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Blackwater USA – Daily Brief

Brexit

  • PM Johnson asked the Queen to suspend Parliament in September, and she reportedly agreed.
  • That’s a big deal because it drastically reduces the amount of time MPs will have to debate a plan for Brexit—and significantly raises the odds of a no-deal Brexit, as a result.
  • The Speaker of the House of Commons, who usually stays neutral on stuff like this, railed against the idea: “However it is dressed up, it is blindingly obvious that the purpose of [suspending Parliament] now would be to stop [MPs] debating Brexit and performing its duty in shaping a course for the country.”
  • Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn accused Johnson of pulling a “smash and grab” on the country, and vowed to introduce legislation to block the suspension, followed by a no-confidence vote on Johnson “at some point.”

Iran

  • The Post and Times reported that the U.S. carried out a cyberattack to take down the database Iran uses to track—and interfere with—shipping traffic. It happened back in June, when there were whispers of a kinetic strike on Iran after Iran shot down an unmanned U.S. drone.

Afghanistan

  • The BBC did a sanity check on Pres. Ghani’s claim that the “United States government and society” have spent $500 billion on Afghanistan since 2001—and concluded the true number is actually substantially higher: in addition to DoD spend of $760 billion from Oct. 2001 to Mar. 2019, the U.S. has contributed $133 billion to propping up the ANSF and reconstruction in Afghanistan. And that’s excluding the costs of future healthcare for vets and interest on borrowing for the war—which bring the total to around $1 trillion, per Brown University’s Costs of War Project. BBC article pasted below.
  • Just hours after pro-government commander Baz Muhammad lamented to RFE/RL that the Afghan war pits “sons against fathers and brothers and against brothers,” he was shot and killed in Jowzjan during a battle with a Taliban unit that included his own son. That’s some sad irony.
  • Rumor has it that the U.S.-Taliban deal on the table twice refers to the Taliban by its former name, “the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.” Critics say that amounts to a concession the Taliban can use to claim legitimacy—as if it was only waiting the U.S. out since 2001, and plans to return to power.

China & Hong Kong

  • Chinese state media said there’s nothing to see in Hong Kong, folks: the large movement of armored carriers, trucks full of troops, and a naval vessel into Hong Kong early this morning was just part of a regular annual troop rotation.
  • The Guardian points out that there truly have been annual troop rotations like this in 2017 and 2018—but notes that this is the first year in at least three that state media reports omitted data on the number of troops coming in, or whether troop levels were changing (the concern is that China is beefing up its military presence in HK to squash protests).
  • Demonstrators are planning more major anti-government protests this Saturday, which police have banned.
  • The People’s Bank of China denied rumors that it was planning to launch a government-backed cryptocurrency within the next few months as “inaccurate speculation.”

Venezuela

  • The U.S. offered amnesty to Pres. Maduro if he voluntarily leaves power—but U.S. envoy to Venezuela Elliott Abrams, who announced the offer, said there’s no indication Maduro would actually step down, and the offer was purely intended to send a message. It does seem highly unlikely that Maduro would give up now; he ignored a similar offer from Pres. Guaido back in May, and hasn’t shown any signs of reconsidering.
  • The U.S. opened a representative office for Venezuela in next-door Colombia, which suggests it doesn’t expect to get back to Caracas any time soon.

Russia

  • German police arrested a Russian national in connection with the assassination of a former Chechen separatist leader in Berlin last Friday, but the Kremlin denied any connections with the alleged hitman. He was probably just a tourist seeing the sights of Berlin—just like the two GRU-linked assassins who poisoned Sergei Skripal in Salisbury while they were visiting its cathedral.

Mexico

  • Gunmen in cartel-ridden Veracruz burned down a strip club, killing 25 people inside. One of the attackers was a repeat offender that police had suspiciously released after an arrest last month, which raised suspicions of corruption and conspiracy within the police force.

Other News

  • Italy’s top political parties formed a coalition that unexpectedly sidelined Interior Minister Matteo Salvini—who had been regarded as the PM apparent. Rather, the parties reportedly agreed to invite former PM Conte back to his old job.

Afghanistan: Has it cost America $500bn? (BBC)

The US has been fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan since 2001

The US military has spent billions of dollars since 2001 fighting the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.

But the end may finally be in sight for America’s military presence in the country if the current talks taking place in Doha between the United States and the Taliban reach a successful conclusion.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has said the war has “cost the United States government and society $500bn”.

How accurate is this figure and how might it have been reached?

US troop levels in Afghanistan

2002 – 2018

Source: Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction

The US invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, accusing the Taliban of harbouring Osama bin Laden and senior al-Qaeda figures linked to the 9/11 attacks.

They removed the Taliban from power, after which the militant group started a long-running insurgency across the country.

US troop numbers in Afghanistan grew as Washington poured in billions of dollars to fight the Taliban and fund reconstruction.

Between 2010 to 2012, when the US for a time had more than 100,000 soldiers in the country, the cost of the war grew to almost $100bn a year, according to figures provided by the US government.

As the US military shifted its focus away from offensive operations and concentrated more on training Afghan forces, costs fell sharply and between 2016 and 2018 annual expenditure was around $40bn.

The estimated spend for the year to March 2019 is $18bn.

US cost of war in Afghanistan

2001 – 2019

Source: US Department of Defense

So, according to the US Department of Defense, the total military expenditure in Afghanistan (from October 2001 until March 2019) was $760bn.

That’s significantly more than the figure given by the Afghan president.

But an independent study carried out by Brown University’s Cost of War Project argues that the official US figures for Afghanistan are a substantial underestimate.

It says they do not include spending on war veterans’ care, money spent on other government departments for war-related activities and the cost of interest on debt incurred to pay for the war.

It estimates the total cost, factoring in these additional elements, is closer to one trillion US dollars.

US defence budget compared to eight biggest military spenders in the world

Where has the money gone?

The bulk of the money has been spent on counter-insurgency operations, and on the needs of US troops, such as food, clothing, medical care, special pay and benefits.

Official data shows the US has also contributed approximately $133bn -16% of all money spent in the last 17 years – to reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan.

And more than half of that ($83bn) has gone on building up Afghan security forces, including the Afghan National Army and police force.

The rest has been mainly spent on improving governance and infrastructure, as well as on economic and humanitarian aid and anti-drug initiatives.

The US has spent on average $1.5m day – or nearly $9bn since 2002 until June this year – on anti-narcotics efforts, yet the area devoted to growing opium poppy has actually increased, according to UN figures.

In 2017, the US watchdog responsible for the oversight of reconstruction efforts said that as much as $15.5bn had been lost on “waste, fraud and abuse” over the past 11 years.

That figure is probably “only a portion” of the total waste, according to the watchdog, which added that US money “often exacerbated conflicts, enabled corruption, and bolstered support for insurgents”.

What about the human cost?

Since the war against the Taliban began in 2001, US forces have suffered 2,300 deaths and around 20,500 soldiers injured in action.

According to official figures, approximately 14,000 US military personnel were in Afghanistan as of June 2018, but there were also nearly 11,000 US civilians who were working as contractors.

But US casualty figures are dwarfed by the loss of life among Afghan security forces and civilians.

President Ghani said this year that more than 45,000 members of the Afghan security forces had been killed since he became president in 2014.

Total civilian casualties in Afghanistan

2009 – 2019*

Source: UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (*2019 casualties to 30 Jun)

Mr Ghani’s decision to reveal casualty figures was unusual, as the US and Afghan governments don’t normally publish Afghan death tolls.

However, some reports say that Afghan security force fatalities have been very high in recent years, sometimes averaging 30-40 deaths a day.

And according to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (Unama), more than 32,000 civilians have been killed and about 60,000 injured since it began systematically recording civilian casualties in 2009.