Asia/Africa update: June 7 2017



The AP is reporting on a letter its reporters have seen that seems to suggest there’s some kind of power struggle going on within ISIS-Khorasan, between the group’s Uzbek contingent and its Pakistani contingent. The dispute basically seems to revolve around the degree of collaboration between Pakistani ISIS members and, you guessed it, the Pakistani intelligence community, which has apparently never met a terrorist it didn’t want to throw money at:

The letter, obtained by a jihadi fighter with ties to the IS affiliate and then provided to AP, was signed by Moawiya Uzbekistani, the apparent nom de guerre of an Uzbek militant, who claims to have become the leader of the IS affiliate after the death of Abdul Hasib, who was killed in a joint U.S.-Afghan operation in April.

Uzbekistani rejects reports that another fighter, who he identifies as Sheikh Aslam Farouqi, has been chosen to lead the group and suggests Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence is behind the rumors.

“Even if this information is true, then it’s the ISI of Pakistan behind this function and we don’t accept it, because we all fight for Allah and his religion,” the letter says, warning against “infidels, intelligence services and the deceitful” acting from “behind the scenes.”

As objectionable as the ISI is, the real concern here is the Uzbeks, who are violent even by ISIS standards and who appear to be taking a more assertive position with respect to the group’s hierarchy.


Philippine soldiers found a mobile phone in Marawi on Wednesday containing video of a meeting between top Islamist militant leaders that suggests their plans for Marawi were far grander than what they’ve been able to achieve:

“There was indeed a bigger plan and it was supposed to wreak more havoc,” military spokesman Restituto Padilla told a news conference after the video became public.

The battle for Marawi has raised concern that Islamic State, on a back foot in Syria and Iraq, is building a regional base on the Philippine island of Mindanao that could pose a threat to neighboring Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore too.

Officials have said that, among the several hundred militants who seized the town on May 23, there were about 40 foreigners from Indonesia and Malaysia but also fighters from India, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Chechnya.

The strike on Marawi City suggested to many that pro-Islamic State outfits wanted to establish the town as a Southeast Asian ‘wilayat’ – or governorate – for the radical group, a view reinforced by the video footage.

The Marawi battle seems to be progressing toward an end, with militants falling back and government forces pressing them into a smaller section of town. Apparently things there could have been much worse.


In a new report, the Pentagon is predicting that China will begin looking to expand its military footprint throughout Asia, in an effort to counter the US and eventually make China the dominant military power on the continent. Right now China only has one foreign military base, a naval base in Djibouti, but the report suggests that it might pursue bases in Pakistan, which is a major Chinese military client. The Pentagon report also talked about China’s island-building and fortifying efforts in the South China Sea, but noted that those activities seem to have leveled off for now. Beijing has been reacting angrily to this report, denying an intention of military expansion and even disputing that its military base in Djibouti is, in fact, a military base. It’s a military supply base, you see, which is definitely totally different because of several reasons.


How bad did pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement make the US look? Even North Korea is dunking on us over it:

North Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has condemned President Trump for pulling the United States out of the Paris agreement on climate change, dubbing it a “shortsighted and silly decision.”

In a statement published Tuesday on Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and attributed to an unidentified Foreign Ministry spokesman, the isolated country warned that “global warming is one of the gravest challenges humankind is facing today” and praised the Paris accord for its attempt to stop it.

Noting that the Trump administration had announced on June 1 that the United States would leave the landmark agreement, the unnamed official attributed the decision to Trump’s “America First” policy and to ignorance “of the fact that the protection of the global environment is in their own interests.”

“This is the height of egotism and moral vacuum seeking only their own well-being at the cost of the entire planet,” the statement said.

“So then I said they’re the ones with the ego problem! HA HA HA H…please laugh so I don’t have to have you executed.”

Pyongyang conducted another missile test on Thursday morning, this time of what appear to be land-to-ship missiles.


South Korean President Moon Jae-in has halted deployment of the US-provided THAAD missile defense system. Two THAAD interceptor units that had already been deployed will remain in place, but the other four batteries will not be installed at this point. Moon is likely trying to appease Beijing, which is unhappy with the THAAD deployment, but he’s also presumably reacting to the fact that the previous South Korean government had never said anything about those four other batteries–in all its public statements on THAAD, it only acknowledged that two batteries would be installed.



Activists in Africa’s Congo and Great Lakes regions are concerned that the Securities and Exchange Commission’s decision to stop requiring companies to report their use of conflict minerals is going to lead to a resurgence in violence and corruption:

In April, acting SEC chairman Michael Piwowar said his organization will no longer enforce the 2012 rule that requires companies to verify their products do not use tantalum, tin, gold or tungsten that have been mined or trafficked by armed groups in Congo and other central African countries. Although the SEC is independent from the Trump administration, Piwowar was designated as acting chairman by Trump, and the SEC’s action appears to be in line with the president’s view that the government should reduce regulations of company operations.

In addition to the SEC action, Republican legislation to roll back the Dodd-Frank law, expected to pass the House in coming weeks, would repeal the conflict minerals rule. The bill’s prospects in the Senate are unclear.

Armed rebels and criminal gangs have been funded for decades by the illicit trade in Congo’s minerals, estimated to be worth $24 trillion, according to the U.N. The minerals are essential ingredients in smart phones, laptops, tablets and other high-tech products.


This isn’t really the kind of thing we usually cover in these updates, but it’s cool and I like reading about this stuff so just deal with it:

Fossils recovered from an old mine on a desolate mountain in Morocco have rocked one of the most enduring foundations of the human story: that Homo sapiens arose in a cradle of humankind in East Africa 200,000 years ago.

Archaeologists unearthed the bones of at least five people at Jebel Irhoud, a former barite mine 100km west of Marrakesh, in excavations that lasted years. They knew the remains were old, but were stunned when dating tests revealed that a tooth and stone tools found with the bones were about 300,000 years old.

“My reaction was a big ‘wow’,” said Jean-Jacques Hublin, a senior scientist on the team at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. “I was expecting them to be old, but not that old.”

If this all holds up, and there are concerns because they’re making a lot of conclusions based on relatively few actual fossils, then these are the oldest known Homo sapiens fossils, which, yeah, that really does upend a lot of what anthropologists thought they knew about early humans. The anatomical differences in these fossils compared with modern humans also may change thinking on how and how quickly anatomically modern humans evolved.


A group of Boko Haram fighters, how large I’m not sure, attacked the northeastern city of Maiduguri on Wednesday. The fighting reportedly raged for 45 minutes and caused thousands of residents to flee, but Nigerian authorities say that the situation has been brought under control. This attack represents a major escalation for Boko Haram, which has been thought to be more or less on its last legs in recent months.

A new (?) northern Nigerian organization calling itself the “Northern Youth Groups” is demanding that any ethnic Igbos leave northern Nigeria “within three months.” The Igbo, a predominantly Christian people living mostly in southeastern Nigeria, were the main ethnic group involved in the 1967-1970 Nigerian Civil War, when they seceded and formed the short-lived “Republic of Biafra.” One of the main drivers of that secession movement was the killing of thousands of Igbo in northern Nigeria in the chaos following a 1966 coup. So this vaguely ominous threat about Igbo living in northern Nigerian today carries strong echoes of the run-up to that war.


Reuters reported several hours ago that a “loud explosion” was heard in Mogadishu, but I have been completely unable to find any information on this since then.

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