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

Friday, January 5, 2018

Update for Friday, January 5, 2018

Suicide bomber in Kabul kills at least 20 people, injures dozens including 27 police.

 The U.S. suspends all se security aid to Pakistan saying the country has not done enough to eliminate safe havens for Afghan insurgents. If you have a subscription, or haven't exceeded your monthly limit of free reads, you can read a discussion of this by Mujib Mashal and Salman Masooood in the NYT. While the allegation against Pakistan is certainly true, the U.S. action is questionable. While Pakistan does harbor the Haqqani Network in particular, the U.S. depends on supply routes through Pakistan and Pakistan does provide cooperation in other respects. Power in Pakistan is divided between the civilian administration and the military, and the country is not really dependent on U.S. aid. The move, far from persuading Pakistan to expel Taliban factions, may backfire.

The body of the U.S. soldier killed in action Jan. 1 has been flown home. He is identified as Sgt. 1st Class Mihail Golin, of New Jersey. Here is the DoD release identifying him.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Update for Tuesday, January 2, 2018

A U.S. service member is killed in action and four are injured in fighting in Nangarhar province. Two of the injured are hospitalized in stable condition and two have returned to duty. This engagement was against the so-called ISIS-Khorasan province, and is separate from the Resolute Support mission. An interesting excerpt from the Stripes story is that it turns out that 700-1,600=1,000:

Officials estimated in March that about 700 ISIS-K members remained in Afghanistan, but in late November Nicholson said 1,600 fighters had been eliminated. In early December, officials estimated about 1,000 fighters were still operating throughout Afghanistan.
Those of you old enough to remember the Vietnam war will remember "body counts."

And I guess we'll be getting more of them. Gen. Votel of the U.S. Central Command wants a more "aggressive Afghan push":

Gen. Joseph Votel of U.S. Central Command said an influx of new American trainers can help escalate the fight. They’ll be operating with Afghan units, closer to the front lines and at greater risk, but Votel said U.S. commanders will ensure American and allied forces have adequate protection. The goal is to get the Afghan military moving on its military campaign sooner, rather than later. The United States wants the “focus on offensive operations and we’ll look for a major effort to gain the initiative very quickly as we enter into the fighting season,” Votel said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. . . .

Votel said as the coalition builds up the Afghan Air Force and trains more security forces, the Afghans will become better fighters. “By the time they get to the next fight,” he said, “they will be able to really present a significant offensive capability.”
Well, we've only been at this for 14 years. One more should do the trick.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Update for Thursday, December 28, 2017

IS claims responsibility for a suicide bomb attack on a Shiite cultural center and news agency in Kabul that is reported to have killed 41 people and injured 48. The attack occurred during a panel discussion on the anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. IS has previously attacked Shia targets in Afghanistan. Other reports put the toll of injured at 84.

Six children are killed by an IED in Balkh.

Two police are killed and weapons captured by Taliban in an attack on a police checkpoint in Farah.

Five civilians are killed by militants in Ghazni. This story does not explain the motive.

U.S. military presence in Afghanistan to increase "dramaticallly."

[Gen. Nicholson]  has praised Trump’s new strategy as a “game changer” and said it has already begun to pay dividends. Vice President Mike Pence spoke along the same lines last week, when he made a surprise visit to the troops in Afghanistan. “The results are really beginning to become evident around the country,” Pence said after meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Wishing the US troops a merry Christmas, he assured them the Trump’s new “fight-to-win strategy” for Afghanistan was “bearing fruit.” “I believe victory is closer than ever before,” Pence said.
Sure, "victory." Whatever that is supposed to mean.

Meanwhile, remember the total defeat of IS in Iraq? Iraqi officials warn of impending fall of Hawija to IS, following an attack on Shiite militia in Nineveh province.

And the non-existent IS still holds thousands of Yezidi captives.

Journalists are attacked and arrested to prevent coverage of protests in Kurdistan.

Much of Iraq is in ruins, but the hundreds of billions of dollars needed for reconstruction are nowhere in sight.

Baghdad at first expected American money would flow in after the defeat of IS, said a senior U.S. official in Washington who regularly meets with Iraqi leadership. But Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said the United States is no longer in the business of “nation-building.” “We just tell them, no, it’s not going to happen,” the U.S. official said. “We have to be up front with them.”

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Update for Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Sorry I've been away for a while. I'm not giving up this blog, just had some distractions.

An in-depth story in the New York Times about IS in Nangarhar. (NYT rations free views, sorry if you've hit the pay wall. I have a digital subscription.) In Khogyani district, where the U.S. dropped that huge bomb out of a cargo plane earlier in the year, the government had reached an accommodation with the Taliban, which controlled the area but allowed girls to be educated. Then IS moved in, and has survived despite U.S. bombardment.

And right on cue, government claims a U.S. airstrike kills 15 militants in Nangarhar. Of course they never say how they ascertain the number of dead or confirm that they were all insurgents.

Explosion destroys a mosque in eastern Nangarhar, the perpetrators and motive are not explained but presumably this was due to sectarian rivalry.

Taliban kill 5 travelers in Ghazni, claiming they were soldiers.

Six police killed by an IED in Helmand, amid what is said to be fierce fighting.

U.S. drone said to kill a Haqqani commander and his aide in the Pakistan border region, possibly inside Pakistan.

Suicide attack in Kabul kills 6. Other sources give the death toll as 9 or 10. The target was the national intelligence agency. Reports also differ as to whether all of the casualties were civilians.

Russian president Putin supports the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. (I'm not entirely sure what to make of this but he does have concerns about Islamist militancy.)

China hosts a meeting of Pakistani and Afghan diplomats to try to mediate between them.

The number of U.S. troops assigned to combat operations will increase dramatically next year, although Gen. Nicholson is reticent about details. Aerial operations will also increase.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Update for Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Under auspices of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Iraqi leaders participate in a two day conference to prepare for national reconciliation.

However, they have a long way to go. A mortar attack in Tuz Khurmato from Kurdish controlled hills kills two people and injures 20. Shiite militias plan to attack Kurdish forces in the region. (These appear to be splinter groups, not affiliated with the major Kurdish parties.) Meanwhile, Kurds accuse the militias of indiscriminate shelling of Kurdish villages.

While Muqtada al-Sadr has called for his own militia to disarm, other Shiite militias are not.

Turkish, Iraqi and U.S. military leaders will meet to discuss security issues.

A question is what exactly U.S. forces are still doing in Iraq now that IS has been defeated. The administration omitted the number of troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria from its semi-annual report to congress. So U.S. taxpayers don't even get to know how many are there, let alone why.

Funeral for army corporal Todd McGurn who died in Iraq on November 25. The incident has not been publicly explained.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Update for Wednesday, November 29, 2017

New U.S. strategy in Iraq will have 1,000 U.S. troops conducting combat operations against Taliban and IS. This has happened with essentially no public discussion in the U.S. and no debate in congress.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will go to Europe to try to convince NATO allies to put more troops into Afghanistan but will face resistance:

“The allies can do more,” said Shashank Joshi, a security analyst at the Royal United Services Institute in London. “The issue is they don’t want to do more. They have a much more cynical, pessimistic view of the country. For all those reasons, I don’t think you will see European allies pile in with the expectation that a final push is going to turn things around.”
British PM May visits forces in Iraq, and discusses security cooperation with PM Abadi.

U.S. forces deploy to a base in Kirkuk but they are not expected to intervene in ongoing ethnic conflicts in the area. The reason for the move is unclear.

Shiite militias are said to continue to attack Kurdish civilians in Tuz Khurmatu.

U.S.-led coalition (probably meaning the U.S.) attacks targets in Anbar, claims to have killed "a number" of militants and destroyed a weapons cache.

DynCorp workers plead guilty to engaging in a corrupt scheme with an Iraqi general. So what else is new?

Pentagon report puts the number of U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria higher than previously stated. There are nearly 9,000 in Iraq and 1,720 in Syria, according to the report. "Pentagon spokesman Rob Manning said on Monday that security concerns and political sensitivities prohibited full disclosure for the time being, but he pledged to be "as transparent as" possible." Again, this is happening with no public discussion in the U.S. and no debate in congress. Note that the source is the BBC -- I have not seen this reported by major U.S. media.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Update for Tuesday, November 21, 2017

U.S. State Department officials formally accuse Secretary of State Tillerson of violating U.S. law by excluding Iraq and Afghanistan (along with Myanmar) from a list of countries that conscript child soldiers. According to Reuters:

Keeping the countries off the annual list makes it easier to provide them with U.S. military assistance. Iraq and Afghanistan are close allies in the fight against Islamist militants, while Myanmar is an emerging ally to offset China’s influence in Southeast Asia.

Documents reviewed by Reuters also show Tillerson’s decision was at odds with a unanimous recommendation by the heads of the State Department’s regional bureaus overseeing embassies in the Middle East and Asia, the U.S. envoy on Afghanistan and Pakistan, the department’s human rights office and its own in-house lawyers.
U.S. more than triples the rate of bombing in Afghanistan, with  653 munitions delivered by airstrikes in October 2017 compared to 203 in October 2016. Of course strikes against IS in Iraq and Syria are down as that group is largely defeated.

Suicide bombing at a food market in Tuz Khurmatu kills 21 and injures 60. The town was recently recaptured from IS, which is being blamed for this attack. It is ethnically mixed, and was in dispute between the Baghdad government and Kurdistan. (The BBC report is not quite accurate in stating that Iraqi forces "retook" it from peshmerga. In fact as Amnesty International reports, "Tuz Khurmatu was under the joint control of the Kurdistan Regional Government forces, the Population Mobilization Units (PMU) and local police, until Iraqi government forces supported by factions of the PMU took control of the city on 16 October." When government forces took the city, Kurdish neighborhoods were looted and burned.  -- C)

Iranian president and military leadership say IS has been defeated.

Friend of the blog Chet draws our attention to the U.S. military buildup in Somalia where U.S. forces have more than doubled to over 500. Note that all of this military activity (remember Niger?) is taking place with no public debate, or even awareness.