The bottom line is clear: Our vital interests in Afghanistan are limited and military victory is not the key to achieving them. On the contrary, waging a lengthy counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan may well do more to aid Taliban recruiting than to dismantle the group, help spread conflict further into Pakistan, unify radical groups that might otherwise be quarreling amongst themselves, threaten the long-term health of the U.S. economy, and prevent the U.S. government from turning its full attention to other pressing problems. -- Afghanistan Study Group

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Update for Wednesday, July 1, 2015

[Sorry, I was traveling yesterday and couldn't make a timely post in response to significant events.]

We may never sort out all the details, but Taliban suicide bomb attack on a U.S. convoy in Kabul kills 2 Afghan civilians and injures 24, some critically. (Latest account puts death toll at 10, and by the way puts a human face on some of them.) Two U.S. soldiers are said to have suffered minor injuries in the incident. However, this may have occurred as a result of the Afghan crowd turning on the Americans. According to the New York Times account, a member of the crowd may have stabbed an American soldier. Witnesses dispute whether the Americans only fired warning shots into the air, or shot and injured or killed people who were trying to come to the aid of blast victims. But as Times reporters Joseph Goldstein and Ahmad Shakib write, "The episode hinted at a lingering wellspring of anger against American troops even as the United States’ military presence in Afghanistan is receding."

Meanwhile, a border skirmish leaves 1 Afghan border police commander and 8 Pakistani soldiers dead in Paktika province -- an unfortunate incident as the two countries try to mend relations. (Pakistani sources report this as a "cross-border attack" by the Afghans, while Afghan sources report that the Pakistanis were trying to set up a checkpoint inside Afghanistan.)

And, in news from the narco-state, an Afghan general is accused of smuggling 20 kilograms of heroin, which in case you didn't know is a lot, but a drop in the bucket of the enormous current production in Afghanistan.

Khaama reports a less implausible than usual body count acknowledging the deaths of 10 government troops while claiming 44 militants  killed in the past 24 hours.

Evidently this doesn't constitute a "combat operation," since those have ended, but U.S. forces conducted a night-time raid on the home of an ex-jihadi commander in Parwan province, and destroyed weapons and ammunition. This individual had evidently defected to the government long ago, and "Sami Sameem, a lawmaker from Farah, said the US forces have no right to carry out raids on the houses of jihadi commanders. He said the ex-jihadists were fighting against the Taliban and foreign militants for the past several years. He alleged that the United States authorities in the country were conspiring against the Afghan government." However, other MPs questioned why the man had such a large cache of weapons.

U.S. drone kills 14 alleged militants in Nangarhar.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Update for Sunday, June 21, 2015

Editor's note:  I haven't posted for a while because the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq have settled into a grim stalemate, with government and insurgent forces (or, in the case of Syria, a more complex mix of players) trading small advances and no real strategic change. While events seem largely repetitive from day to day, I do intend to keep up a more regular schedule of posting going forward, in part because the American people are largely ignoring both wars. Today I will focus on Afghanistan.

 Taliban offensive in Kunduz province advances with the capture of Chardarah district just 3 kilometers from Kunduz city, sparking concerns about the possible loss of the provincial capital. Seventy Afghan security personnel are currently surrounded in Chardarah, as civilians flee toward Kunduz city with their livestock and possessions. The streets of the city are deserted as government officials flee and administrative offices are closed.

In Badakhshan province, in contrast, the government claims to have recaptured Yamgan after a 3 week battle. However, in a story which will be familiar to followers of the Iraq war,

head of the Provincial Council Abdullah Naji Nazari has said that insurgents stole most of the security forces' equipment."vYes! Yamgan district has been cleared of insurgents but there are concerns that the insurgents have stolen the weapons cache and the equipment of the government forces," he said.
And who do you think supplied those weapons and equipment?

Civilians trying to return home after fleeing fighting in Marjah, Helmand, hit a mine, with 19 dead including 9 children. Fourteen of the dead are from a single family.

Opium cultivation continues to increase.

Afghanistan marks the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking as it is a leading country in the production, cultivation and trafficking of narcotic drugs in the world. Despite this is the most devastating catastrophe in the country officials ended the program by repeating a number of usual statistics and promised plans which have never been fulfilled during the last 14 years. Salamat Azimi, Minister of Counter Narcotics, said: “Unfortunately, the cultivation of narcotic drugs have been increased in Afghanistan.” According to the information provided by counter narcotics minister there are 132 districts in Afghanistan cultivating drugs.

A physician is murdered in Baghlan.

Electricity has been out in Nangarhar and Laghman for 10 days after Taliban cut transmission lines. Work to restore power is just now beginning.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Update for Wednesday, June 11, 2015

Slippery slope edition. Obama to send 450 additional troops to Iraq  and establish a 5th U.S. base, this one in Anbar province, to "train and advise" Iraq troops -- or more accurately, it seems, Sunni tribal forces not integrated with the Iraqi army. This is because the $25 billion the U.S. has spent training and advising Iraqi forces since 2003 has apparently failed to have any useful effect.

Some of it might have helped the more than 1 million Iraqis who currently lack basic food, water and shelter. Heck, even $1 billion probably couldn't hurt.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Update for Sunday, June 7, 2015

Afghanistan's upper house of parliament, the Mesrano Jirga, condemns a U.S. drone strike on Friday on a funeral, which is said to have killed 4 civilians. It appears the funeral was for a Taliban leader, and that many of the attendees had crossed the border from Pakistan. [Obviously, just because people are attending the guy's funeral does not make them legitimate targets for a flying death robot. -- C]  (I have found no mention of this incident in U.S. media.)

Taliban capture a district in Badkhshan province, overrunning the police HQ.

Bomb in Uruzgan kills 6 civilians.

Teachers in Kabul go on strike over pay and working conditions. Teachers often do no receive their salaries for months.

The elite SEAL Team Six fighting force which killed Osama bin Laden has warped into an unaccountable organization which has engaged in 'excessive' and 'indiscriminate' killing, according to a new account of the secretive unit.

Former servicemen from the legendary Navy unit said that the unit has veered off course in recent years and become engaged in bloody all-out combat in Afghanistan against low-level militants and 'street thugs' - rather than the targeted anti-terrorist raids for which it is famed. . . . 

Among the accusations are:  
  • Claims that a British general confronted the unit over alleged indiscriminate killing of civilians in Helmand province
  • Afghan claims that eight schoolboys were slaughter in a 2009 raid on the village of Gazi Khan in Kunar Province
  • A former SEAL officer saying endless missions amounted to ‘killing fests’
  • A member of the unit being accused of mutilating a militant’s body after a raid
  • SEALs engaging in hand-to-hand combat using customized Tomahawk axes 
Some described being sent through Afghan villages in search of 'subcommanders' and 'street thugs' - sometimes racking up 25 kills without landing a major target.
"Internal investigations by the Joint Special Forces Command cleared team members of wrongdoing." [Of course -- C]

Mysterious rash of murder in Kabul has city on edge. One victim was a member of
the National Directorate of Security's (NDS) Advisory Board, and there are fears the incidents may be related to the breakdown of an agreement with the Pakistani ISI.

Meanwhile, Britain is sending more troops to Iraq, 
while Republican candidate for U.S. president Scott Walker won't rule out a full-scale re-invasion by the U.S.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Update for Thursday, June 4, 2015

I fear this won't get a response, but the UN is urgently warning that halfof humanitarian operations in Iraq will shut down without a quick infusion of  $500 million.

4 June 2015 – Critical aid operations supporting millions of people affected by the conflict in Iraq are at risk of shutting down unless funds are made available immediately, senior United Nations warned today as they joined an international appeal for nearly $500 million to cover the immediate needs of 5.6 million Iraqis for the next six months. . . .

The implications of this, Ms. Grande said, would be “catastrophic” in what is already one of the most complex and volatile crisis anywhere in the world. Humanitarian needs in Iraq are huge and growing. More than 8 million people require immediate life-saving support, a number that could reach 10 million by the end of 2015.
It doesn't help that having gained control of the Ramadi dam, IS has cut off water to areas of Anbar it does not control.

IRIN traces the displacement of 2.9 million Iraqis in the past 18 months.

Malcolm Nance explains (once again) that the real force behind IS is Baathist revanchism. We should not be misled into thinking that what is really at stake is the 12th vs. the 21st Century:

In light of this history, it is reasonable to surmise that the ex-Baathists flying the ISIS flag today are covertly working to undermine ISIS’s caliphate and eventually achieve their own political goals. The FRLs [Former Regime Loyalists]  may be allowing ISIS to do the hard work of fighting and carving out a Sunni-dominated tribal nation from Damascus to Fallujah to Mosul. Once that geographic goal has been achieved, it should not take much to depose the caliph and eliminate ISIS.
The FRLs and Sunni tribal leadership have clearly demonstrated that the personal aspirations of 7 million Iraqi Sunnis can be a serious political cudgel. If the central government doesn’t play ball, ISIS can march on Baghdad until a deal is made for regional autonomy, money or independence. If the Shiite government defeats ISIS (or if the Sunni community turns against it), the FRLs can just step away and continue to wield power in their communities. Either way, they win.
On the other hand, ISIS did make the FRLs swear oaths of loyalty to the caliphate, and they will certainly take a dim, beheading-filled view of any covert plans to undermine their reign. The FRLs will proceed cautiously. Both ideologies can coexist as long as there is a Shiite-Iranian-American axis to rally against. Baathists are still Muslims, and they have shown that they can feign piety as long as it’s convenient.

'Nuff said.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Saturday, May 30, 2015: requiem for a nation

When I started posting here a decade ago, the site was called Today in Iraq. Our long-term vision was of a stable, secular, multi-ethnic and multi-confessional Iraqi state. That was what most Iraqis wanted as well, but the political organization and leadership to make it happen never emerged. Political parties organized on sectarian lines, and the horrific civil war ensued. The U.S. succeeded in putting  a lid on the cauldron temporarily, by equipping and financing the Shawa movement among Sunni Arabs and keeping a short rein on the Shiite-dominated Iraqi army. But the Kurds always really wanted independence and the Shiite political leadership had no intention of sharing power in a secular state.

I remember writing here, at one point, "Won't anybody stand up for Iraq?" But nobody did.

Whatever you think of Fareed Zakaria, I must sadly agree with him. Iraq is no more. It is not that the Iraqi army is unwilling to fight. It's that it is unwilling to fight to defend Sunni communities. Most Sunni Arabs despise the Islamic State but they have nowhere to go. They are unwelcome in Baghdad and the government is not providing adequately for the displaced. And, as Zakaria tells us, the polls are clear:

Iraq today no longer exists. In 2008, 80 percent of those polled said they were “Iraqi above all.” Today that number is 40 percent. The Kurds have taken every opportunity to further enhance their already considerable autonomy. I recently asked a Kurdish politician how many Kurds would support independence for their provinces. He replied, “Somewhere between 99 percent and 100 percent.” . . .Washington can provide aid, training, arms, air power—even troops. But it cannot hold together a nation that is falling apart.
For all Iraqis who hoped for a different outcome, including our friend Riverbend who I hope is safe and well somewhere, I am truly sorry.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Update for Monday, May 25, 2015

On Memorial Day, I note that Americans have nearly forgotten that we still have troops deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in support of operations there at sea and in bases in other countries. Although they currently have limited exposure to combat situations, deployment is still stressful to military personnel and their families. Non-combat related deaths and injuries usually get only local attention.

On May 22, DoD announced the death of Petty Officer 3rd Class Ryan D. Burris, 24, of Lisle, Illinois, died May 21, in Abu Dhabi, UAE, of a non-combat related incident at Zayed Military City. As of yet, no information about the incident has been made public. Via friend Chet, here is information about PO Burris from the local television station.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, as U.S. troops mark Memorial Day, the fighting intensifies.

A suicide truck bomb attack on the Provincial Council in Kalat, Zabul kills 5 people and injures 62. Three of the injured are Council members. Another account puts the number of injured at 73.

Taliban attack several police checkpoints in Helmand, killing at least 10 officers, with other accounts putting the number at 13.

Update: Taliban are besieging a police compound in Helmand with 19 police and 7 soldiers dead so far.  "Napas Khan, the police chief in the Naw Zad district, told The Associated Press by telephone that the insurgents had advanced to within 20 meters (65 feet) of the compound after seizing police vehicles and weapons and blocking all roads out of Naw Zad." Note that this is not asymmetrical warfare. The Taliban are winning a pitched battle against fortified positions.

What could possibly go wrong? Afghan government forms local militias and enlists help of warlords to fight Taliban in the north of the country. Excerpt:

As part of the latest government effort to rein in the Taliban, who have vowed to disrupt the democratically elected Ashraf Ghani administration, several thousand Afghans from the country’s north are expected to be mobilized to fight the Taliban in areas where the military and police forces have failed to halt the group’s advance. The strategy to turn to irregular forces is deemed risky by many who fear that the move could trigger civil strife in a country still haunted by memories of the atrocities of a civil war in the 1990s. “We have experienced this failed experiment of militia-making before,” Fawzia Koofi, a member of parliament from Badakhshan, one of the provinces where Kabul is planning to form the militias, told the Times. “This will spread the war from house to house, starting rivalries as everyone begins arming their own groups.”

Xinhua rounds up violence yesterday, resulting in the deaths of 19 people.

In case you thought the end was in sight for U.S. involvement, Gen. Campbell says NATO hopes to establish a base in Afghanistan on a more or less permanent basis, meaning U.S. troops will remain in the country long after Barack Obama has left office.

 In Iraq, the political situation continues to deteriorate along with the military situation. U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter says that Iraqi forces lacked any will to fight in Ramadi, where they fled in the face of a numerically far inferior IS force and abandoned U.S.-supplied equipment including several tanks. This did not sit well with Iraqi officials.  But as the linked article makes clear, the U.S. strategy in Iraq depends on the government regaining the trust and loyalty of Sunni Arabs and incorporating Sunni fighters into its military. This has not happened. In fact, by one account, the IS force that captured Ramadi numbered 150, before which 6,000 Iraqi troops fled.

British Major General Tim Cross agrees with the SecDef. "It’s interesting that the secretary used that [will to fight] expression because we use that expression in the British army and our argument is that it’s about a moral cohesion in your army. It’s about the motivation to achieve what it is you’re setting out to achieve and it’s about effective leadership … and it’s this will to fight that I think is fundamentally at the heart of the issue with the Iraqi military. There’s no cohesion, there’s no strong leadership. They’re really struggling and I don’t think there’s any doubt about that."

Of course, the Iranians are blaming the U.S.

Predictably, John McCain is calling for the U.S. to expand its combat role in Iraq, as similar calls for an expanded combat role are heard in Australia and the U.K. We shall see where this goes.