On Memorial Day, I note that Americans have nearly forgotten that we still have troops deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in support of operations there at sea and in bases in other countries. Although they currently have limited exposure to combat situations, deployment is still stressful to military personnel and their families. Non-combat related deaths and injuries usually get only local attention.
On May 22, DoD announced the death of Petty Officer 3rd Class Ryan D. Burris, 24, of Lisle, Illinois, died May 21, in Abu Dhabi, UAE, of a non-combat related incident at Zayed Military City. As of yet, no information about the incident has been made public. Via friend Chet, here is information about PO Burris from the local television station.
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, as U.S. troops mark Memorial Day, the fighting intensifies.
A suicide truck bomb attack on the Provincial Council in Kalat, Zabul kills 5 people and injures 62. Three of the injured are Council members. Another account puts the number of injured at 73.
Taliban attack several police checkpoints in Helmand, killing at least 10 officers, with other accounts putting the number at 13.
Update: Taliban are besieging a police compound in Helmand with 19 police and 7 soldiers dead so far. "Napas Khan, the police chief in the Naw Zad district, told The Associated Press by telephone that the insurgents had advanced to within 20 meters (65 feet) of the compound after seizing police vehicles and weapons and blocking all roads out of Naw Zad." Note that this is not asymmetrical warfare. The Taliban are winning a pitched battle against fortified positions.
What could possibly go wrong? Afghan government forms local militias and enlists help of warlords to fight Taliban in the north of the country. Excerpt:
As part of the latest government effort to rein in the Taliban, who have vowed to disrupt the democratically elected Ashraf Ghani administration, several thousand Afghans from the country’s north are expected to be mobilized to fight the Taliban in areas where the military and police forces have failed to halt the group’s advance. The strategy to turn to irregular forces is deemed risky by many who fear that the move could trigger civil strife in a country still haunted by memories of the atrocities of a civil war in the 1990s. “We have experienced this failed experiment of militia-making before,” Fawzia Koofi, a member of parliament from Badakhshan, one of the provinces where Kabul is planning to form the militias, told the Times. “This will spread the war from house to house, starting rivalries as everyone begins arming their own groups.”
Xinhua rounds up violence yesterday, resulting in the deaths of 19 people.
In case you thought the end was in sight for U.S. involvement, Gen. Campbell says NATO hopes to establish a base in Afghanistan on a more or less permanent basis, meaning U.S. troops will remain in the country long after Barack Obama has left office.
In Iraq, the political situation continues to deteriorate along with the military situation. U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter says that Iraqi forces lacked any will to fight in Ramadi, where they fled in the face of a numerically far inferior IS force and abandoned U.S.-supplied equipment including several tanks. This did not sit well with Iraqi officials. But as the linked article makes clear, the U.S. strategy in Iraq depends on the government regaining the trust and loyalty of Sunni Arabs and incorporating Sunni fighters into its military. This has not happened. In fact, by one account, the IS force that captured Ramadi numbered 150, before which 6,000 Iraqi troops fled.
British Major General Tim Cross agrees with the SecDef. "It’s interesting that the secretary used that [will to fight] expression because we use that expression in the British army and our argument is that it’s about a moral cohesion in your army. It’s about the motivation to achieve what it is you’re setting out to achieve and it’s about effective leadership … and it’s this will to fight that I think is fundamentally at the heart of the issue with the Iraqi military. There’s no cohesion, there’s no strong leadership. They’re really struggling and I don’t think there’s any doubt about that."
Of course, the Iranians are blaming the U.S.
Predictably, John McCain is calling for the U.S. to expand its combat role in Iraq, as similar calls for an expanded combat role are heard in Australia and the U.K. We shall see where this goes.