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

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.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Update for Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Now this is just incredible. Defense Department blocks public release of information on the state of the Afghanistan conflict. This is unclassified basic data.

In a letter accompanying its regular quarterly report, the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, said the Defense Department blocked publication of data on "the number of districts, and the population living in them, controlled or influenced by the Afghan government or by the insurgents, or contested by both." Those data aren't classified, but the Defense Department determined that "they are not releasable to the public," said the letter, which gave no indication that the Defense Department provided a reason for the decision.
Obviously, they don't want to admit that they're losing. We live in a post-truth world.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Update for Saturday, January 27, 2018

The reported death toll has steadily risen and now stands at 63 following a truck bombing using an ambulance in Kabul. The attack occurred at 1:00 pm in Sedarat Square. The Taliban have claimed responsibility.

Update: The official death toll has now risen to 103, with 235 injured. The Taliban have said the action was in response to the new, more aggressive military posture of the U.S.

This has driven most other news off of the page, but a car bomb attack on a security post in Helmand has killed and wounded "many" Afghan soldiers.

Afghan army claims to have killed or wounded 34 IS militants in Nangarhar in air and ground operations.

Wesley Morgan in Politico describes the army's new "Security Assistance Force Brigade" strategy to "win" the war in Afghanistan.

“Any idea that these teams are going to come in and radically change things is a huge overexpectation,” said David Sedney, a former State Department and senior Pentagon official with long experience in Afghanistan who knows Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and supports the effort in theory.
He added: “I think they will make a difference, but what degree of difference — that we won’t know for several years, which is the time frame it takes with an institution as fragile and flawed as the Afghan National Army, which we partially trained, partially abandoned and are now coming back to.”

Suicide bomb attack in Kandarhar kills 2 police and 2 civilians, injures 10 people.

Tampa Bay Times editorial indicates that corporate media are finally starting to question the continued flailing in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon has said that the additional U.S. firepower could enable the Afghan government to take control of 80 percent of the country in the next two years, up from 65 percent today. That’s an ambitious goal and timetable, given the Taliban’s military and political reach, the fundamental problems of endemic corruption and incompetence in the Afghan government, and the sclerotic pace of democratic reform and social justice in the country. The Trump administration has also aggravated tensions with Washington’s nominal ally in the region, Pakistan, over Pakistan’s refusal to rein in Taliban fighters along the border and to cut the group’s access to intelligence and foreign financial aid.
The White House has left the military strategy in military hands, but it’s time the president explained how the additional troops will provide a turnaround in this military mission. There is no reason to believe a game-changing strategy is at hand, or that the Afghan government is prepared to take the next step by laying the foundation for peace. Any new deployment must have a chance of ending the stalemate and pushing all sides toward national reconciliation. There’s no use in merely prolonging the status quo.