Asia/Africa update: May 19-21 2017


Abdul Rashid Dostum back in 2015

Afghanistan’s vice president, Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, is no longer in Afghanistan. He flew to Turkey on Friday, ostensibly for medical treatment. Now, Dostum probably does need medical treatment. He claims to be diabetic and is rumored to hit the bottle on the regular, so chances are he’s not well. But it’s likely this particular sabbatical is related to the legal jeopardy he may be in soon in Afghanistan, where he’s being investigated on charges that he abducted and tortured a political rival last November. Kabul authorities strongly preferred that Dostum leave the country rather than forcing them to arrest him, which could set off a whole new shitstorm that the Afghan government would be wholly incapable of dealing with right now. This way, Dostum gets to keep his office (presumably), and his freedom, and maybe he’ll be allowed to return someday.

It was a busy weekend for the Taliban. On Friday, a roadside bomb in Logar province, probably set by the Taliban, killed 11 members of a family driving to an engagement ceremony. On Saturday, the Taliban launched a major assault on the eastern city of Ghazni that doesn’t appear to have succeeded exactly, but that doesn’t seem to have been defeated as yet either. Some 25 Taliban were believed killed in the initial fighting, but the group may have been able to take and hold a part of the city. On Sunday, the Afghan government reported that 20 of its police officers had been killed in Taliban ambushes in Zabul province, while the Taliban claimed credit for an attack in Paktia province that killed at least three people.


Three laborers in Balochistan province were killed on Friday while working on a highway project related to China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative. The attackers were probably from the Baluchistan Liberation Army, which has attacked similar targets in the past, though nobody has claimed responsibility yet as far as I know.


The Indian army says that two days of fighting over the weekend between Kashmiri rebels and Indian soldiers killed four rebels and three soldiers.


Reuters reports on the degree to which the military junta that took over Thailand in 2014 is trying to permanently install itself within all of the country’s governing institutions:

The military now controls 143 out of 250 parliamentary seats. Under the previous junta after the 2006 coup, the military held 67 out of 242 seats.

The cabinet is stacked with soldiers. Out of the 36 cabinet members, 12 have a military background. In 2006, only four military officers were among the 37 cabinet members.

The military is also entwined with the powerful monarchy – the name of Prayuth’s show is derived from the philosophy of the late king Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died last October after seven decades on the throne.

More than half of the 13 members of the Privy Council, the body that advises new King Maha Vajiralongkorn – himself a former soldier – are military men. It was just under half in the previous Council.


Rodrigo Duterte is making friends all over the place. His foreign minister announced on Friday that his government was rejecting a major European Union aid package, and warned of hard times to come in the Europe-Philippines relationship, over the EU condition that he stop, you know, summarily executing drug users. Meanwhile, that same day he tried to defend himself against charges that he’s gone soft on Chinese expansion in the South China Sea by saying that Chinese President Xi Jinping threatened to go to war with the Philippines over drilling rights there. While this may have actually happened, declaring it happened in public is likely to piss Beijing off because it makes them look bad. In fact, Manila is already trying to walk Duterte’s comments back.


The New York Times reported on Saturday about the systematic destruction of America’s intelligence networks in China in the early 2010s, which were so comprehensive that it’s believed they were related to some kind of leak from within the US intelligence community, due either to a well-placed Chinese spy or a data hack:

Current and former American officials described the intelligence breach as one of the worst in decades. It set off a scramble in Washington’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies to contain the fallout, but investigators were bitterly divided over the cause. Some were convinced that a mole within the C.I.A. had betrayed the United States. Others believed that the Chinese had hacked the covert system the C.I.A. used to communicate with its foreign sources. Years later, that debate remains unresolved.

But there was no disagreement about the damage. From the final weeks of 2010 through the end of 2012, according to former American officials, the Chinese killed at least a dozen of the C.I.A.’s sources. According to three of the officials, one was shot in front of his colleagues in the courtyard of a government building — a message to others who might have been working for the C.I.A.

Still others were put in jail. All told, the Chinese killed or imprisoned 18 to 20 of the C.I.A.’s sources in China, according to two former senior American officials, effectively unraveling a network that had taken years to build.


Pyongyang tested another missile on Sunday, an intermediate range ballistic missile that it then pronounced ready for deployment. This missile, the Pukguksong-2, is solid-fuel, which is an important technology to master if one wants to arm missiles that can be launched quickly. Liquid-fueled missiles have to be fueled just before launch, an activity that can be detected, but solid-fueled missiles can be stored with the fuel inside, and can thus be launched with little warning. This test also seems to have included a study of re-entry capability for its potential nuclear warheads. The South Korean foreign ministry said that the new test throws “cold water” on the new South Korean government’s hopes for dialogue with the North.


Thursday’s attack by the Misratan Third Force on the Libyan National Army air base at Brak al-Shati apparently killed 141 soldiers, mostly LNA personnel, a number far higher than initial reports suggested. The Libyan parliament in Tobruk condemned the attack as a breach of the agreement the Government of National Accord and Khalifa Haftar recently reached in Abu Dhabi, but the GNA also condemned the attack even though the Third Force has been at least nominally aligned with the GNA. The LNA responded on Sunday by conducting airstrikes on the town of Jufra, south of the airbase, but I suspect that’s only the first stage of its response.


Protesters upset with stagnating economic conditions were able to swarm and shut down an oil-pumping station in southern Tataouine province. Tunisia is in the midst of an austerity kick, which is hitting everyone hard but especially young people in the southern part of the country, where economic conditions are poor in general.


Whatever else you may want to say about Donald Trump’s speech in Riyadh on Sunday, and if you ask me it was pretty platitudinous, at least alleged war criminal and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir wasn’t there for some embarrassing photo op with the US president. Bashar opted not to attend the speech, though he’d been invited by the Saudis, for unspecified “reasons.”


French President Emmanuel Macron visited Mali on Friday to promise more aid for anti-terror operations in the Sahel. He also plans to call on other European nations, Germany in particular, to contribute to the mission.


The UN is accusing the South Sudanese army and its allies of carrying out mass atrocities in the town of Yei between July of last year and January of this year:

“Attacks were committed with an alarming degree of brutality and, like elsewhere in the country, appeared to have an ethnic dimension,” a report on the UN investigation said on Friday.

“These cases included attacks on funerals and indiscriminate shelling of civilians; cases of sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls, including those fleeing fighting; often committed in front of the victims’ families.”

Fighting flared when the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), loyal to President Salva Kiir, pursued his rival and former deputy Riek Machar and a small band of followers as they fled from the capital Juba, southwest through Yei and into neighbouring Congo.

The pursuit of Machar ushered in a particularly violent period in South Sudan’s Equatorias region, with multiple localised conflicts, particularly in Yei, the report said.

Hundreds of thousands of refugees from Yei and the surrounding region have crossed the border into Uganda, which renders somewhat hollow the South Sudanese government’s insistence that these charges are baseless.


At least 22 people have been killed, and more than 10,000 displaced, in fighting between Christian and Muslim militias in the town of Bria over the past week.

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