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, February 28, 2018

Update for Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Afghan president Ghani proposes peace talks with Taliban, including a rapprochement with Pakistan. The detailed offer includes allowing the Taliban to open an office in Kabul, and removing sanctions against their top leaders. The document also insists on protection for women's rights. However, the Taliban are demanding direct talks with the United States as a condition for further negotiation.

U.S. State Department spokesperson says there is no military solution to the Afghan conflict. The U.S. appears to be essentially aligned with Ghani's initiative.

The Afghan government has called for closure of the Taliban office in Qatar, which was supposed to be the basis for an earlier peace initiative but which has been ineffectual. In response, a Taliban spokesperson called for withdrawal of U.S. forces as a precondition for talks. 

In the meantime, however, the war continues, with 5 or 6 police killed (reports conflict) and at least 30 people kidnapped in two incidents on the Kandahar-Uruzgan highway.

Paul Rogers of the Oxford Research Group discusses the situation in Iraq  15 years after the U.S. invasion. Excerpt:

This very broad remit [of the Authorization to Use Military Force of September, 2001] has enabled the US military, often in collaboration with countries such as Britain, Australia and others, to engage in operations in many different countries in what is now the seventeenth year of war. At its root is a cultural norm which prioritises the use of military force at the expense of other approaches and, in particular, pays relatively little attention to the underlying factors which enable movements such as al-Qaida, IS and others to maintain support even when facing overwhelming military odds.
That still leaves the issue of whether Trump is right about the latest perception of success and the consequent need to re-orientate the US military posture in the direction of China or Russia. Here, though, the ORG report and more recent work within the organisation suggest that this is as mistaken as Bush’s “mission accomplished” declaration. Raqqa may have fallen and IS dispersed but a more pertinent indication would be the ambushing and killing of four US Special Forces soldiers in Niger on 2 October last year.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Update for Thursday, February 22, 2018

Pentagon and State Department claim that president has the legal authority to keep U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria forever, in letters to Democratic Senator Tim Kaine. Kaine "sharply criticized the administration’s reasoning and said in a statement that Trump risks “acting like a king by unilaterally starting a war.” The administration bases its reasoning on the Authorization to Use Military Force of 2002, which referred to al Qaeda and which the Bush administration used to justify the invasion of Iraq (which had nothing to do with al Qaeda).

“Now the Trump Administration is going even further, claiming that the 2001 AUMF also allows the U.S. military to strike pro-Assad forces in areas devoid of ISIS to protect our Syrian partners who seek Assad’s overthrow,” Kaine said Thursday. “It is clear the Trump Administration is crossing a Constitutional line.”
 By the way, did you hear anything about this in the U.S. corporate media?

The United States-led coalition has said it had killed 841 civilians in its operations against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. That's just what they cop to.

Washington Institute for Near East Policy discusses the problem of Iraq's militias. The government has relied on largely Iranian backed militias in the fight against IS. The peshmerga are answerable to the Kurdish governing parties (though not really to the KRG as a unified entity). [This analysis seems to treat them as essentially similar problems, but clearly they are not. The peshmerga will neither be absorbed into the army of the Baghdad government nor disband; and their existence is not necessarily problematic if Baghdad and Erbil can achieve a reasonably amicable federation. -- C]

Kurdish delegation arrives in U.S. to meet with officials.

First U.S. troops assigned to work with battalion level Afghan forces arrive. They will be closer to the front lines than current advisors.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Update for Thursday, February 15, 2018

Stephanie Savell of a certain Ivy League university discusses America's unknown wars. You should read the whole thing but here are a few bullet points.

  •  In one fashion or another, the U.S. military is now taking some sort of action against terrorism -- a staggering 76 nations, or 40% of the countries on the planet.
  • Last October, when news came out about four Green Berets killed by an Islamic State affiliate in the West African nation of Niger, congressional debates revealed that American lawmakers had little idea where in the world our troops were stationed, what they were doing there, or even the extent of counterterrorism activity among the Pentagon’s various commands.
  • Since 2001, the so-called "war on terror" has cost the U.S. $5.6 trillion.
  • As of 2016, about 14,000 American soldiers and contractors and 380,000 inhabitants of [Afghanistan, Pakistand and Iraq]  had been killed. To these estimates, you have to add the deaths of at least 800,000 more Afghans, Iraqis, and Pakistanis from indirect causes related to the devastation caused by those wars, including malnutrition, disease, and environmental degradation. [NB: Other estimates are higher, she is being conservative.]

We have no public debate about this and little attention in the media.

NATO will create a formal training mission in Iraq to "project stability" in the Middle East. Uhuh.

Kurdish military base in Kirkuk province comes under rocket attack, attackers are unknown as of now.

British army officer dies in an accident at al Asad military base in Iraq.

Donor conference yields $30 billion in pledges for Iraq reconstruction out of more than $80 billion estimated to be needed. U.S. contributes nothing, except for what appears to be a $3 billion line of credit for fossil fuel investment.

We get e-mail:

I was a combat advisor with a SFAT team in northern afghanistan during 2012.  The army has gone through various acronym changes to basically provide the same concept to the afghan forces.  First there was MTT - military training team, then ETT - embedded training team to STT - stability transition team, to SFAT - security force advisor team.  The only thing that changed was the composition of the team and equipment.  

I worked with a COL in the ANSAF, he was in his position for at least 5 years, during which he had almost 12 different advisors.  He used to joke that if they didn't like the advisor, he would just ignore them.  I was lucky and the COL wasn't corrupt.  But corruption was rampant through out the higher officers.  Promotions and assignments are sold, gas is stored offsite and sold on black market.  The LTG that controlled our compound was accused by the CIA of theft and corruption, but we couldn't touch him.  Just a revolving door of us money going through the country into the pockets of a select few.  Nothing will change until we get out.  I just don't understand why the senior policy makers and military staff doesn't come up with a clear exit policy.  I guess as long as we are over there, the senior US military personnel are assured of promotions and advancements.

I was in the northern part of the country, and used to get called by the Corp of Engineers to come sign for a COP that they had completed, but no body was occupying it.  When we started shutting down and reducing forces, the Corp would not stop building useless and un-needed facilities because the money was "already allocated".

Anyway, amazing how everybody ignores the obvious, and we continue to pump $45B a year into the cesspool.
Thanks lieutenant colonel.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Update for Thursday, February 8, 2018

As I feared, we're going to have to start covering Syria. U.S. air strike said to kill 100 Syrian troops after they attack a base of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish militia allied with the U.S. Here is further detail from Reuters. "Some" U.S. troops are embedded with the SDF but none were reported injured.

Seth Frantzman discusses the paradoxes of U.S. alliances in the region.

Erdogan vows to extend the assault on Afrin to Idlib.

Iraqi army and Shiite militias launch a fresh assault on militants in the Tuz Khurmatu region, with U.S. air support. Peshmerga confirm that they coordinated in the effort which indicates that this was legitimately an attack on IS remnants. The militia say they will withdraw from Kurdish villages after the operation.

One reason the Taliban can control territory in rural Afghanistan is because they offer honest justice and services. This article discusses the burden on the citizenry of government corruption in Farah province.

U.S. conducts air strikes in Badhakshan against Taliban targets.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Update for Tuesday, February 6, 2018

U.S. general in charge of coalition in Iraq says 5,600 U.S. troops in that country will become an "enduring presence" to work with Iraqi partners to finally defeat IS.

However, PM Abadi says there is a plan for gradual withdrawal of U.S. forces.

Two Iranian backed militias, however, have a different view and want U.S. forces to leave now, and one of them, Kataib Hezbollah which is linked to Iran's Revolutionary Guard, threatens to attack U.S. forces.

Kurdish president Erdogan tells U.S. to leave the Syrian Kurdish town of Manbij and threatens confrontation over the issue:

“You are still telling us not to approach Manbij. We will come to Manbij to give it back to its true owners,” Erdogan said, repeating his earlier remarks about the Kurdish enclave of Afrin attacked by his army and Islamist proxies for three weeks now. Kurdish officials from both Syria and Turkey interpreted Erdogan’s remarks as a threat of ethnic cleansing in the isolated Kurdish district.

Head of Afrin’s Health Committee Angelo Resho announced that continued Turkish airstrikes and ground shelling have killed 148 civilians and wounded 365 others.  Unlike the eastern flank of Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava), from Manbij to the border with Iraq, the US does not have a military presence in Afrin which remained the most peaceful part of Syria, intact from the ravaging effects of the seven-year-long civil war until Turkey’s invasion. Erdogan has vowed to capture all of the de facto autonomous Rojava, despite US forces’ presence there.
Kurdish professor planning to run for parliament is murdered.


Monday, February 5, 2018

Update for Monday, February 5, 2018

U.S. has begun to redeploy some troops from Iraq to Afghanistan. It is important to note this since the action is being publicly portrayed only as a draw-down of U.S. forces in Iraq. However, there has been no public announcement as yet from the Pentagon and they are not saying how many troops will be redeployed.

Meanwhile, in Syria, Kurds in Afrin, who are allied with the U.S., are under siege and aerial bombardment by Turkey, where Oxfam says there is a desperate need for humanitarian relief. Ankara has strongly condemned U.S. support for the local Kurdish party and militia, the YPG, which it insists is a branch of the PKK; while the U.S. is urging restraint in the military offensive. (The PKK, unlike the parties in Iraqi Kurdistan, has a goal of Kurdish self-rule within what is now Turkish territory.)

Yes, Mosul is still in ruins and the bodies of IS fighters are still lying in the streets. Although the government denies it, many civilian bodies apparently have yet to be recovered as well:

The stench of death wafts from rubble-filled corners in the dystopian wasteland of what was once West Mosul, from rusting cars still rigged with explosives and from homes abandoned as those who could, fled the bloody end of the militants' three-year rule.

The corpses lying in the open on many streets are mainly militants from the extremist Sunni group who retreated to the densely-packed buildings of the Old City, where only the most desperate 5,000 of a pre-war population of 200,000 have so far returned.  Local residents and officials in predominantly Sunni Mosul say there are also thousands of civilian bodies yet to be retrieved from the ruins, a view which has put them at odds with the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.
Ibrahim al-Marashi reviews the Iraqi political lanscape as elections loom in May. While even casual observers are well aware of Iraq's ethno-sectarian divisions, conflicts within the main groups are hindering the capacity of government. Further problems include the millions of internally displaced persons, and the continuing presence of Iran-backed Shiite militias. I recommend this as a good, succinct overview of some of the political challenges facing the country.