Asia/Africa update: July 11 2017



I’m going to start by repeating something I added to last night’s update after it had posted, just in case people haven’t seen it. It’s about the Trump administration’s still-developing plan for Afghanistan:

President Trump’s advisers recruited two businessmen who profited from military contracting to devise alternatives to the Pentagon’s plan to send thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan, reflecting the Trump administration’s struggle to define its strategy for dealing with a war now 16 years old.

Erik D. Prince, a founder of the private security firm Blackwater Worldwide, and Stephen A. Feinberg, a billionaire financier who owns the giant military contractor DynCorp International, have developed proposals to rely on contractors instead of American troops in Afghanistan at the behest of Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, and Jared Kushner, his senior adviser and son-in-law, according to people briefed on the conversations.

At this point this seems like a White House idea, pushed by Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner, but it’s been rejected by Defense Secretary James Mattis. But Prince and Feinberg are grifters whose ideas for what to do in Afghanistan would just so happen to greatly enrich their own companies. Feinberg’s plan is straightforward: the government should hire DynCorp to train the Afghan military. Prince’s is sublimely unhinged, though–he suggests the US should appoint an Afghan “viceroy” and then hire the East India Company Blackwater to provide that viceroy with a private army. That’s the good shit right there.

The Taliban attacked a security checkpoint in Laghman province late Monday night, killing two Afghan police officers. Afghan officials say that five Taliban fighters were killed in the clash, including one of the group’s senior commanders.


Now that a formal investigation has concluded that something about Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s family’s wealth isn’t adding up, opposition leaders are calling on him to resign his office. The investigation found that Sharif’s family has accumulated wealth beyond what it should have been able to accumulate given its collective earnings, and that Sharif’s children have signed fraudulent documents to try to hide that wealth. His family and political allies are naturally denying the charges. It’s now up to the country’s Supreme Court whether to take this case to trial.


Indian Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said Tuesday that recent border tensions between India and China in the Himalayas can be resolved by the two countries short of conflict:

Asked specifically about the recent confrontation in the Himalayan region, Jaishankar said the neighbors had experience dealing with such situations.

“It is a long border,” Jaishankar said. “As you know, no part of the border has been agreed upon. It is likely that from time to time there are differences.”

He added, “It is not the first time that has happened. And when such situations arise, how we handle it…is a test of our maturity.

“I see no reason why, when having handled so many situations in the past, we would not be able to handle it.”


Beijing has begun sending personnel to Djibouti to build China’s new naval base there. This facility will be China’s first overseas naval base, though they’re trying to refer to it as a “facility” rather than a “base” because I guess the former sounds less imperialist or something.


The Chinese government is starting to get irritated at the argument that it, and it alone, is responsible for reining in North Korea:

Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters Tuesday that China was upholding its obligations under United Nations resolutions on North Korea, while other countries were fanning the crisis while damaging China’s interests by their actions.

“China is not to be blamed for the current escalation of tension, nor does China hold the key to resolve the issue,” Geng said at a daily news briefing.

“If China is striving to put out the fire, while the others are fueling the flame … how can China’s efforts achieve expected outcomes? How can the tension be eased? How can the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue be resolved?” Geng said.

Saying some unidentified parties were circulating the “China responsibility theory,” Geng said they were operating with “ulterior motivations” and sought to shrug off their own responsibilities.

“Absolving oneself of responsibility is not OK. Tearing down bridges after crossing the river is not OK. Stabbing in the back is even less OK,” Geng said.

One other thing that has been irritating Beijing is, of course, the presence of a US THAAD missile defense system in South Korea. The US says it successfully tested a different THAAD system, in Alaska, against a simulated intermediate-range ballistic missile on Tuesday. This is the first time THAAD has been tested against an intermediate-range missile and, assuming the test wasn’t rigged, suggests that the system can defend against more than just short-range devices (though it would be useless against an intercontinental ballistic missile).



The European Union has been spending money to bolster the Libyan coast guard in an effort to stem the tide of migrants trying to get to Europe via Libya. In the absence of a stable Libyan government this has seemed like a bit of a dubious policy choice. But as it turns out, it’s more than dubious, because in the absence of a stable Libyan government, instead of fighting Libya’s human trafficking network the coast guard has become part of it:

The European Union has poured tens of millions of dollars into supporting Libya’s coast guard in search-and-rescue operations off the coast. But the violent tactics of some units and allegations of human trafficking have generated concerns about the alliance.

The sea incident and other accounts of abuses come amid a deepening battle between human rights groups and authorities over the flow of tens of thousands seeking refuge to Europe.

The tensions are particularly prevalent in the seaside city of Zawiyah, where the coast guard is aligned with a powerful militia and armed groups are fighting to control revenue from smuggling people and oil. The factions are among the European Union’s dubious partners in efforts to stop mostly African migrants from reaching its shores.

To most migrants, being “rescued” by the coast guard means a forced return to Libya, where they are exposed to more abuse, incarcerated and even sold again to smugglers.

Coast guard workers haven’t been paid in months because there’s no government to pay them. The Libyan Navy was decimated during the civil war and can’t be rebuilt because there’s no government to rebuild it, so coastal warlords, the people who engage in human trafficking, are being deputized to monitor human trafficking. In other words, throwing money at this problem in the absence of a stable Libyan government has been a very, very bad idea.


The US State Department is expected to announce Wednesday whether it will lift major banking sanctions against Sudan. On Tuesday, the Sudanese government said it has complied with all of Washington’s demands for lifting those sanctions and so it expects the State Department to issue a favorable ruling. But there’s still some chance things could go the other way. Sudan will still be designated as a state supporter of terrorism regardless of how the State Department rules tomorrow, so even if it does lift sanctions banks and other firms may still be reluctant to jump into the Sudanese market.


New fighting in the eastern DRC has displaced some 80,000 people since it began last month, according to the United Nations, which to be honest is barely a drop in the bucket compared to the country’s overall displacement problem:

The latest fighting broke out in South Kivu province’s Fizi territory, in the eastern part of the country. Government troops clashed with the National Coalition of the People for the Sovereignty of Congo (CNPSC), a new alliance of local self-defense militias, the U.N. Organization for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a new report.

The rebels seized several towns last month before being beaten back by government troops, according to the army, which said at least a dozen people were killed in the clashes.

Conflict has forced more than 1.5 million Congolese to flee their homes this year, far more than in Iraq or Syria. More than 3,000 have died since last October in an insurrection against the government in central Congo’s Kasai region

With the DRC’s 2016 presidential election having failed to occur in 2016 and now unlikely to take place in 2017 (and, frankly, 2018 isn’t looking so hot either), Washington appears ready to slap another round of sanctions on anybody seen as hindering a democratic transition there.


President Edgar Lungu got the state of emergency he’s been after on Tuesday, when parliament voted to give it to him for at least the next 90 days. Opposition lawmakers boycotted the vote and are accusing Lungu of trying to consolidate power. Political tensions have been growing in Zambia since opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema was arrested in April on questionable charges of trying to overthrow the government.

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