Asia/Australia/Africa update: June 28-29 2017



One of Uzbekistan’s more charming features is the annual enslavement of much of its population to pick cotton, which remains one of the country’s most important products. The World Bank has implemented projects in Uzbekistan that are meant to diversify its agricultural sector away from cotton, but a new Human Rights Watch investigation finds that forced labor is happening on those projects too. They’re calling on the bank to do a better job of monitoring and responding to human rights abuses.


NATO has agreed to deploy 3000 additional soldiers to Afghanistan, which presumably means that US plans to deploy 4000 additional soldiers there are also going forward. Defense Secretary James Mattis on Thursday blamed the ongoing struggles in that country on the Obama administration’s decision to draw down US forces there too quickly.

I’m sure he’s right.

I’m sure that the problem with the Afghanistan War is that America rushed to get its soldiers out of there a scant 15 fucking years after the war started, and not because America has no idea how to strategize or even define victory in a conflict that was from the very beginning a poorly conceived combination revenge strike and colonial expansion effort.

I’m sure the struggles there are related to a shortage of American manpower rather than to a government, installed on purpose by the United States, that consists of petty local warlords kicking nominal allegiance and real cash upstairs to the thoroughly corrupt bureaucracy in Kabul. Nothing that a few thousand more US and European soldiers can’t fix. Heck, by 2050, 2060 at the outside, most of these Taliban dudes are going to be dead of old age anyway, so we’ve got that going for us.

Yeah, I’m sure that’ll do the trick.

By the by, the New York Times says ISIS is finally gaining a real foothold in Afghanistan. I think this must be fake news, because America dropped a BIG-ASS BOMB on ISIS in Afghanistan and, well, obviously that was the end of that. Do better, NYT.


Pakistani Shiʿa have been engaging in sit-ins in Islamabad and in the majority Shiʿa Kurram region in protest since Friday’s terrorist attack in Parachinar, which targeted Shiʿa civilians. They’re demanding greater protection and more recognition from the government.


A spate of attacks against Rohingya individuals in Rakhine state has caused hundreds to flee and has Myanmar authorities on high alert against more violence. And when I say “more violence,” I mean they’re on high alert over the possibility of Rohingya reprisal attacks, because they clearly don’t give a shit about Rohingya being attacked.


Muslims in the Philippines aren’t particularly well-treated. Some report facing discrimination and many feel resentment that Christians from the northern islands have moved south to Mindanao and displaced them to a certain extent. But still, things could be worse. And many Philippine Muslims are worried that the ongoing battle in Marawi is going to make things worse, inviting a backlash from Christians, from the government, or both.

Of course, with a thoughtful and level-headed leader like President Rodrigo Duterte–who’s doing fine, thanks for asking–in charge, there’s not much to worry about in terms of a government overreaction. Why just this week, Duterte publicly urged his soldiers to take every precaution to preserve civilian lives in Marawi hahaha, I’m kidding, he actually told them to shoot first and ask questions later, or maybe never. His words must be comforting to the remaining civilians in Marawi, civilians who have been forced to do horrible things by the Islamist militants holding the city and are being murdered anyway for their trouble. It’s called leadership, folks.


China and the Philippines are in a “golden period” in the history of their relationship, apparently, so they’ve got that going for them. On the downside, Beijing is reportedly building new military facilities in the South China Sea, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.


The Trump administration is planning to sell $1.3 billion in military hardware, including radar and missiles, to Taiwan. US weapons sales to Taiwan are not unique, but this one is a bit unique in that it’s the first one under the Trump administration, which seemed to be taking a more conciliatory approach to Beijing until recently on account of North Korea and the beautiful cake that Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping ate together and Mar-a-Lago. And, of course, before he and Xi bonded over that cake, Trump did take that controversial phone call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen right after he won the election, angering the Chinese government. Needless to say the Chinese government will not be thrilled about this sale.


Then again, maybe the Trump administration doesn’t care anymore. Trump himself is reportedly “frustrated” that China isn’t doing more on North Korea and is considering reverting to Campaign Donald, who couldn’t complain about China often enough, rather than President Donald who had the beautiful chocolate cake. Step one may be implementing tariffs on Chinese steel coming into the US.

Xi visited Hong Kong on Thursday for celebrations marking 20 years since the city was handed over from Britain to China, and promised a “far-reaching future” for Hong Kong autonomy. Which must have come as a huge surprise to the couple dozen or so pro-democracy activists who were arrested in advance of Xi’s arrival. In the 20 years since Hong Kong was supposed to become a prion of freedom eating away at China’s authoritarian brain or whatever, what’s actually happened is that Beijing has imposed its will on Hong Kong, and I think it’s fair to say that many people in Hong Kong are angry about that.


Lo and behold, though, here’s a Chinese action against North Korea:

China National Petroleum Corp has suspended sales of fuel to North Korea over concerns the state-owned oil company won’t get paid, as pressure mounts on Pyongyang to rein in its nuclear and missile programmes, three sources told Reuters.

It’s unclear how long the suspension will last. A prolonged cut would threaten critical supplies of fuel and force North Korea to find alternatives to its main supplier of diesel and gasoline, as scrutiny of China’s close commercial ties with its increasingly isolated neighbour intensifies.

Of course, this suspension seems to have been more about the bottom line than about a desire to do Trump any favors, and if things get too tense in Pyongyang (fuel prices have reportedly been going up for weeks now) then Beijing may decide to unsuspend these sales in order to fend off serious instability.

Pyongyang is imposing the “death penalty” on former South Korean President Park Geun-hye over charges that she attempted to kill North Korea’s leaders. I’m honestly not sure what this means–is North Korea going to try to murder Park? Or does she just have to stay out of North Korea, which, hey, we all have our crosses to bear I guess.


Beijing is accusing the Australian government of spying on its embassy and “harassing” its citizens:

Quoting an unidentified official with “China’s national security department”, the Global Times tabloid said the Australian government was spying on China and monitoring Chinese people in Australia.

“The national security department staffer said Australia’s agents in disguise would get close to Chinese people working or living overseas to collect information or even encourage them to subvert China,” the report said.

“Meanwhile, in the name of avoiding ‘Chinese spy threats’, Australian intelligence operatives are closely monitoring Chinese people and the Chinese Embassy in Australia,” it said.



Libya’s instability has allowed it to become a combination safe haven and arms bazaar for rebel fighters from northern Chad and Sudan’s Darfur region, according to the Small Arms Survey group in Geneva. Worse, these forces have gotten sucked into the Libyan civil war itself, on opposing sides:

Some 1,500 Sudanese fighters may currently be in Libya, mostly deployed with forces loyal to eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar, said Jerome Tubiana, a co-author of the report.

About 1,000 Chadians are based with anti-Haftar forces, and several hundred more are either trying to stay neutral or are willing to work for either said, he said.

The report cited several examples of Chadian and Sudanese groups being stationed in the central desert region of Jufra, a recent flashpoint for fighting between pro-Haftar forces and their foes, and in Benghazi, where Haftar’s forces have been waging a long campaign against Islamists and other opponents.


Don’t worry about those Darfur rebels, though, because the UN is fixing Darfur’s problems by gutting its peacekeeping force there. Why? Well, because the Trump administration wants it that way, of course!

Keeping the peace? Fuck that, why the hell would we want to spend money on that bullshit?


Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has decided to postpone a planned July 9 constitutional referendum on creating a senate and expanding presidential authority. Sahel expert Alex Thurston has more on this.


Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Wikimedia | Sean Hurt)

Liberia is facing historic elections in October, as they will be the first since the country’s civil war not to involve President (and Nobel laureate) Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who is term-limited. The potential for back-sliding toward the conflicts of the civil war era is there, so the UN’s envoy to Liberia is cautioning security services to be prepared:

Liberia’s future as a stable democracy hinges on successful presidential and legislative elections in October and broad acceptance that they are free and fair followed by a smooth transfer of power, the U.N. envoy to the West African nation said Tuesday.

Farid Zarif told the Security Council that “no major threats are envisaged beyond possible isolated and sporadic incidents” during the election period and transition of government in January.

But he said “it will be crucial that Liberia’s law enforcement agencies are adequately prepared to respond to potential low-level civil unrest and mob violence during this delicate period.”


The so-called “New Delta Avengers” have decided not to start attacking Nigeria’s oil facilities on June 30. They say they’re going to allow more time for Niger Delta leaders to negotiate a more favorable distribution of the country’s oil wealth with the central government.


Author and Lord’s Resistance Army expert Ledio Cakaj looks back on the now-defunct mission to capture LRA leader Joseph Kony and its ultimate failure:

Codenamed Operation Observant Compass, the U.S. anti-Kony mission was launched in October 2011 after years of lobbying by human rights advocates culminated in the passage of the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009, which Obama signed into law in May 2010. Approximately 100 American Green Berets, many with previous tours of Afghanistan and Pakistan, deployed to Uganda, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic (CAR) to aid the Ugandan Army in its ongoing campaign against the LRA. Beginning in 2012, U.S. forces participated in some joint patrols with the Ugandans, but mostly they provided intelligence, air, and logistics support.

With the Americans mostly on the sidelines, the success of the mission was largely dependent on the performance and commitment of the Ugandan Army, which had tried and failed to deal with the LRA for nearly a quarter-century. Estimated at 50,000 troops, including a modest air wing, the Uganda People’s Defense Force has never fully outgrown its rebel infancy. Many of the so-called bush commanders who led the insurgency that brought President Yoweri Museveni to power in 1986 are still in charge, presiding over an army that has been accused of corruption, indiscipline, and human rights abuses. In fact, the LRA was formed in 1987 as a response to those abuses, though Museveni’s government has largely succeeded in portraying Kony as a lunatic and his followers as irrational.

Reassured by their own propaganda, Ugandan Army analysts devoted little time to building a cogent theory of how the LRA operated, and they never fully grasped Kony’s extraordinary ability to survive and evade capture. Underestimating the LRA would prove a costly error. After an early and abortive attempt at peace, Kony secured the backing of the Sudanese government, which was battling Ugandan-backed rebels in its southern regions and happy to train and equip his army of abducted child soldiers — so long as they carried out the occasional attack against the southern Sudanese rebels. The Ugandans launched operation after operation against the LRA, but were thwarted by poor equipment and lack of contingency planning. Operation Iron Fist, launched in 2002, for example, pushed the LRA from southern Sudan back into northern Uganda, where they wreaked havoc on the civilian population.

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