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

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Update for Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Kurdistan movement for independence appears to be over, at least for now, as the Kurdistan Regional Government issues a statement affirming the unity of Iraq.

An earthquake centered near Halabja causes severe damage and hundreds of deaths in Iranian Kurdish region. The damage is relatively little in Iraqi Kurdistan, due to higher quality construction, but not insignificant. There are 10 known dead in Iraq and fears for the integrity of a dam on the Diyala river, as well as damaged and destroyed buildings. The death toll in Iran is, as usual, largely attributable to unreinforced masonry construction. (Halabja was the site of the notorious chemical attack by the Saddam Hussein regime in 1988.)

Jan Egeland of the Norwegian refugee council warns that new humanitarian challenges loom in Iraq following the defeat of IS. Three million people remain displaced and the cleavages in Iraqi society are creating new refugees and the prospect of new conflicts. Meanwhile international attention may be fading in the face of enormous rebuilding needs.

Two bombings in Baghdad kill 9 people. These occurrences remain common, and are now so routine as to receive little attention.

A law proposed in parliament would allow girls as young as nine to be married. It is based on a school of Shia jurisprudence and would apply only to Shiite citizens. While the law is unlikely to pass, this is an indication that the secular nature of the Iraq regime is under challenge.

Iraqi forces continue to take remaining IS territory near the Syrian border, apparently with little resistance.

Analysis by John Jenkins finds that the failure of the Kurdish bid for independence has enhanced Iranian influence in the region.

And indeed, Iran will already receive oil from the Kirkuk fields

Monday, November 6, 2017

Update for Monday, November 6, 2017

U.S. soldier killed in a combat operation in Logar province, Afghanistan on Saturday is identified as 33-year-old Sgt. 1st Class Stephen B. Cribben. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group in Fort Carson, Colorado. The circumstances of the death have not been further described publicly.

Reports of civilian casualties in a NATO operation in Kunduz. There are conflicting reports on the number of casualties.

A district official in Faryab is assasinated.

The acting governor of Jawzan says IS is making gains in the province after defeating a rival Taliban faction. (IS in Afghanistan is really a branding of a breakaway faction of the Taliban. That they have any operational link with the group in Syria and Iraq is doubtful, particularly now that IS in that region has been reduced to a remnant.)

And indeed, the eradication of IS territorial control in Iraq continues with the rapid recapture of Quaim. IS still holds the town of Rawa and some remote desert outposts.

There are reports that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was in Rawa and has now fled to Syria, purportedly in a yellow taxi. (I'm not sure how anybody would know this. -- C)

Kurdistan PM Nechirvan Barzani offers a deal to hand over border controls and oil revenues to Baghdad in exchange for 17% of  the federal budget.

However, there are reports that the federal government is taking a harsher attitude, and may want to reduce or eliminate the prerogatives of the KRG.

Suicide bombers attack a Shiite mosque in Kirkuk, killing at least five.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Update for Monday, October 30, 2017

Editor's note: I have very consciously limited our scope to Iraq and Afghanistan, simply because I felt I needed to keep focus and conserve my resources. However, it has seemed arbitrary to exclude Syria, where U.S. troops are deployed and the same forces that contend in Iraq are also central to the conflict. Now friend of the site Chet urges us to pay more attention to the little-discussed deployment of U.S. troops to other conflict zones, notably Africa. The recent deaths of 4 soldiers in Niger marked the first many Americans even knew of the deployment there -- including members of congress. Now we learn of an Army Green Beret who was found murdered in Mali "on a secret assignment," with suspicion falling on Navy SEALS. If we still want to claim that we live in a democracy, we need a public explanation of why these troops are in these places, and what they are doing there. And we need congress to take responsibility for decisions about war and peace, which the constitution gives them the sole power to do. Somehow we have forgotten that.

In the wake of the failed independence bid, KRG president Barzani resigns. Protesters stormed the parliament building during the closed door meeting in which he made the announcement. Later, in a public statement, he vowed to continue the fight for independence and defended the independence referendum. He accused the United States of betrayal.

The U.S. commends his decision to resign and also parliament's move to devolve presidential powers to other institutions. [I'm not entirely sure what the latter means but it may be an attempt to ameliorate the partition of Kurdish government between the KDP and the PUK. We'll see. -- C]

Offices of the PUK and Goran party are looted and burned in Dohuk. [Goran is a "third way" party that has worked to end tribalist politics. -- C]

Barah Saleh indeed hopes that we will see the end of tribalism in Kurdish politics, but fears Baghdad will not play a sufficiently constructive role.

In light of these developments, Iran will re-open borders with Kurdistan.

Negotiations for new federal arrangements between Baghad and Erbil are ongoing, currently between military representatives who are discussing territorial issues. Border control and aviation [and oil?] will be discussed  by the ministries of interior and finance.

Soldier killed in the helicopter crash in Logar, Afghanistan Oct. 27 is identified as Chief Warrant Officer Jacob M. Sims of Juneau, Alaska. He was assigned to 4th Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Update for Sunday, October 29, 2017

A U.S. military service member is killed, 6 injured in a helicopter crash in Logar. NATO command says enemy action was not involve. Local sources say the helicopter hit a tree.

Thirteen Afghan police are killed in attacks on checkpoints in Kunduz.

Nine police and 12 Taliban killed in fighting in Ghazni.

Deputy governor of Kunar province, Mohammad Nabi, in Pakistan for medical treatment, is allegedly abducted. He is reportedly an activist in Hezb-e-Islami, presumably the Khalis faction since the organization founded by Gulbuddin Hekmyatar is considered a terrorist organization, whereas the non-violent faction is a registered political party in Afghanistan.

Fighting in Zabul kills 6 police and 8 militants.

Taliban said to burn hundreds of houses in villages in Sar-e-Pul. The motive is not explained but presumably the locals have opposed them.

U.S. state department officials say Taliban still have safe haven in Pakistan.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Update for Wednesday, October 25, 2017

This is being spun in various ways, but the Kurdish Regional Government offers to "freeze" the independence referendum, asks for cessation of military operations, and asks for talks with Baghdad.

However, Baghdad and allied militias continue to move on additional territory.

Iraqi casualties in clashes with Kurdish forces near Mosul.

Iran re-opens its border with Kurdistan, apparently in response to the "freeze" announcement.

PM Abadi is in Ankara for talks about the Kurdistan situation. Turkish president President Recep Tayyip Erdogan offers to help rebuild a pipeline that runs near Mosul, that will allow Baghdad to export oil to Turkey while bypassing Kurdistan.

Some 30,000 Kurds have been displaced from Tuz Kurmatu. International aid agencies say Kurdish properties in the city have been looted and burned. Displaced people are staying in the open or sheltering in mosques and schools.

Kurdish sources accuse militias of looting government offices in Sinjar.

Meanwhile, Iraq prepares for a final assault on IS holdouts near the Syrian border.

KRG parliament delays elections for 8 months.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Update for Friday, October 20, 2017

Iraqi and Kurdish forces exchange indirect fire as government moves to take the town of Altun Kupri, just outside the official boundary of the Kurdish autonomous region. There are no reported casualties, however Kurdish command claims to have destroyed 10 vehicles in this exchange, and blames the attack on a Shiite militia using weapons supplied by the U.S. There are conflicting reports over whether federal troops have captured the area, but the federal forces say they have.

Ayatollah Sistani endorses the move to recapture disputed territory from the KRG, but calls for protection of the Kurdish population and national unity.

Muqtada al-Sadr dispatches fighters to Kirkuk. The Sadrist military arm, now called Saraya al-Salaam, did not take part in the battle against IS.

Al Jazeera reviews the Kurds sudden reversal of fortune, and the resulting rift between the KDP and PUK.

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.