Here’s your Situation Update for February 12th, 2018


Department of Defense photo

Welcome to your Situation Update, a new feature from Insurgentsia that runs weekday mornings. The scope of these posts will cover the globe’s military operations other than war (oddly enough, this is another name for war).

The weather forecast this morning is freezing with a 30% chance of strained Clausewitz references. I hope that helps you wherever you are located as you read this.

Gaza is starving and the world wonders if that will affect them this piece from The New York Times seems to say. Gaza has long been blockaded by Israel, but the tiny strip of land with two million people living there found ways around the economic siege to survive. Namely, tunnels into Egypt provided Gaza with goods and a tax revenue on those imported goods. But Egypt has cracked down on the tunnels and Gazans must turn to Fatah, the ruling party of the Palestinian Authority. Fatah is not keen to work with Gaza because it is ruled by a rival party, Hamas. With no where to turn, Hamas may turn to violence against Israel to draw international sympathy and aid.

Kobani, Syria is preserving a neighborhood destroyed by war by turning it into an open air museum. During the battle to win back Kobani from Islamic State, Kurdish fighters supported by  U.S. and allied air power targeted and destroyed areas where militants were operating. “A reinforced-concrete, three-story house on the street was pancaked. ‘Everyone in that house is dead now,’ said Mustafa, a 40-year-old mechanic,” says the article about part of the area preserved.

Anti-IS campaign in Iraq caused $45.7 billion in damage says a new study by the World Bank and Iraq. I wonder who will be generously willing to loan the Iraqi government money to rebuild (at a modest interest rate, of course)? The Wall Street Journal vaguely states, “international investors.”

Pakistan-based militants attacked an Indian Army base over the weekend, killing at least six. Indian authorities blamed Jaish-e-Muhammad, an insurgent group that has attacked government forces in Kashmir as well.

Israel bombed Syrian government positions over the weekend in retaliation for the shooting down off an Israeli fighter over Syrian airspace. The loss of the Israeli fighter was the first in three decades.

A Turkish helicopter was also shot down in Syria on Saturday, killing two Turkish soldiers. The Kurdish YPG claimed responsibility and posted a video of the attack.

Pakistani Taliban confirmed deputy leader killed by a suspected U.S. drone strike last week and appointed a new one.

“Tunisia is finished” says one migrant who fled to Europe is this breakdown of the crisis from The Guardian. A crackdown on the smuggling routes from Libya, including a deployment of soldiers from Italy, has shifted the business to neighboring Tunisia.

Terrorism is not as useful lens for understanding violence in the Sahel said Nathaniel Powell of King’s College London for War on Rocks last week. Support for authoritarian regimes in squashing violent dissent is not helpful in the long run, he argues.

This concludes your Situation Update. Questions may be posted in the comments section but we are unaware of answers at this time because we were traveling. To receive these in your inbox daily, use the follow button on the sidebar (web) or below (mobile). Your next Situation Update will be Tuesday, February 13th, 2018.

Here’s your Situation Update for February 9th, 2018


Amber Clay photo

Welcome to your Situation Update, a new feature from Insurgentsia that runs weekday mornings. The scope of these posts will cover the globe’s small wars with big hearts.

The weather forecast this morning is clear and dry with a 50% chance of Fulda Gap fantasizing. I hope that helps you wherever you are located as you read this.

Bad news, the Syrian Civil War is getting worse, contrary to popular belief. With Islamic State territory mostly liberated, the Russian and Iranian-backed Syrian government is free to focus its attention on rebel held areas near Damascus and in Idlib province while Turkey attacks Kurdish-held areas in Northern Syria. Since December, over 300,000 civilians have fled new fighting. You can watch new video of the devastation here.

Good news, two infamous Islamic State fighters were captured by Kurds in Syria. The two British fighters were part of a group of four known as “The Beatles” because of their Liverpool-like accents. They were known for their presence in the videos beheading Western journalists. The other two members of the group were already killed or captured.

Egypt launches its largest offensive against Islamic State in years in the Sinai Peninsula. The offensive is a combined arms operation intended to cut off and destroy the militants who have been operating in the peninsula, notably killing more than 350 people in a complex mosque attack in December.

Reuters published a detailed report of a massacre of Rhohingya men in Myanmar in which two of its journalists were imprisoned during the investigation. This bloody event is only one day in the ethnic cleansing occurring in the northern Rahkine state.

Human Rights Watch accuses Kurds of mass executions in a statement by the director. The group claims that in a week during the summer offensive against Islamic State last year, Kurdish security forces may have killed hundreds of male detainees.

How do civil wars end? With civil wars raging in Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, and other places the U.S. and foreign powers are involved in around the world, political scientists examine how civil wars end and what role these external forces play in their ending on Political Violence at a Glance.

This concludes your Situation Update. Questions may be posted in the comments section but we are unaware of answers at this time because we were traveling. To receive these in your inbox daily, use the follow button on the sidebar (web) or below (mobile). Your next Situation Update will be Monday, February 12th, 2018.

Here’s your Situation Update for February 8th, 2018


Australian Defense Force photo

Welcome to your Situation Update, a new feature from Insurgentsia that runs weekday mornings. The scope of these posts will cover the globe’s various conflicts (a narrow topic, I know).

The weather forecast this morning is sunny with a 30% chance of shutdown. I hope that helps you wherever you are located as you read this.

Try and make us leave is what the publicity tour of Manbij, Syria by two U.S. generals seemed to say. In Tuesday’s Situation Update I wrote that Turkey’s President Erdogan told U.S. officials “Why don’t you just go?” In response, Maj. Gen. Jamie Jerrard told press while standing next to an armored truck with an oversized American flag flying from it, “We’re very proud of our positions here, and we want to make sure everybody knows it.”

Later, U.S. struck pro-Assad forces after coming under attack in Deir ez-Zor, a Kurdish stronghold near the Euphrates River in Western Syria. This marks the third known time U.S. forces attacked Syrian government or pro-Assad forces.

The U.S. policy in Syria is to keep it weak, divided, and poor says Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, Joshua Landis. Landis is known as one of the U.S.’s top Syria experts. Landis claims this foreign policy hurts U.S. enemies, Iran and Russia, and helps its allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Duterte’s drug war may be war crimes or why would the International Criminal Court open an investigation? The complaint against the Phillipean president includes “extrajudicial killings that dated back to the late 1980s.”

Over 300 child soldiers freed in South Sudan in a rare bit of good news from the five-year conflict there. Over a quarter of the child soldiers were girls and the effort was led by the United Nations. According to the New York Times, “The United Nations has helped win the release of almost 2,000 child soldiers in the past few years. More than 10 percent of them have been younger than 13.”

A Brussels neighborhood tries to overcome its terrorist legacy by both increasing policing and improving opportunities for its foreign, Muslim residents. The neighborhood, Molenbeek, is infamous for being where the terrorists who killed over a hundred people in Paris and dozens more in Belgium.

Increased air strikes in Afghanistan but no hope for an end to the stalemate, says International Crisis Group. “Both sides are unleashing more violence based on the same rationale that it would tilt this stalemate to favor their conditions at the table.”

Libyan commander wanted by ICC turned himself in two days ago to Russian-supported forces in Libya, but was immediately freed. It’s the thought that counts?

Turkey to host a summit with Russia and Iran highlighting a shift away from the U.S. and NATO.

Syrian strikes continue near Damascus killing 21 and injuring over 100.

This concludes your Situation Update. Questions may be posted in the comments section but answers will be given through FOIA request only. To receive these in your inbox daily, use the follow button on the sidebar (web) or below (mobile). Your next Situation Update will be Friday, February 9th, 2018.

Here’s your Situation Update for February 7th, 2018

CRG Airmen sustain air operations at Q-West

Department of Defense photo

Welcome to your Situation Update, a new feature from Insurgentsia that runs weekday mornings. The scope of these posts will cover the globe’s various conflicts in the realm of irregular warfare (the term “irregular warfare” being like the word “irregardless,” i.e. nonsensical and overused).

The weather forecast this morning is overcast with a 20% chance of misdirected outrage. I hope that helps you wherever you are located as you read this.

President Trump wants a military parade modeled after the one on Bastille Day in France. The desire is apparently being taken as a presidential directive and is “being worked at the highest levels of the military.” On Twitter, people reacted with shock that the nation might consider fetishizing the military in a grand public spectacle unironically just days after the Super Bowl.

Public attention shifts from Syria despite nearly daily airstrikes on civilian-populated areas and massive death tolls. Over 80 people were killed on Tuesday in Syrian government air and artillery strikes. With little hope for a ceasefire, civilians wonder why they even try to film and report the human rights abuses they witness. To them, it seems the international community no longer cares.

And if that makes you depressed, don’t read this about Libya, where no plan to by the Trump Administration to bring stability to the nearly governmentless country means that Russia has decided to back its own horse in that race. After meeting with whom the U.S. recognizes as prime minister in December, the Trump administration has left Libyan affairs mostly up to the United Nations. Meanwhile, Russia has backed former general and strongman, Khalifa Haftar, including brokering weapons for oil deals and printing money for the Haftar-allied government.

Not so tranquil in the Maldives, known as a small but beautiful island country in South Asia, where the president appears to have issued a state of emergency and purged the supreme court and opposition.

New imagery shows Chinese development on reclaimed Islands in the South China Sea. China has long insisted the buildings were not for military purposes, but new photos show the runways, ships, and supporting buildings in new detail.

Turkish border towns feel repercussions from Syria campaign. Rockets and mortars from Syria’s Kurdish-held areas are not uncommon in Syrian border towns like Reyhanli. “This is happening every day now. I’m just waiting for it all to be over,” said a Turkish mother with her two children who were shopping for groceries while explosions thudded in the distance.

Meanwhile, France accuses Turkey and Iran of violating international law in Syria. The move is noteworthy because France and Turkey are both NATO allies. The Turkish foreign minister is on his way to Iran for talks about Syria’s future.

And Syria accuses Israel of airstrikes on government positions. There is a lot going on there.

The U.S. encourages NATO to establish long-term training mission in Iraq like the one it has had in Afghanistan for a decade. One senior NATO diplomat commented to Reuters, “This looks suspiciously like another Afghanistan. Few allies want that.”

Whoops, those tanks were ours. As many as nine American tanks provided to the Iraqi military ended up in the hands of Iran-backed militias says a new report.

Saudi living in Oklahoma arrested for al-Qaida ties. The man attended flight school in the United States and his fingerprints were found on an application to join al-Qaida from 2000 recovered in Afghanistan.

The VA motto is sexist says the head of the largest Iraq and Afghanistan veteran group. The motto, a quote from Lincoln, reads “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” Today the VA must care for whoever shall have borne the battle, not just him.

This concludes your Situation Update. Questions may be posted in the comments section but answers are not forecasted. To receive these in your inbox daily, use the follow button on the sidebar (web) or below (mobile). Your next Situation Update will be Thursday, February 8th, 2018.

Situation Update February 6th, 2018

Airstrikes in Syria

Department of Defense photo

Welcome to your Situation Update, a new feature from Insurgentsia that runs weekday mornings. The scope of these posts will cover the globe’s various low-intensity conflicts (i.e. conflicts that are just as intense as any other, but armies pretend they aren’t because they’d rather fight a uniformed enemy).

The weather forecast this morning is partly cloudy with a 90% chance of confusing tactics for strategy. I hope that helps you wherever you are located as you read this.

Iraqi Shiite militia groups threaten U.S. troops if they do not leave the country. The U.S. announced a partial withdrawal on Monday. The Iran-backed militias, part of the Popular Mobilization Units that were supported by the U.S. to fight Islamic State, said U.S. troops would only attract terrorists and cause instability. One militia, Kataib Hezbollah, said in a statement, “We are serious about getting the Americans out, using the force of arms because the Americans don’t understand any other language.” This is not the first time Shiite militias groups have threatened U.S. forces since they returned to Iraq in 2014.

And leave Syria’s Manbij too said Turkish president Erdogan on Tuesday to U.S. forces, saying, “Why don’t you just go?” Turkey continues an anti-Kurdish campaign in Northern Syria, while the U.S. supported Kurdish forces in the fight against Islamic State.

An attack on the Iranian presidential complex by a man wielding only a machete is the latest escalation in nationwide protests in Iran that began over a month ago. The lone man attacked a security guard, who shot and wounded him. The attacker was a Shiite Muslim who wore a white shroud symbolizing martyrdom.

American Islamic State recruits stuck mopping and sweeping says a new study. Unlike their European counterparts, American recruits lacked the support networks needed to promote in what was apparently a good ol’ boy system, despite being from wealthier backgrounds. The American recruits frequently found themselves cleaning, cooking, and caring for the injured instead of fighting.

Don’t build the wall say Lebanese leaders to Israel. The president, prime minister, and parliament speaker, a Christian, Sunni Muslim, and Shiite Muslim, respectively, issued a joint statement saying the proposed wall was a “direct threat.”

A video shows Syrian militia abusing corpse of Kurdish woman fighter. The militiamen, from the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army, documented themselves posing with the body, calling her names, and standing on her. The fighter was identified as one of three women killed from the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) killed last week in Afrin. While gruesome videos are not rare in the five-year war in Syria, this one, in particular, sparked outrage due to the gender of the slain fighter.

A senior Chinese executive was murdered in Pakistan in Karachi on Monday. No group claimed responsibility for the attack, but the murder is the latest in attacks on Chinese workers as tens of thousands of Chinese nationals travel to Pakistan. Last summer, Islamic State militants kidnapped and murdered two Chinese nationals in Baluchistan.

This concludes your Situation Update. Questions may be posted in the comments section but are not encouraged. Your next Situation Update will be Wednesday, February 7th, 2018.

Situation Update February 5th, 2018

Eyes in the Sky: Afghan Air assists ANDSF offensive maneuver during Maiwand 10

Department of Defense photo

Welcome to your Situation Update, a new feature from Insurgentsia that will run weekday mornings. The scope of these posts will cover the globe’s various low-intensity conflicts (i.e. all of them until a mythical near-peer force-on-force war awakens from its slumber as prophesied).

The weather forecast this morning is chilly with a 70% chance of bias presented as context. I hope that helps you wherever you are located as you read this.

Russia struck multiple targets by air in Idlib province, Syria starting Sunday night and continuing into Monday afternoon. Many cities were bombed and the targets included hospitals. Syria’s “White Helmets” reported on Twitter that chlorine gas was used in at least one attack. The strikes may have been retaliation for the downed Russian pilot on Saturday. Russian press reported the pilot killed himself with a grenade to avoid capture.

Iraq announced a military operation to secure the oil route to Iran and provide a path for Iraqi oil exports. The mountainous terrain between Iraq’s Kirkuk oil fields and the Kermanshah Oil Refinery in Northern Iran has been occupied by militants including Islamic State (IS). In January, IS fighters launched a cross-border raid and killed three Revolutionary Guard soldiers. The region is known by locals as Iraq’s “Tora Bora,” a name referencing the mountain hideout Osama bin Laden escaped from in Afghanistan in 2001.

Dangerous work in liberated Raqqa continues as the city is swept for explosives by the coalition-trained Syrian Defensive Force despite no training or tools. Since October, over 300 civilians have been killed from improvised explosives left by IS or perhaps unexploded ordinance dropped by the coalition.

Turkish causalities mount as it continues its anti-Kurdish Afrin operation in Northern Syria. Two soldiers were killed Sunday and 8 killed Saturday in the operation that the United States has tolerated despite allying with the Kurds to fight IS in Syria.

Saudi Arabia shot down another Houthi missile launched from Yemen targeting the Saudi city of Khamis Mushait. Since the Saudi invasion of Yemen in 2015, Houthi rebels have been targeting Saudi cities including Riyadh with ballistic missiles. Most are intercepted, but in December one did explode near the Riyadh airport.

American military officers lack integrity according to the scuttlebutt at Al Udeid Airbase in Qatar. An American military officer, on the condition of anonymity as they are not authorized to speak to press, said that officers deployed there are lying to the lodging office by making up fictional roommates to secure rooms by themselves.

This concludes your Situation Update. Questions may be posted in the comments section but answers are not guaranteed. Your next Situation Update will be Tuesday, February 6th, 2018.

Year in review: 2017’s most read articles


Department of Defense photo

Look, I don’t know how else to say this: it’s been a hell of a year. The news cycle moves so fast that in the time it takes to research, write, reflect, edit, and publish, it’s already yesterday’s news. And in 2017, yesterday’s news might as well be last year’s news.

In a country where people are worried about what bad thing could happen to them next, it’s been difficult to write about what’s happening on distant battlefields or in the abstract within the national security apparatus.

So, I want to thank you, the reader. Your views, shares, and comments are sincerely appreciated. Thank you for suffering through dystopia fatigue and supporting Insurgentsia this year.

Thank you to my readers from the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, and Australia. After the United States, you were my top countries for readership. I appreciate you taking the time to read yet another American perspective.

I also want to thank photographer Amber Clay. I used many of her striking photos in my articles this year. You can find more of her work here.

I look forward to continuing to cover political violence, terrorism, and small wars for you in the new year. And in 2018, I want to hear more from you. Send me your ideas for submissions here.

In case you missed it, here are 2017’s most popular articles:


The Google Memo and its Implications on National Security

In August, an internal memo at Google written by a misogynist software developer went viral. Unfortunately, his sexist ideas aren’t only limited to Silicon Valley, they’re also present in defense circles.

Trump Announces Afghanistan War Strategy, No One Gives a Shit

In August, President Donald Trump announced his new Afghanistan strategy, but no one gave a shit. Distancing himself from the war under Obama, Trump proclaimed additional troops and no timelines, but no one gave a shit.


Why Trump Supporters Think #covfefe is a Secret Message to Terrorists

In June, Trump’s fat fingers caused his undereducated supporters to study Arabic for the first time in their lives. The results were predictably hilarious and disastrous.


Trump’s War in Syria: What You Wanted to Know But Were Afraid to Ask

In April, Trump launched some cruise missiles at Syria and it made people wonder whether we were going to start a war there. Boy, were they in for a surprise.


The MOAB and a Brief History of Bombing Afghanistan

In April, a big bomb was dropped in Afghanistan. Future historians will likely know it as the only bomb dropped in Afghanistan that Americans ever cared about in the decades-long war.

Rex Tillerson is out of his depth


Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (Wikimedia Commons photo)

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Monday the United States would stay in Iraq to fight Islamic State (IS, sometimes referred to as ISIS or ISIL) whether the Iraqi government authorizes the troop presence or not.

Tillerson testified with Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee amid scrutiny over the death of four U.S. soldiers in Niger earlier this month.

Sen. Tom Udall asked, “If U.S. forces are told to leave, will we depart Iraq or will we stay uninvited as our forces are doing in Syria, and under what legal authority will they remain?”

Tillerson replied, “We will remain in Iraq until ISIS is defeated and we are confident that ISIS has been defeated.”

The implication that the U.S. would keep its military in Iraq despite being unwanted is not only the definition of imperialism, but it would be the biggest foreign policy blunder since the 2003 invasion.


PMU celebrates a victor over IS (Wikimedia Commons photo)

Iraqi militias already weary of U.S. presence

Tillerson’s position is ironic considering he called for Iranian-backed militias in Iraq to “go home” last week. “Iranian militias that are in Iraq, now that the fight against Daesh and ISIS is coming to a close, those militias need to go home. The foreign fighters in Iraq need to go home and allow the Iraqi people to regain control,” he said.

In Baghdad, the Iranian influence is noticeable. In the square where U.S. soldiers in 2003 famously removed a statue of Saddam Hussein, hoisted an American flag, and then quickly took it down, a billboard advertises Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) with photos of Khomeinei and Khamenei.

At the moment, the Iraqi government welcomes both U.S. and Iranian forces and has heavily depended on both to fight IS. But should the U.S. stay as a foreign occupier after being told to leave, the fight against IS would expand to include defending itself against local militias fighting what they consider an invading force.

This month a U.S. soldier was killed by a roadside bomb identified as an explosively formed penetrator (EFP). This type of bomb is not an improvised explosive device (IED) as it requires considerable manufacturing effort to create.

EFPs were used to kill many American service members during Operation Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn and are linked to Iran. Notably, no evidence of IS use of EFPs has been recorded.

The idea that Shiite militias in Iraq would be targeting U.S. forces again is not unsound. In March, a PMU commander threatened U.S. troops should they stay after IS is gone.


A U.S. Marine fires an M777-A2 Howitzer in Syria, June 1, 2017 (DoD photo)

U.S. unilateralism in Syria untenable 

Resistance to the U.S. presence by militias also fighting IS is not contained only to Iraq. In Syria, Free Syrian Army fighters surrounded a small detachment of U.S. special operations forces last winter and chanted “Pigs! Crusaders!”

Since then, U.S. special operations bases have been limited to Kurdish-controlled areas and their locations closely guarded secrets (until Turkey announced the location of 10 bases this year).

Depending on the protection of non-state actors while ignoring the wishes of the host nation’s government — but not actively fighting them — has become the norm in Syria, but obviously is not the ideal operating environment.

The precarious position of U.S. troops in Syria was highlighted recently. In September, U.S. troops were forced to abandon a small base in the Syrian desert and withdraw closer to the Iraqi border.

The U.S. position in Syria post-IS is currently untenable. Turkey continues to consider the YPG, a U.S.-backed Kurdish militia, a terrorist organization and existential threat. As the IS buffer diminishes, Russia and Iran-backed fighters grow bolder in opposing U.S. forces. Last month, Russia threatened to bomb U.S. troops.

Diplomat needed

That Tillerson would suggest he is comfortable with the same situation in Iraq shows how out of his depth he is in the position to which he was appointed. On the Middle East, Tillerson recently admitted that he was lost. “Maybe we leave it to the next generation to try. I don’t know. I’m not a diplomat,” he admitted.

It should go without saying that the top U.S. diplomat should probably be a diplomat. It should also go without saying that the top U.S. diplomat should not endorse imperialism as viable foreign policy.

Since President Trump was elected, a lot of things that used to go without saying need saying.

C.I.A. under Pompeo to join Defense Department in endless, pointless war against Taliban in Afghanistan


Afghan soldiers on patrol in 2011 (DoD photo)

The New York Times reported Sunday that the C.I.A. broadened its Afghanistan mission from hunting al-Qaida and developing Afghan intelligence capability to fighting the Taliban. The piece explained the significance best:

“The C.I.A. has traditionally been resistant to an open-ended campaign against the Taliban, the primary militant group in Afghanistan, believing it was a waste of the agency’s time and money and would put officers at greater risk as they embark more frequently on missions.”

The CIA has a complex history in Afghanistan. From 1979 to 1989, it provided weapons and financial assistance to Islamic fighters with ties to Pakistan during Operation Cyclone. The program was portrayed in the 2007 film Charlie Wilson’s War starring Tom Hanks.

After the Islamic fighters, or mujahideen (literally those who commit jihad), defeated the Soviet-backed government in Afghanistan in 1992, the C.I.A. mostly abandoned the country until the 2001 invasion in retaliation for the al-Qaida terrorist attacks on September 11th.

With the help of a handful of special operations troops, the C.I.A. allied itself with a group of fighters in Afghanistan called “The Northern Alliance,” to overthrow the Taliban government. The Pakistan-backed Taliban took power in 1996 after a bloody civil war as a partial result of the C.I.A.’s involvement in the 1980s.

Then, the C.I.A. let the conventional military begin what has become known as the forever war: dozens of rotations of military officers and units fighting in 6-14 month deployments in Afghanistan with less than ideal continuity between them. After a decade and a half of this, with troop numbers ranging from a few thousand to 100 thousand, the Taliban implausibly controls more territory now than it has since 2001.


Afghan and U.S. soldiers on patrol in 2010 (DoD photo)

But now under the leadership of Director Mike Pompeo, the former Congressional Representative from Kansas, appointed by Trump, the C.I.A. is back in the Taliban fighting game.

Pompeo is not known for his wisdom or restraint. As a Congressman, he said many foolish things on national security. Whether he was making the point that saying the words “radical Islamic terrorism” was the key to our success overseas, or lying about the support of American Muslims for domestic terrorists, he developed a reputation for deplorable brashness.

Most recently, he was caught boldly lying about the agency’s conclusions on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and saying the C.I.A., shamed by revelations of torture in the past decade, should be “more vicious.”

So, the agency’s counter-terrorism direction under Pompeo may not come as a surprise to some. But it is important to understand that whether the C.I.A. kills more Taliban or not, clandestinely killing militants is not a strategy. The United States and Afghanistan governments both plan on fighting Taliban years from now.

If the U.S. wants to bring peace to Afghanistan — a prospect it pays lip service to, but there are few signs this is a true policy objective —  the only way forward is via political settlement with the Taliban. Merely doing away with deadlines to signal to the Taliban that they cannot wait the U.S. out, as the top general in Afghanistan recently told NPR, will not work.

The U.S. cannot wait out the Taliban. Endlessly prolonging combat is not a strategy to defeat the Taliban, let alone bring peace to Afghanistan. Yet, the only public strategy from U.S. officials is: stay forever, kill terrorists (and Taliban). The Taliban are not considered terrorists under the State Departments Foreign Terrorist Organization list, but the distinction seems moot at the moment since they are getting the same treatment.


Delta Force and C.I.A. officers in Tora Bora in 2001 (Wikimedia Commons photo)

To bring peace to Afghanistan, the Taliban must be invited into the political process. They will not stop attacking coalition forces — whom they consider foreign “invaders” and “crusaders” — or the U.S.-backed government in Kabul until they have a political stake in it.

A model for this kind of absorption of an armed insurgency into the government as a political party exists in South Africa, Lebanon, Kosovo, and Northern Ireland, among others. The Taliban is unlikely to come to the bargaining table while the C.I.A. are on patrols killing their fighters. After all, killing Afghan soldiers and C.I.A. officers has been much more effective for them so far.

Taliban control districts remain unchanged from last year, despite troop increases and heavier C.I.A. involvement. Additionally, Afghan soldiers and police are dying by the thousands. At least 6,785 Afghan soldiers and police died in 2016 and in 2017 casualties remain “shockingly high” according to the United Nations.

However badly the U.S. is performing in Afghanistan, its leaders — some elected by the American people, the rest appointed by those elected — continue to fight on aimlessly overseas. As the New York Times Editorial Board quoted retired Army colonel Andrew Bacevich on Sunday, “A collective indifference to war has become an emblem of contemporary America.”

Happy 16th birthday, forever war​

Enduring Freedom

US Army soldiers pose for a photo in Afghanistan (DoD photo)

Today, the war in Afghanistan and across the world turns sweet sixteen. Authorized under the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, known otherwise as the AUMF, the war is now old enough to drive (or drink in Germany).

The AUMF, written by Congress in 2001 in response to the 9/11 attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and foiled in Pennsylvania, authorized the United States to go to war in Afghanistan to destroy al-Qaida.

Since then, it has been used to justify military options in fourteen countries — almost one for every year this war existed.

The war in Syria and Iraq against Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS or ISIL) is legally the same war as Afghanistan. The war in Libya, Somalia, Yemen. . . you get the idea — if you know of any terrorists, you can start a war and it will be covered under the same Congressional authorization.

“By 2021, the US and Afghan governments still plan to be fighting insurgent forces for territory.”

The war in Afghanistan is not forecasted to end anytime soon, either. Recently, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani told NPR that the current four-year plan is to “[bring] 80 percent of the territory of the country under control.”

By 2021, the US and Afghan governments still plan to be fighting insurgent forces for territory. The war will be twenty years old and we do not even expect to control the entire country.

Meanwhile, the war against IS in Iraq and Syria seems to be going well. After all, coalition forces reduced IS territory by nearly 80 percent and it did not take 20 years to do it.

Yet, after IS loses its territory in Iraq and Syria, things will get worse. Vera Mironava spent time embedded with Iraqi Security Forces and interviewing IS fighters. She predicts that things will not improve until government corruption and abuses stop.

The next IS, made up of seasoned veterans, will have plenty of young people to recruit in the coming years.

One result of the forever war is that the children of the war’s early years are coming of age.


Samar Hassan, age five, screams in terror after US soldiers kill her parents in 2005 (Getty photo)

Samar Hassan was five years old when US soldiers killed her parents at a checkpoint. In the documentary Hondros, Samar, now 18, is interviewed and told an American soldier wants to apologize to her.

She responds, “No one ever told me they were sorry. ‘Sorry’ won’t bring back my parents. I’ll never forgive them. If they were in front of me, I’d want to drink their blood — and I still would not feel satisfied.”

This is one birthday I do not look forward to celebrating next year.