Asia/Africa/Australia update: June 14-15 2017



ISIS has managed to seize Tora Bora, the mountain hideaway in Nangarhar province that Osama bin Laden used to call home, before he moved into the Pakistani army chief of staff’s backyard without anybody in Pakistan knowing about it. Boy, nothing symbolic about that. On Thursday they also managed to find time to kill four people in an attack on a Shiʿa mosque in Kabul.

With President Trump having ceded control of his military in Afghanistan to the military, it appears the role of American forces there is going to start looking more like the role American forces have been playing in Iraq and Syria, with US embeds serving close to the front line to consult over tactics and call in airstrikes:

The proximity to the front lines allows the Americans to call in strikes from bombers, jets, and artillery, all of which the Afghan army is sorely lacking. That is already happening to some degree. Over the past four months, U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan have been at their highest sustained rate since the summer of 2014, according to statistics provided by the U.S. Air Force.

The focus of the American effort in Afghanistan “should be on troop capabilities, not on troop numbers, providing the intelligence and air support that the Afghan army needs,” said David Sedney, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia.

The Pentagon is expected to announce soon that it will be sending an additional 4000 American soldiers to Afghanistan to participate in this new mission. I’ll just remind you here that none of this is going to fix the Afghan government, ergo it’s not going to solve Afghanistan’s real problem.


Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif appeared before the panel investigating his family’s overseas financial holdings on Thursday and…I’m going to say it didn’t go well?

“What is happening here is not about corruption allegations against me, it is about slandering the businesses and accounts of my family,” a defiant Sharif, clad in traditional shalwar kameez tunic and trousers, said as he read from a statement.

Sharif, 67, spent about three hours at the offices of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) in the capital, Islamabad, becoming the first Pakistani prime minister to be questioned by an investigative agency.

“No corruption charges have been proven against me in the past and, inshallah (God willing), it will not be so once again,” he said.

He and Donald Trump ought to swap notes. Anyway, barring some revelation of actual wrongdoing it doesn’t seem like this story is going to hurt Sharif politically very much–his party is leading in polls going into an election that should take place next year.


Following Panama’s decision earlier this week to break ties with Taiwan in order to form them with China, the Taiwanese foreign ministry is saying that Beijing has been leaning on governments in five countries–Bahrain, Ecuador, Jordan, Nigeria, and the United Arab Emirates–to rename Taiwan’s representative offices in those countries to remove references–like those to “China” or “the Republic of China”–that could suggest Taiwanese sovereignty.


At least eight people were killed in an explosion outside a kindergarten in the city of Xuzhou on Thursday. I don’t think this was terrorism or anything else that would qualify it for these updates, but it is reportedly being treated as a criminal case so who knows?

On the plus side, the Chinese government has seen the error of its ways and has decided to award nine Donald Trump trademarks that it had previously rejected. It’s nice to see that government can work, folks, and in a case like this, where the Chinese government does something nice for a small businessman like Donald Trump simply because it’s the right thing to do and with no expectation of benefitting from it in any way, that’s government working. I’m getting emotional over this.


Hey, you know how US citizen Otto Warmbier was returned to the US this week by North Korea in a coma? And how the North Korean government says he got into that coma because of botulism? Weird, then, how doctors who have examined Warmbier say they can’t find any sign of botulism. Neither, though, do they think Warmbier’s coma was caused by trauma–signs apparently point to some kind of “cardiopulmonary arrest.” He’s  apparently lost significant brain tissue, so whatever the cause his condition is quite grave. Strange that Pyongyang tried to keep that condition secret for several months.



Fatou Bensouda, chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, is calling for Saif al-Islam Gaddafi to be arrested and sent to the Hague. It’s not clear where Gaddafi went after his release from captivity earlier this week, but his lawyer has made it pretty clear that he’s planning on a future in Libyan politics, not facing an international war crimes trial.

Chatham House’s Tim Eaton looks at one of the less-obvious reasons why peace in Libya has been elusive–because important players are making money off of the war:

A 900-mile electricity blackout would seem to have little connection to attempts to crack down on fuel smuggling. But in Libya, actions can have unforeseen consequences. In January, the National Oil Company accused a militia providing security for the Zawiya oil refinery of stealing and smuggling fuel. Not long after, supplies to a power station in the same city were shut down by “protesters” widely rumoured to be linked to the militia. This left the power station unable to supply the electrical grid, causing the largest blackout in Libya’s recent memory.

The message was clear: The militias will fight back if their income is threatened, and the U.N.-backed government can do little about it.

When analysts try to unpack the causes of Libya’s seemingly interminable cycles of instability and conflict, they generally focus on the political process and security. But they too often overlook an important driver of the conflict: a war economy that has become a major obstacle to peace and a threat to the future of the state.

The absence of a state is bad if you’re interested in stability, but could be good if you’re more interested in looting the wealth of the former state, or the Libyan people more generally.


The “Popular Movement” (Hirak al-Chaabi), the name for the protests still sweeping northern Morocco, shows no signs of slowing down, and activists are calling for royal intervention to address their concerns. People are angry at government abuses, corruption, and long-standing economic struggles in the Rif region, but their anger is with the civilian government rather than the monarchy. So far, though, King Mohammed VI hasn’t made any moves to intervene.


One outgrowth of the Boko Haram insurgency, and the government’s failure to stamp it out, has been the formation of a very large network of, well, I guess you can call them whatever you like: citizen defenders, vigilantes, militia. The Civilian Joint Task Force includes some 30,000 (!) members and has at times been the only thing fighting Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria. On the other hand, the CJTF has arguably intensified the Boko Haram conflict rather than countering it, is accused of its own array of human rights abuses, and now threatens to become a destabilizing force in the region all by itself. Its leaders have asked the Nigerian government for payment, which on the one hand isn’t that unreasonable but on the other hand carries a definite whiff of a threat–and on top of that, it’s not clear that its fighters are prepared to demobilize if and when the government requests it.


Just a horrific scene in Mogadishu unfolded Wednesday night into Thursday morning:

Islamic extremists attacked a popular Somalia restaurant in an overnight siege and killed 31 people – many at point-blank range – before they were slain by security forces, police said Thursday.

Survivors described harrowing scenes of hiding under tables and behind curtains as the five gunmen hunted for victims in the darkened Pizza House restaurant. Nearly 40 people were wounded.

Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack, which began Wednesday evening with a car bomb exploding at the gate to the restaurant and ended when troops secured the site after dawn, said senior police Capt. Mohamed Hussein.


Here’s another neat side-effect of the Saudi-Qatar conflict: Qatar is pulling about 200 troops out of the Djibouti-Eritrea frontier area, where they’ve been deployed as part of a peacekeeping mission since 2010. Both Djibouti and Eritrea have more or less gone along with the Saudi move to isolate and blockade Qatar.


According to UN investigators, the state of conflict that began when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced that he would run for a third term in office in April 2015 has never really abated. Nkurunziza’s state security and their paramilitary allies have continued disappearing and murdering political opponents ever since, though they’ve tried to be a bit more subtle about it since late last year.


Hey, here’s Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who definitely likes and is good pals with Donald Trump, roasting the shit out of Trump at a charity dinner in Canberra on Wednesday:

Love to make good, lighthearted fun of my friends, like Malcolm Turnbull does with his close friend Donald Trump.

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