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, September 22, 2016

Update for Thursday, September 22, 2016

With U.S. air support, Iraqi forces continue to make gains against I.S. Iraqi troops have seized the city center of Shirqat, and essential link between Mosul and the staging area for the offensive in Qyara.  A U.S. air strike is said to have killed I.S. forces fleeing the town.

Iraqi forces also continue to expand control of territory around Ramadi, also here.

This is pretty inconsequential but it's being widely reported so here you go. A rocket fired in the direction of the Qayara base where U.S. troops are stationed fell harmlessly in the desert, but field tests indicated the possible presence of a mustard agent. As the linked story indicates, I.S. attempts to make chemical weapons have been crude and ineffective.

Conditions in Fallujah following it's "liberation" have not gotten any better, with no rebuilding of infrastructure and displaced people still being treated as potentially hostile by the Shiite-led government. The prospects for reuniting Iraq are not improving, to say the least.

Update: SecDef Ashton Carter testifies before Senate Armed Services Committee on U.S. force build-up in Iraq and Syria. There are now 300 U.S. troops in Syria. U.S. advisers are now placed at the Brigade level with Iraqi forces, and the U.S. is ending in more High Mobility Artillery Rocket System batteries to support the assault on Mosul. The U.S. has also provided the peshmerga with $415 million in cash.

The Pentagon is asking president Obama to authorize deployment of 500 additional troops to Iraq

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Update for Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Sorry for not posting for a while, I will resume a more regular schedule. As I've noted before, the situation in both Afghanistan and Iraq has been fairly static, although of course the daily drumbeat of violence and humanitarian catastrophe continues in both countries.

In Iraq, information trickling out of Mosul indicates that IS fears losing control, that there are signs of popular resistance, and that preparations for the coming assault are nevertheless continuing.

A specific act of resistance in Mosul seems to have just occurred as gunmen burn an IS publishing house.

Iraqi forces continue to tighten the vice on Mosul, moving in on the town of Shirqat in Salah-u-Din province and capturing villages in Anbar.

Iraqi parliament removes finance minister from office alleging graft. However they presented no evidence against him and the development could complicate relations with foreign funders. Zebari is a Kurd.

In Afghanistan, a peace agreement between the government and warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is expected tomorrow.

Interior minister Taj Mohammad says the security situation in Kunduz is "unsatisfactory" but that a renewed operation has been launched there against the insurgents.

Taliban attack kills a police commander and injures 3 police in Helmand.

Air strikes kill Afghan forces in Uruzgan, apparently a case of mistargeting.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Update for Friday, September 9, 2016

U.S. deploys an additional 400+ troops to Iraq as preparations continue for the assault on Mosul, bringing declared forces in the country to 446. (It has previously been revealed that individuals on short rotations in the country are not counted in the declared total; there are probably special forces and other operatives (e.g., CIA) who are not counted as well.) UPI gives the new deployment as 500.

As Gary Legum points out, it is somewhat disingenous for Hillary Clinton to say that she will not put U.S. troops in Iraq since they are already there.

Time magazine discusses the upcoming battle for Mosul. I recommend this for those looking for a brief, accessible overview of the complex political and military situation.

In Afghanistan,  an official claims that government forces have regained control of Tirin Kot, but I can find no independent corroboration. TOLO relies on the official claim but also gives casualty totals and credits reinforcements from Kandahar for the success.

Rocket attack in Baghlan kills 8, injures 14.

U.S. commandos fail in attempt to rescue American University professors held by the Taliban. The hostages were not at the targeted location.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Update for Thursday, September 8, 2016

Taliban enter Tarin Kot, the Uruzgan capital, amid heavy fighting as residents flee. Senior officials are said to have fled to the airport, while the police and intelligence headquarters are under attack. The police chief admits that many of his men fled without a fight.

Amid deteriorating battlefield conditions, the U.S. will deploy 1,400 troops to Afghanistan from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) in Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

The UN reports that 93 aid workers have been abducted in Afghanistan so far this year. A spokesman also issues an urgent call for assistance as they expect 1.1 million displaced people by the end of the year, including refugees being expelled from Pakistan at the rate of 5,000 per day. 2.7 million Afghans are suffering from malnutrition, including more than 1 million children.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Update for Monday, Sept. 5, 2015

Two bombs near the president's administrative office in Kabul kill 24, injure more than 90. The Taliban have claimed responsibility. Responders to the first explosion were killed in the second, a common tactic.

Officials say the Kandahar-Helmand highway has reopened after a month-long blockade. However, it appears it is currently only being used by military vehicles. Whether this is because it is still too dangerous for civilian use or because of physical damage is not entirely clear.

Government says it has recaptured Qala-e Zal in Kunduz.

Three security personnel are injured and a tank destroyed in a Taliban attack in Ghor province.

Taliban attack on a military base in Baghlan is repelled. As usual, no mention of government casualties.

Remember the peace process supposedly involving the U.S., China, Pakistan and Afghanistan? Not happening.

India will increase military assistance to Afghanistan, displeasing Pakistan, and of course the Taliban as well.

Taliban overrun Omna in Paktika.

In Iraq, explosion of a booby-trapped house near Qayyarah kills 10 soldiers and 8 civilians. This is indicative of the slow process of clearing areas formerly occupied by IS. Long after the recapture of Fallujah, Anbar Operations Command is still clearing booby-trapped houses and other hidden explosives.

U.S. air strike near Qayyarah is said to kill an unnamed high official of IS.

Iraqi army launches assault on Hawija, along with Shiite militias.

Sadrist government employees go on strike in the continuing protest against corruption.


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Update for Tuesday, August 29, 2016

Stephen Kalin for Reuters describes conditions in the recently recaptured town of Qayyara, where IS fighters set oil wells on fire before fleeing.

Abdel Aziz Saleh, a 25-year-old Qayyara resident, said he wants Baghdad to put out the fires as soon as possible. "They are suffocating us," he said. "The birds, the animals are black, the people are black. Gas rains down on us at night. Now the gas has reached the residential areas."
There is no electricity, and daytime temperatures reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Unlike in other recently recaptured cities, IS fighters did not dig in, most buildings are intact, and there is little problem with booby traps. However, there is no telling when the oil well fires will be extinguished or the electricity restored.

The impasse between Baghdad and Irbil over oil revenues continues. The dispute in principle is over whether all oil produced within the borders of Sykes-Picot Iraq belongs to the Iraqi state, with revenue to be shared; or whether Kurdistan owns and can sell it's own oil. Kurdistan controls the pipeline from northern Iraq to Turkey, which means that it has prevented Baghdad from selling petroleum from wells it controls near Kirkuk. While negotiations are ongoing, Baghdad is now proposing to export oil from the area through Iran. More on the dispute at the link.

Human Rights Watch says tribal militias are recruiting child soldiers from refugee camps to join the offensive on Mosul, and that they are being paid by the Iraqi government. (This is not as extreme as other cases such as in Africa. Here we seem to be talking about 16-year-olds. It is not surprising that many would volunteer as they have no other means of livelihood.)

AP has documented 72 mass graves in territory recaptured from IS, most in Iraq although there are no doubt many more in Syria, which is not as accessible. The total number of dead is impossible to estimate accurately.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Update for Saturday, August 27, 2016

Oops. U.S. drone strike in Helmand province kills 22 Afghan soldiers who were Taliban prisoners.

Taliban capture Janikhail in Paktia province. Five police officers are killed in the fighting and Taliban seize weapons and military vehicles. A separate report says that at least 30 members of security forces were killed.

Reporters without borders says dangerous conditions have made parts of Afghanistan informational "black holes."  (This is a problem readers are well aware of. We cannot corroborate reports from official channels and reports of battles often appear to be self-serving.)