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, 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.


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Update for Wednesday, September 27, 2017


The Kurdistan independence referendum has engendered fierce push back in the region, but it may be mostly bluster.

Iraq's civil aviation authority demanded that Erbil cede control of Kurdistan's airports to Iraq. The KRG refused and Baghdad has now officially closed Iraqi air space to traffic bound for Kurdistan. Lebanon, Egypt and Iran have suspended all air traffic to Kurdistan. However, this does not effectively ban travel to Kurdistan as passengers could go to Baghdad and then take a domestic flight.

Turkey has threatened to close the border and to shut off oil exports through the pipeline through Turkey. However, Gonul Tol of the Middle East Institute doubts this would happen. The movement toward reconciliation between Ankara and Turkey was well advanced before the referendum became a major irritant, and it is not in Turkey's interest to come into direct conflict with the KRG. For one thing, the KRG could again provide sanctuary to the PKK, and encourage irredentism in Turkey. In fact the border remains open.

The Iraqi parliament calls for the government to send troops to Kirkuk and seize the oil fields.

In other news, Iraq carried out a mass execution of 42 men on Sunday, an action condemned by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, who doubts they received due process. Iraq holds some 1,200 prisoners who have been condemned to death at the Nassiriya prison. Iraq has released no specific information about the individuals who were executed.