Asia/Africa update: May 31 2017


This morning’s bombing in Kabul, news of which just started to break as I wrapped up last night, was, perhaps unsurprisingly, far deadlier than initial reports seemed to suggest. The most recent updates I’ve seen, like this one from the BBC, put the death toll at 90, and it’s been steadily climbing throughout the day so there’s reason to expect it may rise still further, with more than 450 people wounded. The bombing targeted a busy section of Kabul near a number of foreign embassies and other government buildings, so the casualties were predominantly civilians on their way to work.

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Footage of the crater left by this morning’s bomb (NBC News | YouTube)

Amazingly, almost 16 years after it began, the War in Afghanistan is still producing events like this. Today’s attack was one of the bloodiest single incidents since the war began in late 2001. And there’s no sign of an end, not even a sign of a path toward an end, in sight. The New York Times has posted a number of images from the scene, if you’d like to see what 16 years of conflict has wrought. Later this year we’ll start to see people getting drivers licenses who have never known a time when America wasn’t at war in Afghanistan…and to what end?

It’s not yet clear who was behind this bombing. The Taliban is certainly suspect, and while they’ve reportedly denied involvement, they sometimes deny their own attacks when the civilian casualty count gets high enough that they might have to worry about backlash. ISIS has also carried out large attacks in Kabul in the recent past. But Iranian journalist Ershad Alijani offered a third (well, sort of) possibility on Twitter earlier today:

The Haqqani Network is closely affiliated with the Taliban–its boss, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is the Taliban’s deputy leader–but it’s separate enough that the Taliban could technically claim not to have been involved if it was indeed the Haqqanis. The network’s close ties to Pakistani intelligence would explain the size of the bomb, since the ISI would presumably have no trouble supplying them with enough explosives to do the damage that today’s blast reportedly did. The Pakistanis might have seen this as retaliation for the support they claim Kabul has been giving to the Pakistani Taliban.

Once again I think I need to reiterate my suggestion for a moratorium on anybody helping any group with the word “Taliban” in its name, or any group related to a group with “Taliban” in its name.



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Khorghos Gateway, roughly speaking (Google Maps)

The BBC has an interesting short video piece on the Khorghos Gateway, a major dry (i.e., rail) port that’s one of the first big projects related to China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative. It’s located just across the border from the Chinese city of Khorgas, hence the name. If OBOR really gets off the ground, this rail hub is going to be a big part of one of its China-Europe components. It’s already large enough that Kazakhstan has had to build a new city to accommodate its workforce–though, as the video says, it doesn’t have much in the way of amenities yet.


Philippine authorities are attributing the Maute Group’s surprising ability to hold the entire city of Marawi hostage for over a week to repeated weapons seizures and a jailbreak. The insurgents raided a police station, an armored police vehicle, and a prison for weapons, and while they were at the prison they, well, let a bunch of prisoners out, who then joined up with them. It seems pretty clear that Maute was planning an operation like this, and that last week’s attempted government raid to capture Abu Sayyaf boss Isnilon Hapilon simply gave them an opportunity to put it into action.

UPDATE: Ten Philippine soldiers were reportedly killed in a friendly fire incident on Wednesday.


Defense Secretary James Mattis is heading to the annual Shangri-la Southeast Asian security conference this weekend, where he’s reportedly planning to spend most of his time talking about North Korea. This is likely not to go over all that great, as America’s southeast Asian allies are more interested in taking the Trump administration’s temperature over Chinese activity in the South China Sea. Donald Trump came into office looking like he might take a harder line on China than the Obama administration had taken, but he quickly rolled over in the hopes that Beijing would help him Do Something about North Korea. So far that’s been a bit of a mixed bag–China has taken a somewhat harder line on Pyongyang, but not hard enough for Washington’s taste…and, apparently, not hard enough to get North Korean to budge.



The speaker of the Ivorian parliament (and potential 2020 presidential candidate), Guillaume Soro, appears to be at least connected to investigations into the question of who has been supplying mutinous soldiers with weapons. If you’ve been following along, you know that Ivory Coast just went through a second round of mutinies, ostensibly over unpaid bonuses, this year. The government is trying to figure out how they’re getting their weapons. Investigators have found an arms cache in the home of a man allied with Soro, Souleymane Kamarate Kone, in the city of Bouake, where these mutinies seem to keep starting. Now they’re questioning two senior military officers with ties to Soro. This is the kind of story that could end in civil war, so stay tuned.


Speaking of Chinese-led international development projects:

Amid concerns of its high price tag, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has inaugurated a Chinese-built railway, the country’s biggest infrastructure project since its independence.

The red-and-white diesel train left from the port city of Mombasa on Wednesday on its journey to Nairobi, carrying Kenyatta, Chinese dignitaries and citizens from around the country.

“Today we celebrate one of the key cornerstones to Kenya’s transformation to an industrialised, prosperous, middle-income country,” Kenyatta said at the inauguration ceremony.

There are concerns over the railway’s $3.2 billion cost, happily financed by China, but the Kenyan government is hoping that the railway will boost GDP enough to pay the loan back within a decade. And, really, that’s not China’s problem. They made $3.2 billion plus interest and got themselves a nifty foothold into East Africa. America could probably do this kind of thing, but then we might not be able to bomb seven countries at once and fork over a couple of trillion dollars for state of the art military aircraft that don’t actually work. Hell, we can’t even build decent trains here, let alone in Africa.

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