World War 4 Report has been keeping a dispassionate record of Barack Obama's moves in dismantling, continuing and escalating (he has done all three) the oppressive apparatus of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) established by the Bush White House. On the day of his 2015 State of the Union address, we offer the following annotated assessment of which moves over the past year have been on balance positive, neutral and negative, and arrive at an overall score:
Well, the supposed NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan was formally announced Dec. 28. A quiet ceremony in Kabul was arranged in secret due to increasing Taliban strikes in the area, including suicide bombings and gun-battles. On Jan. 1 the US-led International Security Assistance Force is to be replaced by a NATO "training and support" mission—with nearly 12,500 foreign troops to stay in Afghanistan, the big majority supplied by the US. Officially, they are not to participate in direct fighting. The Pentagon's "Operation Enduring Freedom" is now to be replaced by "Operation Freedom's Sentinel," in turn part of NATO's new "Operation Resolute Support." (Jurist, DoD) The AP story, as presented on HuffPo, headlines: "US Formally Ends War In Afghanistan" Emphasis on the "formally," eh? Reads the lead: "The war in Afghanistan, fought for 13 bloody years and still raging, came to a formal end Sunday with a quiet flag-lowering ceremony in Kabul that marked the transition of the fighting from US-led combat troops to the country's own security forces." How can a war that is "still raging" come to an "end"? Similar absurd claims marked the US "withdrawal" from Iraq in 2011. Is Iraq at "peace" now? We utterly reject this stupid, arrogant US-centrism that universally infects left, right and center in the United States. The war in Afghanistan is not over, and the US has no power to "end" it!
Martin Dempsey, head of the US joint chiefs of staff, arrived in Baghdad on Nov. 15, days after President Barack Obama authorised sending up to 1,500 more forces to Iraq—roughly double the planned US "post-withdrawal" presence—to advise and train Iraqi and Kurdish forces. Before his trip, Dempsey was questioned about whether US troops will accompany Iraqi forces in an operation to take back Mosul, and said it was unlikely "but we're certainly considering it." He added: "We're going to need about 80,000 competent Iraqi security forces to recapture territory lost, and eventually the city of Mosul, to restore the border."
The top international commander in Afghanistan, US Army Gen. John Campbell, is assessing whether more coalition troops should remain in the country beyond the Obama administration's current plans for a "complete withdrawal" in 2016. In a phone interview from Kabul with Foreign Policy (Nov. 3), Campbell said he was "beginning now to take a hard look" at what effect delays in concluding a US-Afghanistan bilateral security agreement have had on the preparedness of the Afghan military in the face of a resurgent Taliban. "Do I come back and do I alert my leadership and say we are coming down to this number, we need to hold a little bit longer to take advantage of some of the things that President [Ashraf] Ghani has put in place and we need more NATO forces in certain locations for longer?" Campbell said. "I've got to do that analysis and we're just starting that now."
Afghanistan's electoral dispute was officially resolved Sept. 21, after months of wrangling. Under the deal, Ashraf Ghani becomes president while runner-up Abdullah Abdullah is to nominate a "chief executive officer" (likely himself) with powers similar to those of prime minister. (BBC News) AP reports that the Obama administration hopes to follow this up with a new secuirty deal that will allow some 10,000 US troops to remain in Afghanistan next year after all "combat forces" are supposedly withdrawn at the end of 2014. The outgoing Hamid Karzai had punted on such an arrangement. The deal may be a win for Washington, but not so much for Afghans. Patricia Gossman blogs for Human Rights Watch:
Iraq's new Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi issued a statement welcoming Barack Obama's announcement of a new campaign against ISIS. On the same day Obama gave his speech, Abadi met in Baghdad with US Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss international support for Iraqi forces in the drive against ISIS. (BasNews, Sept. 12; Aswat al-Iraq, Sept. 10) While Abadi's government continues to be Shi'ite-dominated, there are signs of success in his efforts to forge a pact with Sunnis to resist ISIS. Sunni tribes in Salaheddin governorate have formed a council to mobilize tribesmen to retake the provincial capital of Tikrit from ISIS in coordination with Iraq's army. Significantly, the new command center established for the effort is in Auja, a district recently retaken from ISIS by Iraqi troops—and the birthplace of Saddam Hussein, who was buried there following his execution in 2006. (Azzaman, Sept. 12)
The Obama administration is preparing to carry out a campaign against ISIS that may take three years to complete, requiring a sustained effort that could last until after President Obama has left office, according to the New York Times, citing "senior administration officials." The first phase, an air campaign is already underway, with nearly 145 air-strikes in the past month. The Times says the aims are "to protect ethnic and religious minorities and American diplomatic, intelligence and military personnel, and their facilities, as well as to begin rolling back ISIS gains in northern and western Iraq." The next phase, to begin sometime after Iraq forms a more inclusive government, is expected to involve an intensified effort to train, advise or equip the Iraqi military, Kurdish forces and possibly Sunni tribal fighters. The final, toughest and most controversial phase is destroying the ISIS sanctuary inside Syria. This might not be completed until the next administration, some Pentagon planners are said to "envision a military campaign lasting at least 36 months." (NYT, Sept. 7)
Gunmen opened fire inside a Sunni mosque in Iraq's eastern Diyala governorate, killing at least 68 people, Aug. 22. A suicide bomber broke into the Musab bin Omair Mosque during Friday prayers in the village of Imam Wais and detonated his explosives. He was followed by gunmen, who rushed in and opened fire on the worshippers. Initial reports blamed ISIS in the massacre, but reports later in the day blamed an unnamed Shi'ite militia, suggesting it was retaliation for a roadside bomb attack at a recruitment event organized by the militia.