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, December 2, 2016

Update for Friday, December 2, 2016


Mujib Mashal and Eric Scmitt in the NYT offer a grim overview of the situation in Afghanistan. As readers know, we do not get a reliable daily accounting of casualties among the Afghan security forces, but they report 30 to 50 deaths per day, with the Afghan government controlling only 60% of the country, the Taliban 10%, and 30% contested. Various militants groups other than the Taliban are active in the country. Given the vague and inconsistent pronouncements by the U.S. president elect on Afghanistan, it remains to be seen what the U.S. will do in 2017 but we have to note that the generals he has selected for his national security team, including Secretary of Defense, are likely to be quite hawkish. Stay tuned.

Taliban wearing police uniforms kill 5 Afghan soldiers and injure 3 in southern Kandahar.

Twenty three civilians, six police, and 29 militants said to be killed in fighting in Kandahar province.

Militants targeting a civilian residence kill 4 children in Herat. No further explanation.

Iraqi commanders considered changing strategy to encourage civilians to flee Mosul but decided against it because of fears of massacres by IS and lack of resources to absorb refugees. The debate took place amid fear of a lengthy war of attrition.

U.S. military says Iraqi forces now hold 20% of Mosul, and IS on the eastern side of the Tigris is isolated.

Dominance of Shiite militias near Tal Afar raises concern of sectarian conflict once IS is defeated.

Iraqis are now battling 19 oil well fires near Qayyara.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Update for Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016

A humanitarian catastrophe looms in Mosul where nearly half a million people are without water, food is running short, and mortar and gunfire continue to claim civilian lives.

Iraqi forces continue to make slow gains in the city but rain has slowed progress while IS counterattack occurs southeast of the city.

Drone footage shows the devastation caused by burning oil wells near Quyyara. Here is a discussion of the damage. (Although I'm not sure it's fair to blame the Iraqi government for not having put out the fires as of yet.)

Commentary on the difficulties posed by the Shiite militias. This is a long-form analysis presenting some of the relevant history. Mixed opinions about the effect of the recent move to legitimize them and integrate them into the armed forces.

Reports of IS atrocities against civilians in areas they control continue. Here is an individual account.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Update for Friday, November 25, 2016

As I suggested recently, the Iraq theater is not separable from Syria and I will have to start paying attention to events there. (The border is artificial anyway.) A member of the U.S. military has been killed by an explosion near Ayn Issa, Syria. No further details as of now. (The town is just north of Raqqa, the IS capital, deep inside Syria, indicating that U.S. forces are deployed within the combat zone.)

Iraq is preparing to assault the now besieged town of Tal Afar  with a force of Sunni and Shiite Turkmen. The Iranian-backed militia which captured the surrounding region and cut off the town will remain outside.

IS continues to target civilians in areas of Mosul that have been recaptured by the Iraqi army. About 100 casualties are arriving daily at the hospital in Irbil.

The reported casualty total from the truck bomb attack on Shiite pilgrims continues to vary, but Iranian news agency reports that 71 bodies will be repatriated to Iran.

Meanwhile, food and water are running short.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Update for Thursday, November 24, 2016

Tim Arango of the NYT reports that the decision by the Iraqi military to urge civilians in Mosul to remain in their homes has not turned out well. Civilian casualties are mounting, mostly from IS fire, while due to the presence of civilians the Iraqi military cannot use heavy weapons.

Truck bomb in Hilla kills as many as 80 Arbaeen pilgrims, including some Iranians.

Security forces carry out mass arrests in Anbar.

Asharq al-Awsat publishes a false story accusing Iranian Arbaeen pilgrims of impregnating hundreds of Iraqi women. Arrest warrants have been issued for two Iraqi journalists in the case. The publication is based in London and Saudi owned. (I sometimes link to it as it is generally reliable. However this incident highlights the intense sectarian hostility in the region and it is quite disturbing.)

Xinhua reports on the grim conditions in Mosul. Now that the city is besieged the only source of food will be the Iraqi army. It is not clear what will happen in IS held areas.