Thursday, December 27, 2007

Iraq Update: Picture Version

All these are taken from the DoD.

Picture the first: Overall Weekly Iraq Attacks. Dramatically down, to '04 levels. It looks, though, like attacks against Government Facilities are not down much, whereas small arms and mortar attacks are very down--this indicates to me that anti-government terror attacks (probably Al-Qaeda centered) attacks are more stubborn than sectarian militia fighting; we'll see some of this later. Another interesting thing is that violence is significantly up during Ramadan every year. Understandable: I'm homicidal when I'm too hungry, myself.

Picture the second: Ethno-sectarian deaths are down some absurd amount like 90% (or so it appears) since a peak in Dec. 2006. One simply cannot call this a civil war any longer; one can never expect ethnic deaths to reach zero, but reducing this number of ~220 by another order of magnitude would probably give the United States a run for its money in ethnic passivity.

Picture the third: total civilian, Multinational Force (MNF), and Iraqi Security Force (ISF) deaths. By both conservative and bad-scenario estimates, civilian deaths per month have dropped over 67% since their peak. Unfortunately, it's hard to look at this figure and tell how ISF and MNF deaths are doing, but the report shows that monthly averages are down about 50% from their peak.

Picture the fourth: Attacks by province. The first surprise I see is Anbar, from the last post on attacks by province I made (Feb 14 - May 4), Anbar has dropped from 25 attacks per day to five. Baghdad is down from 50 attacks per day to 27. Attacks in Ninewa have not budged over the same time, and Ninewa has made it into the "red zone" of four tough provinces that need work; but this is seems to be only because it has failed to improve, not because it has worsened. Other provinces have reduced in daily attacks by a more modest, but appreciable, rate.

Finally, picture the fifth: The Iraqi Provincial Security Transition Assessment. Self-explanatory by now, I'm sure, but I should note that the British handed over Basrah in December. Based on the previous figure, Qadisiyah and Wasit look like very reasonable choices for quick handover-- afterwards, the Polish zone would be reduced to only Babil.

In conclusion, things keep looking good. Here's to the brilliant General Petraeus keeping up the good work. If this trend keeps up, we can hope to see easy times in Iraq in another year.

Benazir Bhutto is Dead

She was assassinated by a suicide bomber terrorist. A summary can be found here.

There seems to be no word on what group might be responsible.

I don't know what Pakistan's going to do, how they're going to react. I hope whomever they elect can unite the country against the worldwide terror threat that lives on, like a tumor, in the chaotic northwest.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Afghanistan Finally Getting Some Attention

Lots of important people have been visiting Afghanistan lately, in rapid succession. This should be a morale boost for Karzai, who's probably been feeling quite lonely in the central front of the Global War on Terror. I think this guy should be getting a Nobel peace prize, but that's another matter.

Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown, France's President Nicholas Sarkozy, American Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, new Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, and just recently, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, have all visited Kabul and talked with Karzai, soon after his call to the world for help. Quite a response.

Sarkozy, in particular, is pledging a greater commitment in the Afghanistan conflict, emphasizing France's long-term interest in Afghanistan's stability. Hopefully, Italian, British, and Australian efforts will increase, as well, to make up for the United States' thinned capabilities.

With attacks up in the last two years, more effort may be necessary to keep the Taliban under pressure... particularly as NATO forces wait, frustrated, for Pakistan to get its act together.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Basra Handed Over

Iraqi Security Forces and government are now in full control of the city and province of Basra. A parade was held today throughout Basra's main streets, and an impressive array of security personnel and weaponry reassured Basra's citizens that they were in good hands.

As Iraq's second-largest city, Basra is a key testing ground for two questions:
1) Can Iraqi security keep the peace that the Multi-National Forces have wrenched into some Iraqi provinces?
2) Will violence in Basra actually _drop_, as anti-Coalition forces (like those of Al-Sadr) will no longer see a military obstacle, or will such militias turn against other militias with a new hubris?

British forces will remain in the deserts outside of Basra for some time, ready to enter the city on the command of Basra's Governor, should a militia try to take control. The Iraqi forces still have some growing to do.

But the British are now all but done their obligation in Iraq, leaving the Americans mostly alone.

(if the photo looks fuzzy, just open it in a new tab)

All British Command provinces are in full Iraqi control, and British forces are being reduced to a mere 2500 troops in the next few months. American forces can only hope that the British will continue to help pay for military training and purchases by the Iraqi army, as well as help manage the sluggish development of Iraq's economy.

But if this handover goes well, it shows great promise for handovers by Polish forces in Babil, Qadisiyah, and Wasit, all of which have relatively low violence and few ethnic mixing zones. Such handovers will be particularly important for the Americans, as the new Polish leadership is itching to bring its troops home, and the Americans would prefer to not have to spread their own forces to cover any ground that the Polish abandon before a formal handover. While these three provinces are not scheduled for handover at years' end, they may well be ready for handover early in 2008.

Unfortunately, all this handing-over has little immediate effect on the Americans' abilities to consolidate their forces in hot spots, or even start drawing-down-- the only handovers so far in the American sectors have been in Kurdish areas, and American forces still remain to make sure that Turkish and Kurdish forces do not start sparring. Not surprisingly, Americans chose to govern the toughest, most ethnically divided, most violent parts of Iraq in 2003, and their obligation remains.

But places like Anbar and Tamim are starting to look increasingly safe, and American forces may try handing over some of these provinces before next summer to keep a sense of progress in the air. But this is all speculation.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Musharraf is Starting to Win me Over...

With a good first step: returning Pakistan to constitutional rule. Do I believe his story about a terrible conspiracy? Probably, but I still don't believe the suspension was justified in the first place.

Either way, the ball is now in the hands of Bhutto and Sharif: if they see their demands being met, Pakistan might have a unified government, ready to finish the war on Al Qaeda.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Afghanistan Update

Afghanistan is often forgotten by Americans, cast behind the controversial War in Iraq. But it is a critical ongoing conflict, and far from resolved. I offer now only a smattering of updates to help the reader get a bit more information on progress.

In general, I must first say that progress is questionable at best. In the past two years, Taliban and Al-Qaeda attacks have been up-- it is my hypothesis that their new center of gravity in Waziristan has given them a place from which to grow, and from which to attack and then escape. The elimination of the Taliban and Al Qaeda from Waziristan is probably the most critical goal in the Unite States' War on Terror, and requires not only the stabilization of Pakistan, but also increased cooperation from both Pakistani and Indian leaders (the latter helping to alleviate tensions on the Indo-Pak border and freeing up Pakistani troops). I think a full-scale assault by the Pakistani military with NATO air strikes, lasting perhaps for months, is perhaps the only way to squeeze the Taliban and Al Qaeda out of Afghanistan and Pakistan for good.

To emphasize the problem, see the map below: notice how close Waziristan is to Kabul and other large cities in Afghanistan's center of gravity.

Recently, NATO forces have had to fight to drive the Taliban out of border towns near Pakistan which the Taliban had trickled into and taken over.

Many Marines in Iraq are, in fact, calling for a Marine withdrawal from Iraq so that they can go to Afghanistan and finish the job there. An increased troop presence would certainly allow the US to put more pressure on Taliban forces trying to trickle in, but again, it's only a band-aid without a full offensive in Waziristan (or so I feel).

Furthermore, Afghanistan may be short on security forces. It's current 70,000 are relatively well-armed, but Karzai is requesting more. With the Taliban a major threat from Pakistan, that's certainly a reasonable request--but his hopes for 200,000 troops may be excessive. Not only will this be tough to fund (in particular for the international community-- Afghanistan's economy certainly can't support such forces at this point), but may be unnecessary long-term if the Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces in the Waziristan area can be crushed.

Unfortunately, I've realized I'm mostly saying what I've been saying before. But in full, Afghanistan can't be forgotten. It's far from success, and more tough offensives need to occur. What's frustrating is the fate of Afghanistan may not be in NATO's hands-- NATO will require the full cooperation and help of Pakistan and its army, who must be willing to make sacrifices and investments in eliminating militants in the northwest and enforcing its security and administration there for years to come. Afghanistan and Pakistan both hang in the balance.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

I Seem to Have Spoken Too Soon on Bush's Iran Policy

With the report that Iran had dismantled its nuclear weapons program in 2003, I figured Bush's thus-far successful Iran diplomacy would make a paradigm shift, hedging for future success. But it seems Bush is intent on reversing any progress recently made.

He's claimed that his Iran policy will stay the same, making myself (and hopefully others) grow skeptical. Bush's claim that Iran is dangerous is certainly true, but without an active nuclear weapons program, the only thing I can seem to directly fault Iran for is their meddling in Iraq. While I don't approve of such meddling in any way, it's understandable; Iran feels like the US is trying to surround it with pro-US allies and isolate it in the region, and Iran is pushing back in what ways it knows how. But Iran has neither the conventional nor nuclear capabilities to launch an offensive campaign. Iran's greatest threat lies in its ability to manipulate, from Hezbollah in Lebanon to Shiite force in Iraq.

So why the tough stance? Does "no change in policy" mean war or airstrikes are still an option? And if so, why? I can't seem to find some other imminent threat that must be stopped, so does the Bush administration simply want to take down this regime to establish US hegemony in the Middle East?

This lack of policy shift is frustrating, and is likely to frustrate the allies that Bush had successfully collected to pressure and isolate Iran. Should he frustrate them too much, he will lose their support entirely, and his outward Iran toughness may be the very force that unravels his Iran policy.