Asia/Africa/Australia update: June 5 2017


An overnight shooting and hostage situation in Melbourne appears to have been a terrorist attack:

Australian police are treating as a “terrorist incident” a Melbourne siege in which a gunman was killed.

Officers went to an address in a suburb of the city on Monday after reports of an explosion and found one man already dead in a stairwell.

Another man, now identified as Yacqub Khayre, was holding a woman inside the building against her will.

Khayre called a local broadcaster during the siege to say he was acting in the name of the Islamic State group.

A news outlet for the group said it had carried out the attack.

Three police officers suffered injuries after Khayre engaged them in a firefight in which he was shot dead. The hostage was rescued unharmed.

ISIS has of course claimed responsibility, which is meaningless because they’ll claim responsibility for just about anything.



Last week’s horrific string of violence in Kabul may be about to cost the city its best medical trauma center, and is expanding fissures between Pashtun and Tajik elements in the country’s slapdash, patchwork government. There are calls from Tajik leaders, so far unheeded, for President Ashraf Ghani to sack his top national security aides.

With the US and NATO debating sending more support soldiers to Afghanistan, one major problem at this point is that the Afghan military, after years of nonstop fighting, is breaking down. It’s barely hanging on to the ~60 percent of the country it still controls, and its exhaustion isn’t just because of the fighting itself, it’s also because of a stark recognition that it’s fighting on behalf of a government that is thoroughly corrupt:

As well as high casualties and the relentless tempo of operations, morale is sapped by political corruption that persists despite President Ashraf Ghani’s efforts to stamp it out, leading some soldiers to ask what they are fighting for.

In Chaparhar, where the poppy fields reach into the district center, powerful interests follow operations closely.

“We are not fighting for the nation, we are fighting for a mafia,” said one officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We’ll arrest some insurgents during an operation and soon we get a call from powerful figures inside government to let them go.”

“We are soldiers and we have to obey orders. But the next day, when we go to another operation, our soldiers do not fight the way they were fighting previously. They believe that this is a fight for no reason,” the officer said.


Screen Shot 2017-06-05 at 9.28.18 PM
Maldives President Abdulla Yameen and Saudi King Salman in October 2016

If you’re wondering why the Maldives joined the governments of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, Egypt, and Yemen* in cutting ties with Qatar this morning, well, let me hazard a guess:

The government has signed a US$100 million loan agreement with the Saudi Fund for Development to finance the expansion of the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport.

According to the finance ministry, the loan will fund the development of a new passenger terminal by the Saudi Binladin group. The project was awarded to the Saudi construction giant last May for an undisclosed amount.

…or two:

Saudi Arabia has agreed to lend the Maldives US$150million to make payments on loans taken out for an unprecedented infrastructure scale-up, including a project to develop the country’s main airport

The pledge was made by Saudi King Salman during President Abulla Yameen’s four-day visit to the kingdom earlier in the week, Fisheries Minister Dr Mohamed Shainee said on Thursday.


Maute Group fighters still embedded in Marawi have reportedly dug tunnels and stockpiled food and ammunition for a lengthy fight. Philippine security forces estimate about 200 fighters are still in the city, along with 500-600 civilians whose presence is naturally complicating efforts to eradicate the militants.

President Rodrigo Duterte is apparently contradicting his military commanders every time he refers to the militants in Marawi as ISIS. In truth, it might be more accurate to call them “ISIS wannabes,” since both Abu Sayyaf and the Maute Group have pledged their allegiance to ISIS without getting much or any direct interaction with ISIS in Syria/Iraq, and the military commanders would prefer not to elevate these guys by identifying them as the real thing. But calling them ISIS makes them sound more intimidating and justifies whatever executive power grabs Duterte decides to make while this siege is ongoing, so it serves his political aims.


You know, when people say that the North Korean government is run by a collection of sociopaths who would sooner see their own people die in agony than make even the slightest concession toward opening up to the world and potentially losing power, this is what they mean:

A South Korean civic group which offered to provide anti-malarial supplies to North Korea said Monday the North has rejected its proposal because of the South’s support of new U.N. sanctions.

The rejection could complicate efforts by South Korea’s new liberal President Moon Jae-in to expand civilian exchanges with North Korea as a way to improve strained bilateral ties. All major cooperation programs between the rivals remain stalled amid an international standoff over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

Malaria has been in decline in North Korea for several years, but these are still peoples’ lives at stake. And yeah, OK, you’re mad about the sanctions, but for fuck’s sake, is that really enough to justify turning down potentially life-saving assistance?



Even when the civil war takes a day off, the destruction of any semblance of order in Libya keeps claiming lives:

Seven African migrants died, apparently from suffocation, after being locked for two days in a refrigerated truck that was abandoned by people smugglers on the Libyan coast, officials said.

Twenty-eight others, including five women, were rescued on Sunday when the truck was discovered at Garabulli, a town some 50 km (30 miles) east of Tripoli that is a common departure point for migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean to Italy.


York University Professor Merouan Mekouar explains that, while recent protests in Morocco’s Rif region involve themes (anti-corruption, in particular) that resonate throughout the country, there’s currently no sign that they’re going to spread beyond the Rif because of their added ethnic (Berber) character:

However, while the grievances expressed by Zefzafi and his followers are also shared outside the Berber-speaking Rif region, particularly in relation to the need to put an end to corruption and the predatory practices of local crony capitalists, the demonstrations of the Hirak movement are thus far unable to take a national dimension. Despite the momentum created by the succession of demonstrations in the north of the country, the Hirak protests are not generating support at the national level. One reason why the protests are not cascading to the rest of the country is due to the covert ethnic nature of the Hirak protest.

While most (if not all) the demands expressed by Zefzafi and his followers are shared by the rest of the population, his populist discourse has an ethnic undertone that does not resonate well outside the Rif region. While Zefazfi and his followers refuted the notion that the Hirak is a secessionist movement, other disenchanted groups outside the Rif region are put off by the constant references to the Rif revolution (which opposed Rifan tribes to French and Spanish colonial troops during the 1920s), “Arab colonialism” and the conspicuous absence of Moroccan flags during the protests, replaced exclusively by Amazigh flags or flags of the short-lived Rif Republic).


Speaking of Morocco, on Monday the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) admitted Morocco as a member. Although Morocco is, geographically-speaking, located in western Africa, it is (I believe) the first ECOWAS member north of the Sahara. In fact, Morocco doesn’t share a border with any current ECOWAS member–but that may change soon, as Mauritania, which left ECOWAS in 2000, apparently wants back in.

ECOWAS also announced on Monday that it’s extending its mission in The Gambia for another year. ECOWAS put forces in place in The Gambia to ensure a smooth transition to Adama Barrow’s presidency after more than two decades of Yahya Jammeh’s rule, but there are still clearly Jammeh fans in the country–some of them apparently shot at a group of ECOWAS soldiers just last week–so their work is not yet done.

The European Union has agreed to contribute €50 million toward the creation of a joint West African military force to respond to Islamic extremists. The joint force will be made up of soldiers from four West African nations: Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger, plus Chad. Its mission will probably include confronting Boko Haram as well as al-Qaeda’s Mali affiliate.


Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for a bombing that killed one police officer in Somalia’s southern port city of Kismayu.

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