort, said in a statement.
Iraqi troops pull starving orphans from the rubble. (Warning: Pictures are hard to look at.)

Patrick Cockburn reports that the civilian death toll in Mosul may be 40,000, according to Kurdish intelligence.

[Kurdish official Hoshyar Zebari] accuses the government in Baghdad, of which he was until recently a member, of not doing enough to relieve the suffering. “Sometimes you might think the government is indifferent to what has happened,” he said. He doubts if Christians, Yazidis, Kurds and other minorities, who have lived in and around Mosul for centuries, will be able to reconcile with the Sunni Arab majority whom they blame for killing and raping them. He says some form of federal solution for future governance would be best.
Reading from Kurdish intelligence reports, Mr Zebari says that a high level of corruption among the Iraqi military forces occupying Mosul is undermining security measures to suppress Isis in the aftermath of its defeat. He says that suspect individuals are able to pass through military checkpoints by paying $1,000 (£770) and can bring a vehicle by paying $1,500. He says corruption of this type is particularly rife in the 16th and 9th Iraqi Army Divisions and the Tribal Volunteers (Hashd al-Ashairi), drawn in part from the Shabak minority in the Nineveh Plain.

Zebari also says that IS fighters are in some cases bribing their way to freedom, making civilians reluctant to give information about them.

IS attack in Anbar is repulsed by 2 Iraqi soldiers are killed.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Update for Sunday, July 16, 2017

Are you old enough to remember when the U.S. invaded Iraq, a little more than 14 years ago? According to George Bush II, we were going to create a democracy in Iraq, allied with the west. It was even supposed to get us a settlement of the Israel-Palestine problem favorable to Israel, and a stable Middle East favorable to western oil companies.

Instead, Iraq is now a client state of Iran. Tim Arango tells the tale for the NYT:

When the United States invaded Iraq 14 years ago to topple Saddam Hussein, it saw Iraq as a potential cornerstone of a democratic and Western-facing Middle East, and vast amounts of blood and treasure — about 4,500 American lives lost, more than $1 trillion spent — were poured into the cause.
From Day 1, Iran saw something else: a chance to make a client state of Iraq . . . . If it succeeded, Iraq would never again pose a threat, and it could serve as a jumping-off point to spread Iranian influence around the region. In that contest, Iran won, and the United States lost.
Senior official of the Iraqi Interior Ministry says Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is alive after all. Whatev.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Update for Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Haider al-Abadi has once again claimed victory in Mosul, but fighting continues. "Plumes of smoke rose into the air Tuesday as IS mortar shells landed near Iraqi positions, and heavy gunfire could be heard on the western edge of the Old City."

Amnesty International says Iraqi and coalition tactics in Mosul violated international law  and may amount to war crimes. "The rights group said in a report the Islamic State militant group had also flagrantly violated humanitarian law by deliberately putting civilians in harm's way to shield their fighters and impede the advance of Iraqi and coalition forces." Although the government forces  faced an impossible situation in trying to avoid civilian casualties, AI particularly criticizes use of "Improvised Rocket Assisted Munitions (IRAMs), weapons with crude targeting capabilities that wreaked havoc in densely populated areas."

Iraq's elite Counterterrorism Service suffered 40% casualties in the Mosul battle, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. Iraqi spokesmen say that figure is exaggerated. (This includes soldiers lost to injury, as well as combat deaths.)

The generally reliable Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is indeed dead.

An IS leader in Hawija proclaims himself "emir." This report suggests likely infighting within the remnants of IS following Baghdadi's death. However, the IS news service has yet to confirm the report that he is dead. Infighting is also reported in Tal Afar. The latter city is believed to be the next target for Iraqi forces.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Update for Monday, July 10, 2017

You may be wondering why I didn't post yesterday as PM Abadi declared "victory" in Mosul. It's because  he made the declaration for no particular reason, as fighting in Mosul continues.

Fighting in Mosul may end today, however.

Al Bawaba has a roundup of info and photos. The devastation and human toll are incalculable.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Update for Saturday, July 8, 2017

A correspondent informs me that the new policy of not announcing the deaths of U.S. troops in Afghanistan until after next of kin have been notified is controversial among military families and their advocates. I wanted to look at this more fully. NBC news has a good backgrounder. The policy was purportedly decided by Gen. John Nichols, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and applies only to that theater. The policy elsewhere, still including Iraq and Syria, and historically everywhere since Viet Nam, has been to announce promptly that deaths have occurred, but not to provide identifying information or much specific information about the incident until after next of kin have been notified. From the NBC report:

Captain William Salvin, the director of public affairs for Resolute Support, said that Gen. Nicholson decided to change the policy to protect the families of the fallen and of those who continue to serve in the warzone. Nicholson wants to make sure the families have been notified and have their support systems in place before the U.S. military in Kabul informs the public that an incident has occurred . . .
But while there are fewer U.S. service members in Iraq and Syria than in Afghanistan, the ground commander in Baghdad continues to send out a notification when an incident results in a U.S. death.
And one senior defense official warned that Nicholson's new policy will mean less transparency and more ambiguity about the war in Afghanistan at a time when many Americans don't know what is happening there. "It's a step in the wrong direction," the official said.. . .
Another senior defense official expressed concern about the new policy because it may mean that Afghans become the initial source of information about American casualties. "It's just not appropriate and it's not the way we have been doing things for more than a decade," the official said.
 However, I have not yet found commentary from active duty troops, veterans, or military families.

Tribal elder is killed by a bomb placed in his car in Nangarhar. Four other civilians are wounded.

Taliban carry out a coordinated attack on highway checkpoints in Parwan. Little information so far, no reports of military or civilian casualties.

Drone strikes in Nangarhar said to kill numerous IS and Taliban.

In Iraq, civilians displaced from Mosul swelter in camps without electricity, ponder how they will rebuild their lives with their city destroyed.

Iraqi TV says last IS defenses in Mosul are collapsing, predicts imminent victory.

Note, however, that IS still controls the Kurdish town of Hawija, and towns to the west of Mosul including Tal Afar. Presumably Iraqi government and allied forces will turn to them next -- the conventional war in Iraq is not over.

AP has a photo gallery from Mosul showing the devastation and human cost. Warning: this includes many grim and gruesome images, including corpses and injured children. These are a lot of high quality pics, so it takes a long time to load.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Update for Wednesday, July 5, 2017

U.S. soldier is killed in action Monday afternoon by mortar fire in Helmand province. Two other soldiers are injured, and are being treated locally. The deceased is identified as Private First Class Hansen Kirkpatrick of Wasilla, Alaska. This delayed announcement is somewhat unusual.

Update: It turns out the delayed announcement is a new policy. The military will not announce combat deaths until after the family has been notified.

Paranoid, are we? A teenage female robotics team from Afghanistan is refused visas to attend a competition in the U.S. Oddly, teams from Syria and Iran will be admitted.

A group of U.S. senators visiting Afghanistan decries lack of a coherent strategy, and failure to fill essential State Department positions including that of U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan.

In Iraq, it's going to cost a billion dollars just to repair the basic infrastructure in Mosul. And by the way, that hasn't even started in the Anbar cities.

The editors of The Economist discuss the state of Iraq as IS falls. They are discouraged:

Iraqi ministers estimate that rehabilitating areas liberated from IS will cost $100bn, roughly the sum they and the Americans spent on the war. But the government is broke. Sunni Gulf states are said to be considering their involvement, but have contributed next to nothing. The World Bank has reportedly committed $300m. Germany is offering €500m ($570m). Coalition talks on a ten-year reconstruction plan, set to begin in Washington on July 10th, might drum up a bit more. But, runs an Arabic proverb, commitments are clouds, implementation the rain. . . .

IS’s vestiges, though, may anyway be one of the lesser problems facing Iraq. Exultant armies and militias now occupy the ground once held by the caliphate. A generation of young Iraqis currently earn a living from fighting IS; they may now develop ambitions of their own. Having avoided confrontation while they were assaulting IS, America and its allies are now coming to blows with Iran and its allies across the border in south-eastern Syria. A similar struggle looms in Iraq. Meanwhile, Iraq’s politicians squabble, largely confined to the Green Zone, the walled city within a city occupying the core of Baghdad. So far there is not much sign of the fresh dawn that IS’s downfall should bring.