Asia/Africa update: June 21 2017



Uh-oh, looks like the Pentagon made a little fashion faux pas in Afghanistan:

US taxpayers unnecessarily spent $28m on uniforms for the Afghan National Army, according to the US inspector general tasked with overseeing the war.

In a scathing report, John Sopko said that officials bought “forest” pattern uniforms, despite the country’s landscape being only 2.1% wooded.

The decision was “not based on an evaluation of its appropriateness for the Afghan environment”, he wrote.

You don’t say.

A former Afghan defence minister chose the pattern in 2007, he says.

In the 17-page report, Mr Sopko writes that Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak chose the privately owned pattern over a cheaper pattern that the US military already owned.

US officials, who had been searching for patterns online with Mr Wardak, authorised the purchase because he “liked what he saw”, they wrote at the time.

Oh, cool, the defense minister for the least functional government on the planet picks a color and we drop $28 million on something that’s not only a waste of money but actually puts soldiers’ lives at risk. I guess it’s lucky Wardak wasn’t feeling into fluorescents that day.


Pakistani forces apparently shot down an Iranian drone flying in Pakistani airspace in Balochistan province on Wednesday. Iran has been complaining about Baloch separatists based in Pakistan crossing the border to strike Iranian targets, and its threats to strike them in Pakistan have not been well-received by Islamabad.


The US government is asking Miranda Kerr, the model, to surrender $3.8 million worth of jewelry bought for her by her ex-boyfriend, Malaysian financier Jho Low, apparently using money embezzled from what was supposed to be a Malaysian development account and laundered through a US bank. The scandal is threatening to take down Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, but more importantly when am I ever going to get an opportunity to mention Miranda Kerr on this blog again? Gotta get those celebrity clicks, baby.


Islamic militants who seized a school in Mindanao Island’s Pigcawayan village earlier today held it for about 12 hours before escaping, apparently leaving all of their 31 hostages unharmed. A spokesman for the group behind the attack, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, said their actions had nothing to do with the ongoing fighting in nearby Marawi and that they have no ties to the Maute Group or Abu Sayyaf, the two groups behind the Marawi situation. The 200 Bangsamoro fighters apparently attacked a government outpost nearby earlier in the day and seized the school while they tried to formulate an escape plan.

In what has to be the single least surprising bit of news ever, Philippine police are reportedly using President Rodrigo Duterte’s ultra-violent war on drugs as cover for extortion:

A year after Rodrigo Duterte won the presidency on a promise to kill all the country’s drug users and dealers, an estimated 9,000 people are dead, either shot in police raids with high death tolls and few witnesses, or killed by assailants on motorbikes, often after being named by police.

President Trump recently praised the campaign, but several investigations have found that police routinely fabricate reports to justify extrajudicial killings.

Less well-documented is how Philippine police are capitalizing on the chaos. The investigative raid on Police Station No. 1, reconstructed based on previously unreleased footage from the scene, provides the closest look yet at how officers allegedly use illegal detention and violence to extort cash — and how tough it is to stop them.

With pictures of the prisoners splashed across television screens, Duterte, in a rare admission of potential police wrongdoing, was forced to call for an investigation. But more than a month on, no officer has been charged. Nor, for that matter, have the detainees been freed.


Donald Trump’s National Security Council is apparently obsessed with Graham Allison’s “Thucydides Trap.” Allison, a Harvard professor and former NSC official in the Reagan and Clinton administrations, has compared the US-China dynamic to the Sparta-Athens dynamic described by the Greek historian, arguing that just as Athens’ rise to power frightened Sparta and made war inevitable, so China’s rise might make a war with the US inevitable unless wise leaders on both sides avoid falling into the same trap. He’s even written a book about it, citing a number of similar cases throughout history. I think the important, and potentially scary, takeaway from this is that some folks inside the Trump administration may see a war with China as inevitable. Steve Bannon apparently does, but are there others?

Relations with China appear to be souring a bit as the Trump administration has begun to wonder when Beijing is going to get serious about pressuring North Korea. To wit:

Trump’s top diplomat took a harsher stance on Wednesday:

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Wednesday that Beijing has a “responsibility to exert much greater economic and diplomatic pressure on the regime if they want to prevent further escalation in the region.”

Tillerson also raised the issue of human rights in China and the “militarization of outposts in the South China Sea.”

The remarks, in a joint press conference with Secretary of Defense James Mattis at the State Department, largely restated longstanding US concerns related to China, but more importantly helped clarify the administration’s policy given Trump’s oblique — and generally complementary — tweets about Chinese President Xi Jinping.


At that same joint press conference, Mattis spoke harshly about North Korea in the wake of Otto Warmbier’s death:

“We see a young man go over there healthy, and with a minor act of mischief, come home dead, basically,” Mattis said. Warmbier was arrested on a tourist trip to North Korea in January 2016 and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor on sham charges. “There is no way that we can look at a situation like this with any kind of understanding. This is — goes beyond any kind of understanding of law and order, of humanity, of responsibility towards any human being,” Mattis said.



For more on Sunday’s terrorist attack in Bamako, check out Alex Thurston’s Sahel Blog:

A claim of responsibility (Arabic) soon came from Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wa-l-Muslimin (Group for Supporting Islam and Muslims, JNIM). JNIM, an umbrella group for Malian and Saharan jihadists, formed in March of this year. It is part of al-Qaida’s northwest African affiliate al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. JNIM’s statement emphasizes the idea that the attack targeted “the Crusaders occupying our homes and violating our security and our identity.” JNIM added that the attack was meant “to announce…once again to the Crusaders that there is no safety for them on our land.” Not much subtlety there: JNIM wants to weaken the will of Western expatriates to live in Mali, work with the Malian government, train Mali’s armed forces, etc. The attack is in keeping with the strategy laid out this spring by JNIM’s leader Iyad Ag Ghali, who hopes in part “to exhaust the enemy by targeting him in every place in which he is present.”


At least 100 people have been killed in the town of Bria since early Tuesday in clashes between the CAR’s warring factions. You’ll recall that the leaders of those factions signed a peace deal in Rome on Monday that called for an immediate ceasefire, so I guess we know how much control those leaders have over their fighters.

Meanwhile, some 630 UN peacekeepers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo are leaving the country amid multiple reports of sexual abuse.

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