Asia/Africa update: June 12 2017



You ever read a news story and you just have nothing to say about it? I don’t mean that you’re uninformed on the topic or that you don’t have plenty of thoughts related to it, but that you just can’t think of the right way to express how, say, awful it is? That’s how I feel about this:

As many as three Afghan civilians were killed on Monday when American troops opened fire after their vehicle struck a roadside bomb, an official in Nangarhar province said.

A man and his two sons were killed at their home in Ghani Khel, a district in the south of Nangarhar, on the border with Pakistan, said Attaullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the provincial governor.

“After the bomb blast hit them, the American forces then started shooting and killed one man and two children nearby,” he said.

The U.S. military command in Kabul said a convoy of American and Afghan troops was struck by a roadside bomb and attacked by gunmen.

“The convoy returned fire in self-defence and there were no U.S. casualties,” the command said in a statement.

There had been no official report of civilian casualties filed, but the military was investigating the incident, the U.S. military said in a statement.

“We take civilian casualties very seriously and all allegations are thoroughly investigated,” it said.

“Hello, you have reached the Pentagon. All of our operators are busy handling other calls. Your civilian casualties are very important to us, so please stay on the line and an operator will be with you to diminish, excuse, or deny your report of civilian casualties as soon as possible. Thank you for your patience.”

What are we still doing in Afghanistan? Why are we thinking about sending more soldiers to Afghanistan? To shoot up more houses? How is this helping to end the war? I guess I’d need formal military training to understand.


Pakistani authorities are now saying that those two Chinese nationals who were murdered by ISIS last week were preachers, not teachers. Or, rather, it’s saying that they were preachers who posed as teachers in order to get into the country. This doesn’t change their case that much, because these were still Chinese nationals who were murdered by ISIS on Pakistani soil, and Pakistan needs to do a better job protecting foreigners, particularly Chinese nationals given the billions of dollars China is investing in Pakistan. However, it does chance their case a bit. If these two people were preachers–of what we don’t know, but as long as it wasn’t Islam it doesn’t really matter–then they were breaking Pakistani law. So presumably they were trying to stay off the grid as much as possible, which gives Pakistani authorities an excuse for failing to protect them.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is going before the Joint Investigation Team (JIT, which is really pretty unfortunate) on Thursday to answer questions about his family’s overseas holdings. Last year’s Panama Papers leak revealed that Sharif’s family has been using offshore companies to buy real estate, for example in London, which naturally raises questions about where the Sharif family is getting its money and whether or not its members are paying appropriate Pakistani taxes, etc.


Jeffrey Lewis, who knows what he’s talking about, thinks North Korea is about to play the biggest card in their deck short of another nuclear test–testing an intercontinental ballistic missile:

Over the course of 2017, North Korea has been working its way through flight tests for all the new missiles shown off in the April 15 military parade to commemorate Kim Il Sung’s birthday. So far, North Korea has tested a new land-based variant of its solid-fueled medium-range ballistic missile, a new intermediate-range ballistic missile, a short-range Scud modified for greatly improved accuracy, and most recently an anti-ship cruise missile. According to the database of tests compiled by my colleagues, North Korea has been popping off a missile launch about once a week.

At this brisk pace, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has checked off all the new missiles displayed in the parade except for two: the apparent ICBMs displayed at the end.

As if on cue, North Korea has now turned back to Donald Trump’s tweet. Last week, North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper carried an article that noted:

“Trump blustered early this year that the DPRK’s final access to a nuclear weapon that can reach the U.S. mainland will never happen.

But the strategic weapons tests conducted by the DPRK clearly proved that the time of its ICBM test is not a long way off at all.”

And, in case that wasn’t perfectly clear, the article also stated: “The DPRK is about 10,400 km far away from New York. But this is just not a long distance for its strike today.”

As Lewis points out, North Korea’s first ICBM test is likely to fail, because that’s usually what first tests do in missile development, but failed tests are at least as instructive as the ones that succeed. A North Korean ICBM means a North Korea capable of striking the mainland US with a nuclear weapon, eventually, which will change the entire calculus of the US-North Korea relationship. So in case you were thinking that the Middle East had once again stolen the spotlight from the Korean Peninsula, well don’t worry, because that may be about to change fairly soon.



Owing to the lateness of the hour and my own confusion about this out-of-the-blue story, I wanted to bring you a little more on the release of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, Muammar Gaddafi’s son, from his imprisonment in Zintan, Libya. He was apparently released on Friday, and in that time he may have managed to make it from Zintan, in the far west of Libya, all the way to eastern Libya where he’s under the protection, of sorts, of the pretender government in Tobruk. That government passed an amnesty measure in 2015, which the internationally-recognized Government of National Accord in Tripoli doesn’t acknowledge, that applies to all Gaddafi-era figures. Apparently this even includes his son, because the Abu Bakr al-Siddiq Battalion, which had been holding him, says it released him due to a request by Tobruk.

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, via YouTube

I should say that Saif al-Islam is believed to be in eastern Libya, but it’s not certain he’s there. He may have gone to Bani Waled, which is still in western Libya but is believed to be controlled by loyalist remnants of the Gaddafi regime. He might even be in Egypt by now. There’s obviously no way to know what his plans are unless and until he resurfaces, but as the BBC notes, it wouldn’t be that shocking to see him attempt a return to public life. Muammar Gaddafi’s legacy is looking a lot better in hindsight after six years of unrelenting war and the complete collapse of Libyan society, and Saif al-Islam was considered a reformer by Gaddafi standards–Western-educated with his PhD from the London School of Economics, relatively lenient toward political opposition, etc.

Saif al-Islam’s support could be a political asset to someone–Khalifa Haftar, maybe–looking to broaden his political base to include old regime loyalists. He might even be palatable to Western governments as a leader in a newly stabilized Libya, the International Criminal Court arrest warrant against him for crimes against humanity notwithstanding. European governments in particular are desperate for somebody, anybody, to put Libya back together at this point.


Nigerian authorities say they rescued nine children who were being trained (presumably as suicide bombers) at a Boko Haram camp in the village of Jarawa on Sunday, and were able to kill a top Boko Haram leader, a man going by the name Abu Nazir, to boot. On Monday, Nigerian forces arrested some 24 Boko Haram fighters in southern Nigeria’s Edo state, which is a little outside their usual area.


Kenyan police say that on Sunday night they arrested six suspected al-Shabab members who are believed to have been planning attacks in Kenya. I am not a scholar of terrorism in Kenya, but as far as I know al-Shabab hasn’t carried out any attacks there since 2015, so this would have been a major development had they been able to pull it off.

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