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, 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.

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.




Monday, September 25, 2017

Update for Monday, September 25, 2017


While the Kurdish independence referendum will almost certainly pass, Kurdistan is in political dissaray, with control divided regionally between the KDP and PUK parties, and parliament largely dysfunctional. The referendum is a KDP project. Matthew Vickery explains the complicated situation for Al Jazeera.

Turkish PM Erdogan appears to threaten the Kurdish Regional Government with military action.

Iraq's parliament votes to send troops to Kirkuk, where territory is disputed between Erbil and Baghdad.

Iran closes the border with Kurdistan and stops all air traffic between the countries.

The referendum is not binding and will not immediately result in a declaration of independence. It will authorize the government to work toward independence. Baghdad will never agree to it, however, so the way ahead is unclear.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Update for Thursday, September 21, 2017

Iraqi forces launch offensive to retake Hawija. Once again, civilians are in danger, including some 30,000 children. Food, water and medicine are already in short supply in the city, and many children are malnourished.

The town is mostly Arab, but it lies near territory which is disputed by Kurdistan. The operation occurs amidst ongoing conflict over the planned Kurdistan independence referendum. The prospect of allies in the war against IS turning on each other is very concerning. Peshmerga are not taking part in the Hawija offensive.

Russia has not called upon Kurdistan to cancel the vote and has become a major investor in the Kurdistan oil industry.

In a weird twist, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort has been hired by Iraqi Kurdish leaders to promote the referendum. As readers presumably know, Manafort is under investigation by the FBI and special prosecutor Robert Mueller for possible collusion with Russia during the presidential campaign, and perhaps other violations concerning his representation of the pro-Russian Ukranian government.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Update for Tuesday, September 12, 2017

We have met the enemy, and he is us. William Astore, in TomDispatch, lays out the truth about America's looking glass wars. Do read the whole thing, but to get you pulled in, I'll begin with an excerpt from Tom Inglehardt's introduction:

In the years since [9/11], in its global war on terror, the Pentagon has ensured that America’s enemies in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere have regularly been able to arm themselves with... well, not to beat around the bush, a remarkable range of U.S. weaponry.  The latest such story: a report that in recent fighting around the city of Tal Afar, the Iraqi military recovered a U.S.-produced FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missile and launcher from an Islamic State weapons cache. That’s a weapon capable of taking out an M1 Abrams tank . . . .

Of course, when the American-trained, funded, and armed Iraqi army collapsed in the summer of 2014 in the face of relatively small numbers of ISIS fighters, that group took vast stores of U.S. weaponry and vehicles that they’ve used ever since. But that was hardly the end of it.  The U.S. soon began retraining and rearming its Iraqi allies to the tune of $1.6 billion for “tens of thousands of assault rifles, hundreds of armored vehicles, hundreds of mortar rounds, nearly 200 sniper rifles, and other gear,” much of which, a government audit found, the Pentagon simply lost track of. . . .
Similar stories could be told about Afghanistan, another country where U.S. weaponry has disappeared in remarkable quantities. (The Taliban, for instance, recently released a video of their fighters sporting weaponry normally used only by U.S. Special Operations personnel.) In short, the Pentagon has been arming itself, its allies, and its enemies in a profligate fashion for years now in its never-ending conflicts across the Greater Middle East and Africa.
Astore writes:

Since the early 1990s, largely unconstrained by peer rivals, America’s leaders have acted as if there were nothing to stop them from doing as they pleased on the planet, which, as it turned out, meant there was nothing to stop them from their own folly.  We witness the results today.  Prolonged and disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Interventions throughout the Greater Middle East (Libya, Syria, Yemen, and beyond) that spread chaos and destruction.  Attacks against terrorism that have given new impetus to jihadists everywhere.  And recently calls to arm Ukraine against Russia.  All of this is consistent with a hubristic strategic vision that, in these years, has spoken in an all-encompassing fashion and without irony of global reach, global power, and full-spectrum dominance. . . .

Incessant warfare represents the end of democracy.  I didn’t say that, James Madison did.
I firmly believe, though, in words borrowed from President Dwight D. Eisenhower, that “only Americans can hurt America."  So how can we lessen the hurt?  By beginning to rein in the military.  A standing military exists -- or rather should exist -- to support and defend the Constitution and our country against immediate threats to our survival.  Endless attacks against inchoate foes in the backlands of the planet hardly promote that mission.  Indeed, the more such attacks wear on the military, the more they imperil national security.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, no big surprise, parliament has condemned the upcoming Kurdish independence referendum.

Israel seems to be the only regional power that supports Kurdish independence.

Iraqi forces prepare to retake IS-held town of Anah in Anbar.

In what is likely a symbolic gesture, but giving credit where it's due, Sen. Rand Paul wants to end the congress to sunset the Authorization to Use Military Force  which is the legal fig leaf underlying the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to vote on ending the U.S. military commitment in those countries.




Friday, September 8, 2017

Update for Friday, September 8, 2017

After 16 years, you would think the U.S. military would have learned at least a little something about Afghanistan. Taliban suicide attack at a control point near Bagram injures 3 U.S. soldiers and 3 Afghan soldiers, and kills an Afghan interpreter. The attack was advertised as a response to a leaflet dropped by U.S. forces in Parwan province.

The leaflet depicted a lion chasing a dog. Inscribed on the dog's side was the Shahada, the fundamental statement of the Islamic Creed, which may be translated as "There is no God but God. Muhammad is the messenger of God." The Shahada happens to be an element of the Taliban flag which is apparently why somebody thought this was a good idea.

Conflict takes a heavy toll on military hospital in Helmand where surgeons often work 24 hour shifts to keep up with the flow of injuries.

The U.S. is giving Afghanistan 150 MD530 F Cayuse Warrior light attack helicopters  at a cost of $1.38 billion. The usefulness of these machines has been questioned.

In Iraqcivilians are fleeing ahead of an expected offensive against IS in Hawija.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Update for Thursday, August 31, 2017

Iraqi PM Abadi declares victory over IS in Tal Afar and all of Nineveh province as Iraqi forces gain control of the town of al-’Ayadiya, to which the last resistance had retreated. However, fighting continues. (Remember that fighting continued for a couple of weeks after Abadi declared victory in Mosul.)

U.S. bombs a road in Syria to stop an IS convoy moving toward the Iraqi border from Lebanon. The convoy was transporting IS members who had been trapped near the Syria-Lebanon border and were being allowed to move to Deir al-Zour Province under an agreement among the Lebanese and Syrian governments and Hezbollah. However, the Iraqi and U.S. governments do not accept the agreement.

In Afghanistan, the DoD admits there are actually 11,000 U.S. troops, rather than the 8,400 previously reported. This does not include the additional troops being sent under the new "strategy," which consists of sending more troops to do something unspecified.


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Update for Tuesday, August 29, 2017


After making rapid advances and seizing much of Tal Afar, Iraqi government and allied forces are now facing stiff resistance in Ayadhiya, to which IS forces retreated.

Provincial councilors in Kirkuk vote to take part in the Kurdistan independence referendum, in a session boycotted by Arab and Turkmen members. The Turkish foreign ministry condemns the vote.

After SecDef Mattis visits Erbil, the pentagon has little to say about the trip. Kurdistan24 believes the U.S. will not oppose the independence referendum but provides no real evidence. (The lack of a functioning State Department makes it difficult for anyone to know. -- C)

In Afghanistan, a suicide bombing at a bank branch near the U.S. embassy kills 5 and injures 9.

An airstrike in Herat is said to kill 13 civilians along with targeted Taliban. It appears this was likely conducted by Afghan forces, though that is not confirmed. TOLO, however, says 16 civilians were killed and that the attackers were "foreign forces."

Suicide attack on Afghan forces in Helmand on Sunday kills 13.




Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Update for Tuesday, August 22, 2017


In a nationally televised address, the president says some words. He was purportedly announcing his new strategy for Afghanistan, but he neglected to say what it is:

After what he described as a lengthy and exhaustive deliberation culminating in a meeting with his war cabinet at Camp David, Mr. Trump said that he had been convinced that “a hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum for terrorists, including ISIS and Al Qaeda.” Speaking to a military audience at a base outside Washington, Mr. Trump declared, “In the end, we will win.”

But he did not define what victory would look like, nor did he explain how his path would be different from what he labeled the failed strategies of previous presidents.
He did, however, say that he would send more troops, although he did not say how many, nor did he say exactly what they would do. He also made an open-ended commitment for them to remain, since 16 years hasn't been long enough. He said nice things about India and not so nice things about Pakistan, although he did not say what he would do to change Pakistan's behavior.

In case you want to know what those U.S. troops are going to do in Afghanistan, possibly forever, UN ambassador Nikki Haley says you won't know, it's a secret.

She said the military operation there will be different than in the past 16 years. "What you’re not going to hear are the details" about U.S. tactics in the South Asian country, Haley said. "In the past we’ve had administrations that have given out everything we’re doing, when we’re doing it and how we’re doing it. You’re not going to hear that now."

It should be noted that not all Republicans are behind this. Sen. Rand Paul writes:

The Trump administration is increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan and, by doing so, keeping us involved even longer in a 16-year-old war that has long since gone past its time. The mission in Afghanistan has lost its purpose, and I think it is a terrible idea to send any more troops into that war. It’s time to come home now.
Conservative commentator Daniel Larison isn't too pleased either:

Unless the U.S. intends to make Afghanistan its permanent ward and wishes to be at war there forever, there is no compelling reason for a continued American military presence. Nothing in Trump’s speech provided such a reason. He embraced the sunk cost fallacy (“our nation must seek an honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made”), and ignored that throwing away more lives on a failed war is far worse than cutting our losses. He indulged the safe haven myth, according to which the U.S. must police countries on the other side of the earth without end for fear that they might give shelter to terrorists if we do not. These are all very familiar and cliched assumptions by now, and they are wrong. We can’t rationally weigh costs and benefits of a war that can’t end unless it somehow redeems the losses already suffered, and Afghanistan is never going to be made secure enough at an acceptable cost to eliminate the possibility that some part of its territory might play host to jihadists. Trump calls his approach “principled realism,” but as usual it is neither principled nor realist.




Monday, August 21, 2017

Update for Monday, August 21, 2017

Thousands of civilians flee as advance beings on Tal Afar. The UN reports that they are fleeing across the desert for hours and there is a severe lack of water, food and shelter in the blistering heat.

Troops are advancing on the city from the west, so far apparently rapidly.

Zaid al-Ali discusses the surprising evolution of Muqtada al-Sadr, who now presents himself -- and acts as -- an Iraqi nationalist who espouses independence from Tehran and reconciliation with the Sunni Arab monarchies. He has also publicly condemned corruption and called for Iraqi unity. Ali writes "It is impossible to tell whether Muqtada Sadr's about-turn in favour of moderation and political negotiation rather than confrontation and violence is the result of a genuine change of heart, or whether he is merely trying to survive in a challenging environment. Regardless, he has been consistent in his approach over the past few years and it would be safe to assume that he is unlikely to waver in the near future. "

We'll learn tonight what the new "strategy" will be in Afghanistan. While all indications are that it will include about a 50% increase in troop levels and an open-ended commitment, the speech will be delivered by a man who in the past has repeatedly called for withdrawal. Although he moderated that stance on the campaign trail, he did run as a non-interventionist. I hope you didn't believe him.





Friday, August 18, 2017

Update for Friday, August 18, 2017


U.S. soldier killed in Nangarhar on Wednesday is identified as Staff Sgt. Aaron Butler, 27, of Monticello Utah. He was a Special Forces soldier assigned to the Utah National Guard’s B Company, 1st Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group. He was killed, and 11 others injured, when trying to clear a building that was wired with explosives.

The National Security Council will meet with the president at Camp David, to come to a decision on the future strategy for Afghanistan. Military leaders want to increase the U.S. troop commitment, but it appears that some in the White House oppose them.

Iraq

Airstrike by unidentified forces kills 2 civilians and injures another in a village in Anbar.

Announcement from Operation Inherent Resolve on recent air strike activity.  They claim to have destroyed only military targets. Activity in Iraq and Syria is occurring at the pace of about 15-20 sorties per day.

Kurdistan officials are holding fast to a Sept. 25 date for the independence referendum, although they could conceivably delay if Baghdad guarantees agreement to a later date.

BBC reports on current conditions in Mosul. It's still too dangerous for many to return to west Mosul due to booby traps and unexploded ordinance. Neighbors no longer trust each other.

The Pentagon hopes to declassify the location of known unexploded ordinance in Mosul to aid in the recovery effort.

PM Abadi concedes that Iraqi forces committed atrocities in Mosul and promises prosecution.








Thursday, August 17, 2017

Update for Thursday, August 17, 2017

One U.S. soldier is killed in action, several wounded in a battle in Achin, Nangarhar. Additional information from Major General Jefferson Burton, commander of the Utah Army and Air National Guard is that the number of soldiers injured is 11 and that all were members of the Utah National Guard, of whom three are not residents of that state. We are awaiting information on the severity of the injuries but the statement implies that all 11 are being transported to Germany.

Afghan intelligence says it has arrested a Pakistani agent of the Inters Services Intelligence who was planning an attack on a prison. He is said to be involved with the Taliban and the Haqqani Network. If this is true it calls into further question the $1 billion a year the U.S. still gives in civilian and military aid to Pakistan. Here's a bit more from TOLO.

Taliban attacks in Zabul kill 11 police.




Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Update for Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Two U.S. soldiers are killed in an accidental explosion of ordinance while firing at an IS position in northern Iraq. (Exact location is not disclosed.) Sgt. Roshain E. Brooks, 30, and Spc. Allen L. Stigler Jr., 22, were assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. Five other soldiers injured in the incident are expected to survive.

Thousands of civilians flee as airstrikes ramp up on IS positions in Tal Afar  in preparation for an assault on the town. Those still trapped are facing severe shortages of food and water.

Shiite militias backed by Iran will take part in the assault.

Afghanistan

Three employees of Catholic Relief Services are murdered in Ghor.

Attack on a military convoy in Kunduz kills 4 Afghan soldiers  according to one source, kills one according to another.

Afghan army source claims Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid is critically injured in operation in Faryab.








Friday, August 11, 2017

Update for Friday, August 11, 2017

U.S. air strike said to kill 11 civilians in Nangarhar. "“On Thursday afternoon, the American forces bombarded a civilian private vehicle... when they were travelling inside the district,” he told AFP. “Unfortunately, in the airstrike we have casualties. Eleven people were killed and one wounded. All the victims, which included women and children, were civilians and they were from one family. “The victims were beyond recognition, and they were placed inside the sacks and were buried late last night,” he added." Afghan MoD claims the dead were all militants.

Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission confirms that attack on Mirza Olang was a joint Taliban-IS operation. (Note that there is probably no real operational connection between Afghan militants who use the IS brand and the group in Iraq and Syria. As the Reuters report says, "But in a region where different bands of fighters often switch between different militant groups, it can be difficult to establish allegiances with any certainty.")

Army says it has launched an operation to retake the village.

Al Jazeera reports on the 2 million widows left by the Afghan war, who are often reduced to beggary.

John McCain wants to escalate the U.S. war in Afghanistan. Of course he never met a war he didn't like.






Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Update for Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Militia backed by Iran on the Iraq-Syria border blames U.S. for an attack that killed 36 of its fighters, including some Iranian Revolutionary Guards. U.S. denies responsibility, and IS claims responsibility. Iraqi PM Abadi also says that preliminary investigation indicates IS was responsible.

Exodus of physicians and other highly educated professionals from Iraq causes shortage, threatens the country's future.

An Iraqi Civil Defense commander says some 3,000 corpses remain buried in rubble in Mosul.

Next target appears to be Tal Afar as coalition air strikes soften up defenses and a French artillery battalion prepares to advance on the city.

An Iraqi armored division also reaches the town.

In yet another indication of ethnic tensions, Kurdistan president Barzani claims most of the Turkmen residents of Tal Afar are loyal to IS. The participation of Iranian-backed Shia militia in the fight for Tal Afar remains controversial. Barzani also wishes for Iraqi government forces, rather than the militia, to exclusively conduct the operation.

Iraq sentences 27 to death for the Speicher massacre in which IS killed as many as 1,700 captured Iraqi soldiers.

One hundred additional U.S. Marines are deployed to Afghanistan to bolster forces in Helmand.

Taliban capture a village in Sar-e-Pul. Details of the attack are unclear and disputed, with some officials claiming that the the Taliban and IS cooperated in the assault. Fifty civilians are said to have been massacred in the assault .Some civilian prisoners who have been released seem to corroborate this. Locals criticize the slow response by the security forces.

If indeed the Taliban and IS are cooperating it would appear even stranger that Iran is supporting the Taliban. Iran has strongly condemned the attack in Sar-e-Pul, and separately denies any link to the Taliban or armed groups in Afghanistan.

I can't even . . .  Trump administration considers a plan to contract out the war in Afghanistan to mercenaries. The idea is being pushed by Blackwater founder Erik Prince, who compares it to Britains colonization of India through the British East India Company.

Jake Johnson at Common Dreams comments on this idea.

In an op-ed for USA Today published Monday, Prince elaborated on his war plan, which Manson notes would be very similar to his approach in Iraq, where he had significant influence on U.S. policy.
Prince, the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, argues that Trump should "restructure" the war—a process he suggests would resemble "bankruptcy reorganization"—by "aligning U.S. efforts under a presidential envoy," which in a previous op-ed he called a "viceroy."
Critics have warned that while Prince's plan may save money, it will potentially open the door to deadly abuses by unaccountable forces, like those seen in Iraq.
"If contractors are replacing soldiers and they are on the frontline they could kill or be killed, there could be kidnaps or insider attacks—what happens if they commit a crime or bodies have to be sent back; there would be a large number of legal complications," one official told the Financial Times.
Ronald Neumann, who served as the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007, echoed these concerns in an interview with the Navy Times.
"There's a bad record of contractors and human rights abuses," Neumann said. "There's no legal structure to govern this."

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Update for Saturday, August 5, 2017

Here's an odd juxtaposition of information. President Ghani is in Iran for the inauguration of re-elected president Rouhani. According to TOLO, the principal matter for discussion between them is water. Apparently Iran objects to dam projects in Afghanistan.

You would think, however, that they would have other matters to discuss since, according to Carlotta Gall, Iran is now a principle backer of the Taliban, supplying weapons, money, training, recruitment assistance, and even support from Iranian commandos. Iran and the Taliban have historically been adversaries, but according to Gall, that has changed with Iran now seeing alliance with the Taliban as a path to influence in Afghanistan. It seems odd that Ghani hasn't heard about this.

Afghan police officer attacks Romanian soldiers near Kandahar airfield and is killed.


Friday, August 4, 2017

Update for Friday, August 4, 2017

Suicide attack near Bagram air field kills 1 Georgian soldier and 2 Afghan civilians, injures 2 U.S. troops and 11 civilians. Georgia has 870 troops in the country, the 4th largest foreign contingent after the U.S., Italy and Germany.

U.S. soldier killed in action Wednesday near Kandahar are identified as Spc. Christopher Harris, 25, of Jackson Springs, N.C., and Sgt. Jonathon Hunter, 23, of Columbus, Ind. Both were infantrymen assigned to 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.

Taliban attack in Helmand kills 5 security forces. The location, Gereshk, was the site of an erroneous U.S. air strike on July 21 that killed 16 people.

Afghan forces claim to have regained control of a district in Paktia, although the Taliban deny this and government forces are said to still be continuing their operation.

Attorneys for Sgt. Robert Bales, who murdered 16 Afghan civilians in 2012 and is serving a life sentence, are claiming that he was affected by the anti-malarial drug mefloquine, which can cause serious neurological and psychiatric side effects. However, it has not been proven that he did take the drug.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Update for Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Explosion at a Shiite mosque in Herat kills 33, injures 66. IS claims responsibility. Herat is a previously largely peaceful city near the Iranian border.

This, combined with an earlier attack on the Iraqi embassy in Kabul, raises fears that IS is essentially shifting the battlefield from Iraq to Afghanistan after its recent defeat in Mosul. However, there is little evidence of fighters relocating. (Few, presumably, were able to escape Mosul alive.)

Suicide bomber strikes a NATO convoy in Kandahar, resulting in an as yet unannounced number of casualties of unspecified nationality. More when information becomes available.

Update: Pentagon now says 2 U.S. troops killed in the attack. Witness reports suggest additional wounded but no official information on that.

Who could have predicted? SIGAR says a $45 million Pentagon program to improve Afghan intelligence capabilities is a failure.

The report, by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (Sigar) said there was “no indication of improvement in overall intelligence operations” as a result of five contracts for training and mentoring, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, run by Legacy Afghanistan R&D and Afghanistan Source Operations Management (Asom). Only 47% of intelligence sites are ready to transfer to the Afghan government.

The watchdog’s audit of training and mentoring contracts awarded to the Afghanistan national defence and security forces (ANDSF) between 2010 and 2013 said it was “almost impossible” to gauge the US government’s return on investment. This was due to a lack of performance metrics to track progress, said the report. Sigar found that neither Imperatis, the contractor, nor New Century Consulting, the subcontractor operating the programme, retained complete training records.
And, of course, the contractors were paid millions for work they didn't actually do.

I linked to accusations by locals that Iran was backing Taliban fighters in Ghor a few days ago, and I was somewhat skeptical. Now U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also says that Iran is trying to "destabilize" Afghanistan. Iran did not respond to TOLO's request for comment. Note, however, that Tillerson does not mention Pakistan which is most certainly backing the Taliban.




Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Update for Wednesday, July 26, 2017


Please, God, no: Trump Finds Reason for the U.S. to Remain in Afghanistan: Minerals:

President Trump, searching for a reason to keep the United States in Afghanistan after 16 years of war, has latched on to a prospect that tantalized previous administrations: Afghanistan’s vast mineral wealth, which his advisers and Afghan officials have told him could be profitably extracted by Western companies.
 Uh huh. It turns out that most of the valuable deposits are in Helmand province, which is controlled by the Taliban; there aren't any roads; and then of course there's the corruption. But as the reporters on this, Mark Landler and James Risen, helpfully point out:

Mr. Trump has said little publicly about Afghanistan since being elected. But his thinking about what the United States should reap for its military efforts was made clear in another context soon after his inauguration. Speaking to employees of the C.I.A., the president said the United States had erred in withdrawing troops from Iraq without holding on to its oil.
“The old expression ‘To the victor belong the spoils,’” Mr. Trump declared. “You remember?”
I may vomit.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Update for Monday, July 24, 2017

At least 26 are dead in a suicide car bomb attack on a bus carrying government workers in a Shiite neighborhood of Kabul. (The linked story raises the prospect of a sectarian element to the attack but the relevance of the location is not entirely clear.) The Taliban claimed responsibility.

News is just now emerging of an attack on a hospital in Ghor in which 35 civilians were killed. The Taliban have captured the Taywara district where the hospital is located. (I am usually reluctant to link to Press TV, an Iranian government property which is often unreliable. However accounts of this incident are still scant and I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of this report.)

And, in this context, I should note that a provincial official in Ghor accuses Iran of assisting the Taliban in seizing Taywara. This seems improbable but who knows?

Head of Ghor provincial council says 100 civilians have been killed by Taliban.

Battles in Kandahar said to leave 12 police and 21 militants dead.

Fred Kaplan writes that the U.S. administration has yet to decide on the purpose of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, let alone a strategy:

What is the aim of our involvement in Afghanistan: to defeat the Taliban (scant chance, given that we couldn’t manage the feat with 100,000 troops during Barack Obama’s first term), negotiate a settlement (with whom, to what end), help reform the Afghan government (we tried doing that for a long time, too, to no end), collaborate with old foes to fight off the growing presence of ISIS (about which much has been said lately), or simply train and supply the Afghan army (which, again, we’ve been doing for a long time, to little avail)? No decision can be made about troop levels without first answering those questions.
After those questions are asked, a more basic question must be answered: How long are we going to keep at this? How many more billions of dollars, or hundreds of lives, is the contest worth? What are the stakes of this fight, compared with the stakes of many other fights and interests in the world?


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Update for Wednesday, July 19, 2017


Human Rights Watch says a site has been discovered in Mosul where Iraqi forces executed 24 civilians. "A shopkeeper in a neighborhood west of Mosul’s Old City directed the observers to an empty building where “17 male corpses, barefoot but in civilian dress, [were] surrounded by pools of blood,” according to HRW."

However, it is not clear who these men were and Iraqi forces have been exacting revenge on individuals associated with IS, or believed to be. Excerpt:

Speaking to The Associated Press, four Iraqi officers from three different branches of the military and security forces openly admitted that their troops killed unarmed and captured Islamic State suspects, and they defended the practice. They, like the lieutenant, spoke on condition of anonymity because they acknowledged such practices were against international law, but all those interviewed by AP said they believed the fight against IS should be exempt from such rules of war because militant rule in Iraq was so cruel.
However, the killings risk tipping Iraq back into the cycles of violence that have plagued the country for over a decade, according to Belkis Wille, Iraq researcher with Human Rights Watch. The Islamic State group was able to attract recruits in the past because of people’s anger over abuses, including arbitrary detentions, torture and extrajudicial killings, she said.
Mosul is far from secured, as a booby-trapped house explodes, killing 13.

More than a million civilians remain displaced from Mosul and many have no homes to return to:

Those who ventured back to Mosul found wrecked houses, destroyed schools and hospitals, and water and power shortages, alongside the threat of gunfire and booby-traps.
Whole neighborhoods of Iraq's second city are reduced to the crumpled ruins of what were once homes and businesses -– much of the destruction due to air strikes and artillery by the U.S.-led coalition. Charred wrecks of cars litter the streets.
"The end of the battle for Mosul isn't the end of the ordeal for civilians. The humanitarian situation not only remains grave, but could worsen," the Norwegian Refugee Council, one of many international organizations and governments helping the relief and rehabilitation effort, said in a statement.
Iraqi troops pull starving orphans from the rubble. (Warning: Pictures are hard to look at.)

Patrick Cockburn reports that the civilian death toll in Mosul may be 40,000, according to Kurdish intelligence.

[Kurdish official Hoshyar Zebari] accuses the government in Baghdad, of which he was until recently a member, of not doing enough to relieve the suffering. “Sometimes you might think the government is indifferent to what has happened,” he said. He doubts if Christians, Yazidis, Kurds and other minorities, who have lived in and around Mosul for centuries, will be able to reconcile with the Sunni Arab majority whom they blame for killing and raping them. He says some form of federal solution for future governance would be best.
Reading from Kurdish intelligence reports, Mr Zebari says that a high level of corruption among the Iraqi military forces occupying Mosul is undermining security measures to suppress Isis in the aftermath of its defeat. He says that suspect individuals are able to pass through military checkpoints by paying $1,000 (£770) and can bring a vehicle by paying $1,500. He says corruption of this type is particularly rife in the 16th and 9th Iraqi Army Divisions and the Tribal Volunteers (Hashd al-Ashairi), drawn in part from the Shabak minority in the Nineveh Plain.

Zebari also says that IS fighters are in some cases bribing their way to freedom, making civilians reluctant to give information about them.

IS attack in Anbar is repulsed by 2 Iraqi soldiers are killed.











Sunday, July 16, 2017

Update for Sunday, July 16, 2017

Are you old enough to remember when the U.S. invaded Iraq, a little more than 14 years ago? According to George Bush II, we were going to create a democracy in Iraq, allied with the west. It was even supposed to get us a settlement of the Israel-Palestine problem favorable to Israel, and a stable Middle East favorable to western oil companies.

Instead, Iraq is now a client state of Iran. Tim Arango tells the tale for the NYT:

When the United States invaded Iraq 14 years ago to topple Saddam Hussein, it saw Iraq as a potential cornerstone of a democratic and Western-facing Middle East, and vast amounts of blood and treasure — about 4,500 American lives lost, more than $1 trillion spent — were poured into the cause.
From Day 1, Iran saw something else: a chance to make a client state of Iraq . . . . If it succeeded, Iraq would never again pose a threat, and it could serve as a jumping-off point to spread Iranian influence around the region. In that contest, Iran won, and the United States lost.
Senior official of the Iraqi Interior Ministry says Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is alive after all. Whatev.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Update for Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Haider al-Abadi has once again claimed victory in Mosul, but fighting continues. "Plumes of smoke rose into the air Tuesday as IS mortar shells landed near Iraqi positions, and heavy gunfire could be heard on the western edge of the Old City."

Amnesty International says Iraqi and coalition tactics in Mosul violated international law  and may amount to war crimes. "The rights group said in a report the Islamic State militant group had also flagrantly violated humanitarian law by deliberately putting civilians in harm's way to shield their fighters and impede the advance of Iraqi and coalition forces." Although the government forces  faced an impossible situation in trying to avoid civilian casualties, AI particularly criticizes use of "Improvised Rocket Assisted Munitions (IRAMs), weapons with crude targeting capabilities that wreaked havoc in densely populated areas."

Iraq's elite Counterterrorism Service suffered 40% casualties in the Mosul battle, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. Iraqi spokesmen say that figure is exaggerated. (This includes soldiers lost to injury, as well as combat deaths.)

The generally reliable Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is indeed dead.

An IS leader in Hawija proclaims himself "emir." This report suggests likely infighting within the remnants of IS following Baghdadi's death. However, the IS news service has yet to confirm the report that he is dead. Infighting is also reported in Tal Afar. The latter city is believed to be the next target for Iraqi forces.







Monday, July 10, 2017

Update for Monday, July 10, 2017

You may be wondering why I didn't post yesterday as PM Abadi declared "victory" in Mosul. It's because  he made the declaration for no particular reason, as fighting in Mosul continues.

Fighting in Mosul may end today, however.

Al Bawaba has a roundup of info and photos. The devastation and human toll are incalculable.




Saturday, July 8, 2017

Update for Saturday, July 8, 2017

A correspondent informs me that the new policy of not announcing the deaths of U.S. troops in Afghanistan until after next of kin have been notified is controversial among military families and their advocates. I wanted to look at this more fully. NBC news has a good backgrounder. The policy was purportedly decided by Gen. John Nichols, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and applies only to that theater. The policy elsewhere, still including Iraq and Syria, and historically everywhere since Viet Nam, has been to announce promptly that deaths have occurred, but not to provide identifying information or much specific information about the incident until after next of kin have been notified. From the NBC report:

Captain William Salvin, the director of public affairs for Resolute Support, said that Gen. Nicholson decided to change the policy to protect the families of the fallen and of those who continue to serve in the warzone. Nicholson wants to make sure the families have been notified and have their support systems in place before the U.S. military in Kabul informs the public that an incident has occurred . . .
But while there are fewer U.S. service members in Iraq and Syria than in Afghanistan, the ground commander in Baghdad continues to send out a notification when an incident results in a U.S. death.
And one senior defense official warned that Nicholson's new policy will mean less transparency and more ambiguity about the war in Afghanistan at a time when many Americans don't know what is happening there. "It's a step in the wrong direction," the official said.. . .
Another senior defense official expressed concern about the new policy because it may mean that Afghans become the initial source of information about American casualties. "It's just not appropriate and it's not the way we have been doing things for more than a decade," the official said.
 However, I have not yet found commentary from active duty troops, veterans, or military families.

Tribal elder is killed by a bomb placed in his car in Nangarhar. Four other civilians are wounded.

Taliban carry out a coordinated attack on highway checkpoints in Parwan. Little information so far, no reports of military or civilian casualties.

Drone strikes in Nangarhar said to kill numerous IS and Taliban.

In Iraq, civilians displaced from Mosul swelter in camps without electricity, ponder how they will rebuild their lives with their city destroyed.

Iraqi TV says last IS defenses in Mosul are collapsing, predicts imminent victory.

Note, however, that IS still controls the Kurdish town of Hawija, and towns to the west of Mosul including Tal Afar. Presumably Iraqi government and allied forces will turn to them next -- the conventional war in Iraq is not over.

AP has a photo gallery from Mosul showing the devastation and human cost. Warning: this includes many grim and gruesome images, including corpses and injured children. These are a lot of high quality pics, so it takes a long time to load.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Update for Wednesday, July 5, 2017

U.S. soldier is killed in action Monday afternoon by mortar fire in Helmand province. Two other soldiers are injured, and are being treated locally. The deceased is identified as Private First Class Hansen Kirkpatrick of Wasilla, Alaska. This delayed announcement is somewhat unusual.

Update: It turns out the delayed announcement is a new policy. The military will not announce combat deaths until after the family has been notified.

Paranoid, are we? A teenage female robotics team from Afghanistan is refused visas to attend a competition in the U.S. Oddly, teams from Syria and Iran will be admitted.

A group of U.S. senators visiting Afghanistan decries lack of a coherent strategy, and failure to fill essential State Department positions including that of U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan.

In Iraq, it's going to cost a billion dollars just to repair the basic infrastructure in Mosul. And by the way, that hasn't even started in the Anbar cities.

The editors of The Economist discuss the state of Iraq as IS falls. They are discouraged:

Iraqi ministers estimate that rehabilitating areas liberated from IS will cost $100bn, roughly the sum they and the Americans spent on the war. But the government is broke. Sunni Gulf states are said to be considering their involvement, but have contributed next to nothing. The World Bank has reportedly committed $300m. Germany is offering €500m ($570m). Coalition talks on a ten-year reconstruction plan, set to begin in Washington on July 10th, might drum up a bit more. But, runs an Arabic proverb, commitments are clouds, implementation the rain. . . .

IS’s vestiges, though, may anyway be one of the lesser problems facing Iraq. Exultant armies and militias now occupy the ground once held by the caliphate. A generation of young Iraqis currently earn a living from fighting IS; they may now develop ambitions of their own. Having avoided confrontation while they were assaulting IS, America and its allies are now coming to blows with Iran and its allies across the border in south-eastern Syria. A similar struggle looms in Iraq. Meanwhile, Iraq’s politicians squabble, largely confined to the Green Zone, the walled city within a city occupying the core of Baghdad. So far there is not much sign of the fresh dawn that IS’s downfall should bring.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Must read for Friday, June 30, 2017

I'm going to ask you to read this, by Major Danny Sjursen, U.S. Army, in TomDispatch.

As I hope readers have figured out by now, I see absolutely no case for a U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. Neither does Major Sjursen. Do read, but I'll just give you this pull quote:

Remember something: this won’t be America’s first Afghan “surge.”  Or its second, or even its third.  No, this will be the U.S. military’s fourth crack at it.  Who feels lucky?  First came President George W. Bush’s "quiet" surge back in 2008.  Next, just one month into his first term, newly minted President Barack Obama sent 17,000 more troops to fight his so-called good war (unlike the bad one in Iraq) in southern Afghanistan.  After a testy strategic review, he then committed 30,000 additional soldiers to the “real” surge a year later.  That’s what brought me (and the rest of B Troop, 4-4 Cavalry) to Pashmul district in 2011.  We left -- most of us -- more than five years ago, but of course about 8,800 American military personnel remain today and they are the basis for the surge to come. . . .
, there are two things the upcoming “mini-surge” will emphatically not do:
*It won’t change a failing strategic formula.
Imagine that formula this way: American trainers + Afghan soldiers + loads of cash + (unspecified) time = a stable Afghan government and lessening Taliban influence.
It hasn’t worked yet, of course, but -- so the surge-believers assure us -- that’s because we need more: more troops, more money, more time.  Like so many loyal Reaganites, their answers are always supply-side ones and none of them ever seems to wonder whether, almost 16 years later, the formula itself might not be fatally flawed. . . .

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Update for Thursday, June 29, 2017


Iraqi forces enter the ruins of al-Nuri mosque in Mosul. However, resistance continues.
“Counter-Terrorism Service forces control the Nuri mosque and Al-Hadba (minaret),” the Joint Operations Command said in a statement. After a senior special forces commander said the mosque had not in fact been retaken, the operations command clarified that it meant Iraqi forces had isolated the area and were “advancing toward the completion of the goals.”

IS continues to hold civilians in its remaining territory to slow the Iraqi advance.

An analysis finds IS revenue has plunged by 80%  in large part due to territorial losses. However, it will be some time before its territory is completely eliminated:


“The Islamic State’s remaining caliphate is likely to break up before the end of the year, reducing its governance project to a string of isolated urban areas that will eventually be retaken over the course of 2018,” said Columb Strack, senior Middle East analyst at IHS Markit.
Canada extends its military mission in Iraq through at least March 2019.

No surprise, the exciting new Pentagon strategy to fight IS is essentially the same strategy they already had

U.S. House Armed Services Committee drafts bill that would cut off funds for Kurdistan if it secedes from Iraq. However, as some U.S. politicians have advocated for devolution, it is not clear whether the full congress will support this.

The KRG representation office in Washington made it clear it took issue with the language, calling it “inartful” and pointing out that the language is nonbinding and may not survive reconciliation with the Senate version of the bill. “It is the democratic right of the people of Kurdistan to hold a referendum on their future,” an official with the KRG office told Al-Monitor, “and no one that we have met in Congress has denied this fact.”


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Update for Wednesday, June 28, 2017


As the battle for Mosul enters the end game, thousands of civilians remain trapped in the remaining IS-held territory under increasingly desperate circumstances.

IRIN reports that many are sheltering in basement bunkers constructed during the Saddam Hussein era to protect against possible U.S. air strikes. However, they are vulnerable to strikes from modern U.S. bombs.

Defeat in Mosul will not eliminate IS from Iraq. IS still holds towns west of Mosul, including Tal Afar where excavation of a tunnel is said to have caused the collapse of a house, killing the inhabitants.

Farah Najjar, reporting for al Jazeera, discusses the likely persistence of IS ideology following the collapse of the self-proclaimed Caliphate. She interviewed Rami Khouri:

Khouri said that unless underlying regional issues such as unemployment, human rights abuses and political repression are addressed, the group's ideology will continue to attract the disenfranchised and politically excluded.
Oxford Research Group also discusses the IS future.

The recapture of territory from IS is only the beginning of the existential challenge facing Iraq. One question is the status and security of Christianswhether the Shiite dominated Baghdad government will legitimately serve and govern the Sunni Arab minority; and of course the now seemingly inevitable declaration of independence of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Parallel problems face Syria, of course. The dissolution of the Sykes-Picot map of the Middle East is just beginning, and will likely unfold amid continued political turmoil and violence for a long time to come.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Update for Thursday, June 22, 2017


In what is widely viewed as a concession of defeat, IS destroys the al-Nuri mosque in Mosul. The historic mosque, from which Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared himself Caliph in 2014, was 850 years old.

UNICEF says that more than 5 million Iraqi children are in urgent need of aid.

More than 5 million children are in urgent need of aid in Iraq, the United Nations said on Thursday, describing the war on Islamic State as "one of the most brutal" in modern history. "Across Iraq, children continue to witness sheer horror and unimaginable violence," the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) said in a statement. "They have been killed, injured, abducted and forced to shoot and kill in one of the most brutal wars in recent history." In Mosul, children are being deliberately targeted and killed by Islamic State militants to punish families and deter them from fleeing, it said.
In Afghanistana suicide car bombing at a bank in Laskar Gah kills at least 29 people including troops and government workers who were waiting to collect their pay. TOLO puts the death toll at 34.




Sunday, June 18, 2017

Update for Sunday, June 18, 2017

Afghan soldier opens fire on American troops in Mazar-i-Sharif, injuring 7, before he is shot dead by return fire. (Earlier reports erroneously stated that 4 U.S. troops were dead.) This is the same base where Taliban killed 100 or more Afghan soldiers in a brazen assault in April, also believed to be an inside job.

A U.S. citizen working for the World Bank is abducted in Kabul.

Two Pakistani diplomats are missing in Jalalabad, possibly abducted.

Taliban attack a police HQ in Paktia, killing 5 and injuring 9. The attackers are said to be dead as well.

Update: Ahmed Rashid, in New York Review of Books, tells it like it is. As the U.S. prepares to send yet more troops into America's longest war, there is no possibility of a military solution. Read the whole thing, but I'll give you this:

No matter how many troops Mattis decides to send this summer, it will not rectify the political crisis in Kabul. In the absence of clear engagement with the Afghan government, or demands that Ghani create a more inclusive coalition government and yield some of his powers, more US troops will only make things worse.
Nobody in Washington appears interested in exerting more political pressure on the Kabul regime, Pakistan, and the Taliban to begin negotiations that could lead to a ceasefire and a political agreement. To continue seeing the conflict only through the prism of war and troop numbers as the US does will only lead to continuing erosion of the government’s legitimacy. and loss of territory. Taliban attacks will increase, there will be continued loss of territory, and the government may collapse. This is a recipe for failure.
Is anybody listening?

Iraq

We've heard this before, but this time it seems for real. Last of IS-held territory in Mosul on verge of capture by Iraqi forces as they capture civil defense building, medical school and medical complex, and begin invasion of the Old City. More on the assault here.

I'll keep on top of this and provide updates as information becomes available. For obvious reasons, we aren't getting much specific information about the assault as yet.



Friday, June 16, 2017

Update for Friday, June 16, 2017


Russians claim they killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in an airstrike but U.S. and Iraqi officials are skeptical. He's been killed several times before.

UN now says 100,000 civilians remain in IS controlled territory in Mosul, under increasingly desperate circumstances. IS snipers shoot at anyone who tries to leave.

Iraqi Shiite militias enter Syria.

Latest map from the Institute for the Study of War shows current territorial control in Iraq. Note that the Mosul region is controlled by Kurdish forces to the east and north, and Shiite militias to the west. The regular Iraqi army occupies only a small corridor between the Mosul dam and the city proper. The Kurdish held territory is largely divided between the KDP and the PUK; they have still not unified the KRG army.

Planning for the Kurdish independence referendum continues. The KRG wants to include people in territory disputed between Arabs and Kurds, specifically Kirkuk. At the same time, negotiations between the KDP and PUK are still ongoing.




Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Update for Tuesday, June 13, 2017


To lead off, a good overview of the issues of Kurdish secession from AFP. Some key points:

  • Iraqi Kurdistan faces some serious challenges, including an oil-dependent economy at a time of low oil prices, and about 1 million refugees within its borders.
  • While Baghdad might tolerate secession, the question of the border between Kurdistan and Iraq is extremely contentious. (The main problems would be the Kirkuk area, which once had a large Kurdish majority, which Saddam Hussein displaced and moved in Arab residents; Sinjar, and the area east and north of Mosul including ownership of the Mosul dam.)
  • Kurdistan would require strong security guarantees from the U.S. for viability.
  • Kurdistan would also require Turkish forbearance. This might be forthcoming if it wins an end to irredentism among  the Turkish Kurdish population, which the Kurdish Regional Government has been angling for by repudiating the PKK.
Regarding the latter point, I had a long conversation with a Kurdish-American man from Turkey, and he is to say the least not happy about it. He opposes the referendum because he sees it as abandonment of the Turkish Kurds, and notes that the 6 million or so Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan are only a  fraction of the total Kurdish population of 25-35 million. He might accept a state including the Syrian Kurdish region, called Rojava in federation with Iraqi Kurdistan as an adequate Kurdish homeland, but Turkey is unlikely ever to accede to that. We'll see how this ends but I doubt the PKK will go away in the foreseeable future.

Britain opposes the referendum.

Food poisoning strikes the Khazer refugee camp east of Mosul, killing 2 and sickening hundreds. Just a reminder of the burden the KRG bears for refugees.

IS control is reduced to the old city center and "medical city" in Mosul. Still, about 200,000 civilians remain trapped in IS-held territory.

Syrian state TV reports that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been killed in a U.S. airstrike. However, this is an unreliable source (to say the least), and previous reports of his demise have been, as they say, greatly exaggerated. We shall see.

Afghanistan

 U.S. soldiers killed on June 10 are identified as Army Sergeant Eric M. Houck, 25, Sergeant William M. Bays, 29, and Corporal Dillon C. Baldridge, 22, all of the 101st Airborne based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. CNN provides photographs and capsule biographies of the dead.

Mad Dog says he will propose an Afghanistan strategy to the President "very soon."  There are indications this will include deploying additional troops to the country.

Several Afghan army personnel are sentenced to prison in relation to the disastrous Taliban attack on an army base in Balkh in April. Here is some information from TOLO about the Shaheen 29 army corps.

U.S. troops accused of killing 3 civilians by "indiscriminate fire"  in Nangarhar after an IED attack on their vehicle, in which no U.S. personnel were injured.