Asia/Africa/Europe update: June 10-11 2017



An Afghan commando who had gone over to the Taliban opened fire on a group of Americans in Nangarhar province’s Achin district on Saturday, killing three US special forces soldiers. Earlier in the day a US airstrike/”friendly fire” incident accidentally killed at least three Afghan soldiers in Helmand province.


Pakistani authorities are trying to better protect Chinese nationals living in Pakistan in the wake of the murder of two Chinese teachers in Balochistan by ISIS last week. Pakistan has already formed an army division whose only job is protecting development projects related to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) program, which is itself a part of China’s One Belt, One Road initiative, but several of its provinces are recruiting new forces just to protect Chinese nationals.


Indian soldiers say they killed six Kashmiri rebels on Saturday. One of the problems with these stories is that there’s very little corroboration available in Kashmir–every story involving exchanges between India and Pakistan comes in two very different versions. When it involves India and the separatists there’s usually only one version, but who knows if it’s reliable.


With the siege of Marawi now three weeks old, Philippine forces are still struggling to eliminate the last remnants of the Maute Group/ISIS-aligned militants from the city. On Friday alone, thirteen Philippine marines were reportedly killed in the fighting. On Saturday, it was reported that US special forces were assisting the Philippine forces in Marawi logistically, though they were not near the actual fighting. News of this support was handled by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte with grace–on Sunday Duterte said he had no knowledge of the US assistance and suggested that his soldiers had gone over his head to the Americans of their own accord. You’re welcome. Anyway, reports emerged over the weekend that the Maute brothers, who obviously give the “Maute Group” its name, have been killed, but I haven’t seen any verification of that. Abu Sayyaf/ISIS-Philippines boss Isnilon Hapilon is still alive as far as anyone knows.



Sayf al-Islam Gaddafi, Muammar Gaddafi’s son and one-time heir apparent, has been released from a Libyan prison under some sort of amnesty. I’m sure he’ll settle into a nice quiet retirement in a sea-side village somewhere and never bother anyone again. Right? Gaddafi is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and he’s wanted by the Government of National Accord because he’s been convicted and sentenced to death in absentia in Tripoli. But the Abu Bakr al-Siddiq Battalion, which had been holding him, released him apparently at the behest of the Tobruk government, which is effectively led by Libyan National Army commander Khalifa Haftar. Why would Haftar want Gaddafi released? Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown Libya.


Large protests are continuing in northern Morocco’s Rif region and have now expanded to other parts of the country. Thousands of people protested in Rabat on Sunday, led by the Islamist Justice and Spirituality Movement. This is easily the country’s largest protest movement since the Arab Spring, directed at corruption and abuses of authority by the civilian bureaucratic layer of the Moroccan government (or, in other words, not directed at the royal family…yet).


The US is opposing a French-written UN security council resolution that would officially designate a five-nation (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger) military force to combat extremist Islamist militants in the Africa Sahel. France, the African Union, and several European countries believe UN authorization is important to legitimize the new force, but the Trump administration, while it supports the joint force, doesn’t believe it needs UN authorization. For the administration, this is transparently an attempt to delegitimize the UN and has nothing to do with any opposition to the African force–though it has expressed some criticisms of the force’s broad mandate.


The US struck an al-Shabab camp in southern Somalia on Sunday, reportedly killing at least eight al-Shabab fighters and destroying the camp, which it described as a “command and supply hub” for the group.



Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche party is set for a landslide victory as results come in from Sunday’s parliamentary election. The results aren’t final yet, but it looks like En March is set to take between 415 and 445 seats in France’s 577-seat parliament, obviously a massive majority. Which means Macron will have an enormous mandate to implement his agenda.

Sort of.

See, Macron’s landslide win came on the backs of 48.7 percent turnout. Which is historically low. So his mandate, it’s not that big. But I think there’s a lesson here coming on the heels of the UK election, which had turnout around 70 percent. Give people a compelling choice, make them feel like they’re voting for something, and they’ll vote. Give them a choice between center-right and right, and they may not vote. I know there are a lot of people out there who feel that anyone who doesn’t vote is failing to do his or her civic duty, and as somebody who has missed I think two elections, both because I moved and didn’t get registered in time, since he was 18, I get that sentiment. But it’s not the way the world works, clearly. People who don’t feel like they have something to vote for often don’t vote, and while you can blame them for not voting and try to shame them into doing it, that doesn’t work. On the other hand, giving them something to vote for does seem to work.


Speaking of the UK election, the fallout is still very much in the air. Conservatives are furious at Theresa May–and, well, can you blame them?–whose status as party leader and therefore prime minister is, despite her feigned public confidence, in question. She’s already fired her two chiefs of staff to try to appease angry party members, but that may not be enough. She’s also brought rival Tory bigshot and human facsimile Michael Gove, seen here attempting to swallow a glass of water whole:


into her cabinet, in what may be a doomed effort to bring her enemies in closer than her friends.

Many Tories seem to be as angry with May’s decision to make the batshit Democratic Unionist Party her lifebuoy as they are with her bungling the election in the first place. Here, again, it’s understandable. DUP insists that its only demands for supporting May’s government are going to be related to increased funding for Northern Ireland and to ensuring a soft Irish border during Brexit talks, but these are people who are hard right religious conservatives–anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-science–in a country where that’s just not a huge constituency. It’s going to be a miracle if DUP’s baggage doesn’t rub off on the Tories. The government’s reliance on the DUP is also likely to mean it won’t be able to act as a mediating force in Northern Ireland, which is probably not good.

Then of course there’s Brexit. The European Union is telling May that it could take a full extra year to negotiate Brexit if she continues to insist on negotiating Britain’s exit and its new trade deal with the EU simultaneously. Brussels at this point is really only interested in negotiating the exit, which Britain’s new relationship with the EU to be handled after that. May, politically, wants to get both deals done at once (this is the “hard but smooth Brexit” scenario wherein Britain leaves the EU fully but has a new EU agreement ready to go very shortly thereafter) so she can prove her horribly naive “we can have our cake and eat it too” negotiating stance has actually been right all along.

The form that Brexit will take is as unclear as May’s political future, but it seems pretty clear that she no longer has the political support to accept a UK-EU trade deal (the “smooth” part of her preferred plan) under any terms the EU would set for such a thing. Which is raising the possibility of a “soft Brexit,” or “Brexit-lite,” where Britain doesn’t completely leave the EU but instead transitions to a kind of associate member status in the European Free Trade Association, like Norway (in fact this is also called the “Norway option”) or Switzerland. Being in the EFTA still carries a lot of rules, though, many of which (freedom of movement, in particular) were among the principle reasons why 52 percent of the UK voted to leave the EU last year.

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