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

Monday, October 30, 2017

Update for Monday, October 30, 2017

Editor's note: I have very consciously limited our scope to Iraq and Afghanistan, simply because I felt I needed to keep focus and conserve my resources. However, it has seemed arbitrary to exclude Syria, where U.S. troops are deployed and the same forces that contend in Iraq are also central to the conflict. Now friend of the site Chet urges us to pay more attention to the little-discussed deployment of U.S. troops to other conflict zones, notably Africa. The recent deaths of 4 soldiers in Niger marked the first many Americans even knew of the deployment there -- including members of congress. Now we learn of an Army Green Beret who was found murdered in Mali "on a secret assignment," with suspicion falling on Navy SEALS. If we still want to claim that we live in a democracy, we need a public explanation of why these troops are in these places, and what they are doing there. And we need congress to take responsibility for decisions about war and peace, which the constitution gives them the sole power to do. Somehow we have forgotten that.

In the wake of the failed independence bid, KRG president Barzani resigns. Protesters stormed the parliament building during the closed door meeting in which he made the announcement. Later, in a public statement, he vowed to continue the fight for independence and defended the independence referendum. He accused the United States of betrayal.

The U.S. commends his decision to resign and also parliament's move to devolve presidential powers to other institutions. [I'm not entirely sure what the latter means but it may be an attempt to ameliorate the partition of Kurdish government between the KDP and the PUK. We'll see. -- C]

Offices of the PUK and Goran party are looted and burned in Dohuk. [Goran is a "third way" party that has worked to end tribalist politics. -- C]

Barah Saleh indeed hopes that we will see the end of tribalism in Kurdish politics, but fears Baghdad will not play a sufficiently constructive role.

In light of these developments, Iran will re-open borders with Kurdistan.

Negotiations for new federal arrangements between Baghad and Erbil are ongoing, currently between military representatives who are discussing territorial issues. Border control and aviation [and oil?] will be discussed  by the ministries of interior and finance.

Soldier killed in the helicopter crash in Logar, Afghanistan Oct. 27 is identified as Chief Warrant Officer Jacob M. Sims of Juneau, Alaska. He was assigned to 4th Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Update for Sunday, October 29, 2017

A U.S. military service member is killed, 6 injured in a helicopter crash in Logar. NATO command says enemy action was not involve. Local sources say the helicopter hit a tree.

Thirteen Afghan police are killed in attacks on checkpoints in Kunduz.

Nine police and 12 Taliban killed in fighting in Ghazni.

Deputy governor of Kunar province, Mohammad Nabi, in Pakistan for medical treatment, is allegedly abducted. He is reportedly an activist in Hezb-e-Islami, presumably the Khalis faction since the organization founded by Gulbuddin Hekmyatar is considered a terrorist organization, whereas the non-violent faction is a registered political party in Afghanistan.

Fighting in Zabul kills 6 police and 8 militants.

Taliban said to burn hundreds of houses in villages in Sar-e-Pul. The motive is not explained but presumably the locals have opposed them.

U.S. state department officials say Taliban still have safe haven in Pakistan.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Update for Wednesday, October 25, 2017

This is being spun in various ways, but the Kurdish Regional Government offers to "freeze" the independence referendum, asks for cessation of military operations, and asks for talks with Baghdad.

However, Baghdad and allied militias continue to move on additional territory.

Iraqi casualties in clashes with Kurdish forces near Mosul.

Iran re-opens its border with Kurdistan, apparently in response to the "freeze" announcement.

PM Abadi is in Ankara for talks about the Kurdistan situation. Turkish president President Recep Tayyip Erdogan offers to help rebuild a pipeline that runs near Mosul, that will allow Baghdad to export oil to Turkey while bypassing Kurdistan.

Some 30,000 Kurds have been displaced from Tuz Kurmatu. International aid agencies say Kurdish properties in the city have been looted and burned. Displaced people are staying in the open or sheltering in mosques and schools.

Kurdish sources accuse militias of looting government offices in Sinjar.

Meanwhile, Iraq prepares for a final assault on IS holdouts near the Syrian border.

KRG parliament delays elections for 8 months.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Update for Friday, October 20, 2017

Iraqi and Kurdish forces exchange indirect fire as government moves to take the town of Altun Kupri, just outside the official boundary of the Kurdish autonomous region. There are no reported casualties, however Kurdish command claims to have destroyed 10 vehicles in this exchange, and blames the attack on a Shiite militia using weapons supplied by the U.S. There are conflicting reports over whether federal troops have captured the area, but the federal forces say they have.

Ayatollah Sistani endorses the move to recapture disputed territory from the KRG, but calls for protection of the Kurdish population and national unity.

Muqtada al-Sadr dispatches fighters to Kirkuk. The Sadrist military arm, now called Saraya al-Salaam, did not take part in the battle against IS.

Al Jazeera reviews the Kurds sudden reversal of fortune, and the resulting rift between the KDP and PUK.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Update for Thursday, October 19, 2017

Taliban attack an Afghan army base in Kandahar province, killing at least 43 of the 60 soldiers present. They used the same tactic used to attack the police HQ in Gardez two days ago, captured humvees used as truck bombs. They are said to have captured many of the vehicles during the occupation of Kunduz in 2015.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Tillerson says U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan until the Taliban make a peace agreement.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, the situation regarding Kirkuk continues to be volatile.

Some 100,000 Kurds are said to have fled the region in fear of sectarian reprisals, according to the governor of Erbil.

An Iraqi court issues an arrest warrant for Korsat Rasul, vice president of the KRG, for referring to the government troops and Shiite militias in Kirkuk as "occupiers." As Iraqi security forces do not operate within Kurdistan, it is unlikely they will attempt to execute the warrant, but it will prevent him from travelling.

IS forces take advantage of the situation to attack towns south of Kirkuk.

UN has received reports of reprisals against Kurds in Tuz Khurmatu by Shiite militias. They also have reports of attacks on Turkmen political offices in Kirkuk, although the perpetrators are not named.

Turkish president reiterates threats to close the border with Kurdistan.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Update for Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Kurdish forces abandon Sinjar to Iraqi government and militia forces. Sinjar was inhabited by the Kurdish speaking Yazidi, and the Kurdish government had hoped to incorporate it into Kurdistan, although prior to the IS takeover it was not part of the Kurdish autonomous region. Apparently there is a Yazidi militia allied with Baghdad which took part in the takeover.

Iraqi government forces also make further advances in the Kirkuk region, seizing the remaining oil fields and thereby reducing the KRG's oil resources by half.

There are various tales being spun about these events but Pepe Escobar has what I consider to be the straight dope. Although former U.S. diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad is accusing Iran of being behind what he portrays as an assault on the Kurds, in fact the KRG knows it cannot afford this fight. It must export its oil through Turkey, and in any case doesn't have the military capacity to resist. Furthermore it is the PUK (Talibani faction) that controlled Kirkuk, and the independence referendum was really KDP (Barzani) project. Escobar maintains that Iran brokered a deal with the PUK that had them get out of the way, perhaps in exchange for favorable treatment from Baghdad. Barzani had to accept it as well.

This probably signals the end of prospects for Kurdish independence, although one can imagine an ultimate deal that brings greater autonomy within a federal Iraq. We shall see.

In Afghanistana series of attacks by Taliban on police in Paktia and Ghazni has killed at least 71 people. The largest attack, in Gardez, on a police training center, killed 33 including the police chief. Five attackers are also said to be killed. As more than 100 were wounded, the death toll is likely to rise. Information about these incidents is just emerging, more later.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Update for Monday, October 16, 2017

Iraqi forces seize territory near Kirkuk including an oil field and a military base. Although PM Abadi order troops to avoid violence, there have been clashes with Kurdish forces. The extent of any violence is so far unclear.

Shiite militias take the town of Tuz Khurmatu as PUK forces evacuate. There are reports of looting by the militia. Despite abandonment by the PUK, local volunteers are said to be organizing resistance.

PM Abadi has appointed an Arab governor of Kirkuk province, replacing Najmiddin Karim who was officially ousted for supporting the Kurdistan independence referendum.

Despite lack of resistance so far, Kurdish military leader Karim Sinjari tells the U.S.-led coalition that Kurdish forces will defend Kirkuk.

Stratfor covers some of the relevant history. When the Iraqi army collapsed in the face of the IS onslaught in 2014, Kurdish forces moved into Kirkuk. Although the area has long been disputed between Arabs and Kurds, it was not part of the autonomous Kurdish region prior to that time.

Al Jazeera reports that civilians are fleeing Kirkuk, also that peshmerga forces are setting up positions near the airport, and that a Kurdish commander claims to have destroyed armored vehicles belonging to Shiite militias south of the city. Najmiddin Karim is reported to have called on civilians to take up arms in defense of the city, and a spokesman for KRG president Barzani has called for resistance.

We will provide updates as warranted.

Update: In spite of the bluster from Kurdish leaders, it appears they are abandoning the city of Kirkuk without resistance. Iraqi government forces have advanced into the city, seized the provincial government headquarters, and  taken down Kurdish flags, without apparent opposition.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Update for Friday, October 13, 2017

Tensions are rising over the Kurdistan independence referendum and disputed territories.

Kurdistan boosts peshmerga presence in Kirkuk region, fearing Iraqi military action, but they move back their front lines to avoid immediate confrontation.

Turkey moves troops to the Kurdistan border including tanks.

Baghdad denies rumors that it has already launched operations near Kirkuk, but peshmerga commanders refer to ominous troop movements by Iraqi forces.

Al Jazeera has a backgrounder and comprehensive reporting on the situation.

There are growing calls for Sunni Arab regional autonomy, although such a state would not be very viable.

Here's a CBC story on the rescue of hostages Joshua Boyle and his U.S. wife Caitlan Coleman from the Haqqani network. The question is whether this represents a changed attitude by the Pakistanis toward the Afghan taliban, or is merely a one-time gesture to the U.S. (They had two children while in captivity, which would not have been my choice. -- C)

Civilian casualties from U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan have been increasing, and may increase further as the U.S. steps up its action against the Taliban and loosens the rules of engagement.