Asia/Africa update: June 19-20 2017


BREAKING: Just in the past few minutes (it’s about 10:30 PM east coast time as I write this) reports have starting coming in about more Islamist militant activity on the Philippines’ southern Mindanao Island:

A police report said about 300 armed men, among them members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), stormed a school in Pigcawayan town in North Cotabato province on Mindanao island and were holding some students captive.

Members of the BIFF were engaged in a gunbattle with the military, Chief Inspector Realan Mamon, the police chief at Pigcawayan, said in a radio interview.

“We can confirm that they occupied a school and there were civilians trapped. We are in the process of determining how many were trapped and their identities,” Mamon said.

Pigcawayan is a bit under 200 km south of Marawi, where Philippine forces redoubled their efforts on Tuesday with an eye toward ending, maybe by this weekend, the nearly five week conflict that has almost emptied out that city. There is a concern that the ISIS-aligned fighters still holed up in Marawi could get reinforcements after Ramadan, which ends Saturday evening, and in addition the situation for displaced Marawi residents in short-term camps is approaching critical. This new situation in Pigcawayan threatens to bleed government manpower from Marawi, which may be the point.



There have been several small Taliban/ISIS attacks over the past couple of days:

  • Late Monday eight Afghan security guards were killed when they were ambushed on the way to work at Bagram airbase in Parwan province. Bagram is the largest US military facility in the country. The Taliban claimed credit for this attack.
  • On Tuesday, four Afghan police officers were killed by a roadside bomb in Helmand province. Helmand is a strong Taliban province so this was almost certainly their doing.
  • Also on Tuesday, an Afghan judge was killed in a bombing in Nangarhar province. This one was claimed by ISIS.

Additionally, at least one person was killed and six wounded on Tuesday in Kabul, when police inexplicably opened fire on a crowd of protesters. Police reportedly moved into dismantle a protester camp near the site of the major Kabul bombing on May 31–clashes resulted, and at some point it seems the police decided to kill some folks. Always a sensible choice.


The Trump administration is reportedly mulling over a major change in US policy toward Pakistan, one that tries to punish Islamabad for supporting the Taliban and other Afghan militant groups. What exactly that would look like isn’t clear, but it could involve cutting aid to Pakistan and even downgrading its alliance with Washington. Pakistan is certainly a huge contributor to instability in Afghanistan (and vice versa, hence Islamabad’s decision to start building a border wall between the two countries), but focusing efforts here and on things like US troop levels obscures the biggest impediment to defeating the Taliban and stabilizing Afghanistan (assuming that’s the goal, of course), which is that the Afghan government is an absolute nightmare. And pushing Pakistan too hard would probably push it further toward China. But still, it wouldn’t be the worst thing for Washington to start treating Pakistan as the terrorist enabler it is instead of pretending it’s a close ally in the fight against extremism.

On Tuesday, Baloch separatists gunned down two Pakistani naval officers in the town of Jewani.


Myanmar might be on the road to freedom and democracy, etc., but its Muslim citizens in some respects had it better under the old military junta:

Chit Tin, a 55-year-old Muslim man has prayed at the same madrassa in eastern Yangon his whole adult life, most of it spent under a junta that crushed opposition, ruined Myanmar’s economy and turned it into an international pariah state.

But even as the father-of-four endured poverty and isolation, the Muslim religious school, which doubles as a mosque, had remained a focal point of his community – until a month ago, when Buddhist nationalists raided it and forced authorities to shut it down on the grounds it did not have a permit to operate as a place of worship.

When Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, started some three weeks ago, hundreds of residents braved the monsoon rain to join prayers organized in the street nearby. Local authorities banned the event and threatened those attending with jail.

This is not to say that life today would be better for these people under the junta, but it is to say, once again, that the democratic government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has done pretty much fuck-all for these people.


Six Thai soldiers were killed on Monday by a roadside bomb in southern Thailand. The Muslim separatist insurgency in southern Thailand has been going on since 2004, rooted in long-standing grievances over the treatment of Muslims in the majority Buddhist state, and has killed over 6500 people.


Otto Warmbier, the US student arrested in North Korea last year who was returned to the US last week in a persistent vegetative state, has died. It’s still not clear what caused him to fall into a coma about a year ago, but it seems pretty clear that it wasn’t botulism, as the North Koreans have claimed, nor does it seem to have been trauma, as the doctors who have examined him haven’t found any signs of physical abuse. They believe he suffered some kind of respiratory arrest, but what caused it is unclear.

The one immediate takeaway from this is simple: don’t go to North Korea. Though North Korea might come for you anyway. But at least the tour company that organized Warmbier’s trip, which once called North Korea “probably one of the safest places on Earth to visit,” has gotten itself out of the North Korea travel business.



France and the US have found common ground on a UN Security Council resolution to “welcome” the creation of a 5000 man joint Sahel military unit to fight extremist groups. If that terminology seems odd, it’s because, well, it is. France wanted the UNSC to “authorize” the joint force under Article VII of the UN treaty, which gives the UN the authority to take action against threats to the peace. But Washington objected to giving the UN that kind of authority and to the possibility that the UN, ergo the US, might be on the hook to pay for the force. So France removed both of those items from the resolution, which now seems to pretty much do nothing except offer a big collective wave hello to the new organization.


Sunday’s attack on the resort in Bamako killed five people and has now been claimed by Mali’s al-Qaeda branch, Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimeen. Malian authorities are now saying that all the attackers were killed, contradicting earlier reports that one had gotten away.


Two suspected Boko Haram attacks in Borno state to mention: on Monday, five suicide bombers struck the village of Kofa, near Maiduguri, killing 12 people, and on Tuesday, two people were killed in an ambush of a police convoy about 30 km outside Maiduguri.


At least 15 people were killed Tuesday in an al-Shabab car bombing in Mogadishu.


The CAR’s warring factions signed a landmark peace deal in Rome on Monday…and then fighting almost immediately resumed in the town of Bria, where at least 40 people were killed on Tuesday.


The DRC’s Catholic Church has released a report on violence in the Kamwina Nsapu Rebellion, and it is appalling:

More than 3,000 people have been killed in a remote region in the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to a new report from Congo’s Catholic Church.

As NPR’s Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports, the violence in the central Kasai region erupted last August, “when the military killed Kamuina Nsapu, a chief who was calling for government forces to leave the region.” The Church has been trying to broker a peace deal. Here’s more from Ofeibea:

“Congo’s Catholic Church says the army, seeking to put down the insurrection, destroyed ten villages. The church also accuses the Kamuina Nsapu militia of killing hundreds of people, destroying four villages and attacking church property in its anti-government campaign.”

This comes as the U.N. human rights chief issued a new report on the violence there, describing “extremely grave, widespread and apparently planned attacks against the civilian population in the Kasais.”

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