Asia/Africa update: August 31 2017



A mine killed three police officers in Afghanistan’s western Farah province on Wednesday, while another mine in the country’s eastern Paktya province killed a man trying to disarm it on Thursday.

Fortunately, help (?) is on the way, I guess. US Defense Secretary James Mattis on Thursday signed orders sending more American soldiers to Afghanistan to Do Something to help the Afghan government defeat the Taliban or at least stop losing the war . He wouldn’t say how many soldiers were part of the new deployment.


Former Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf has been declared a fugitive by a Pakistani court in Rawalpindi. Musharraf failed to show in court for a trial over the 2007 assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Two senior police officials were sentenced to 17 years in prison for negligence over the incident and for botching, perhaps deliberately, the investigation. But nobody has ever been convicted in the assassination itself, and Musharraf, who now lives in Dubai, is alleged to have been a conspirator.


Rodrigo Duterte’s interior ministry wants to increase the budget for its spree killing campaign war on drugs from 20 million pesos this year to 900 million pesos next year, a whopping 4400 percent increase that has lawmakers worried about what kind of body count that figure is likely to entail.


In the wake of its big Doklam standoff with India, Beijing now says it will “strengthen” its military deployments in the region but also “adjust” them, which could mean anything. The Chinese statement reads like a bit of post-hoc chest puffing from a country that, in the absence of any information about the deal it reached with India, seems to have been the one to back down.


At the Atlantic, Ankit Panda assesses Pyongyang’s decision to overfly Japan during Tuesday’s missile test:

Even as Tokyo reckons with the arrival of its long-feared nightmare, it’s important to recognize that there are important reasons for Pyongyang—which remains rational despite the metronymic exhortations of many analysts to the contrary—to continue to overfly Japan with its missiles.

On a technical level, a ballistic missile flown at the kind of trajectory North Korea demonstrated this week experiences physical and temperature stresses more in line with what it would see during operational use. North Korea’s “lofted” tests, which fly the missile to immense altitudes, keeping its range contained to the Sea of Japan, provide some useful data in this regard. However, a launch like this week’s gives North Korean scientists a chance to observe how the missile may perform in a real attack. (There are outstanding questions, though, about how North Korea would have gathered telemetry data from this missile in the northern Pacific Ocean, where it is thought to have splashed down.)

On a strategic level, Pyongyang hopes that these kinds of tests get Japan and South Korea to question the utility of their respective alliances with the United States. North Korea made clear it undertook this launch because Washington ignored its previous overture—yes, the Guam saga was actually an invitation to negotiations—and carried on with the Ulchi-Freedom Guardian exercise with South Korea.


The US, South Korea, and Japan staged a major joint aerial exercise on Wednesday as a response to North Korea’s recent missile tests. Notably, the exercise included the US F-35B, the Marine Corps’ short takeoff and vertical landing variant, and even more notably, none of its pilots appear to have been asphyxiated nor did the plane fall apart due to flying in direct sunlight. Progress!



ISIS claimed credit for a car bombing in eastern Libya on Thursday that killed four soldiers from the Libyan National Army.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is planning a trip to Libya to meet with the two sides of that country’s civil war. Government of National Accord head Fayez al-Serraj and LNA commander Khalifa Haftar came to a general, tentative agreement last month on ending the war and moving toward elections, but since then there’s been little news of any further progress.


You’ll have to indulge my Ancient Rome and food interests for a minute, but this is pretty cool:

Roman ruins stretching out over 20 hectares have been discovered off the coast of northeastern Tunisia, confirming “with certainty” a theory that the city of Neapolis was partly submerged by a tsunami in the 4th century AD.

“It’s a major discovery,” Mounir Fantar, the head of a Tunisian-Italian archaeological mission which made the find off the coast of Nabeul, told AFP news agency on Thursday.

He said that an underwater expedition had found streets, monuments and about 100 tanks used to produce garum, a fermented fish-based condiment that was a favourite of ancient Rome.

Garum, if you’re unfamiliar, is the ancestor of modern ketchup, which was a fermented fish sauce before it became a tomato-based thing. You may find that troubling, but I grew up in the home of Heinz ketchup so I love the stuff.

This was right down the hill from my high school (via)

Only Heinz though. And not on a hot dog, that’s an abomination.

Did you know Heinz varies its recipe for different parts of the world? The stuff I used to find in Qatar was made in Egypt and had more sweetener than vinegar, which I find appalling. There was one grocery store that imported real Heinz ketchup (more vinegar than sweetener) from the UK, but for ketchup it was incredibly expensive.

Anyway, parts of Neapolis have survived to the present day as the coastal town of Nabeul, in northern Tunisia. The city was founded in the 5th century BCE by Greek colonists from Cyrene, in modern Libya.


A suicide attack in the west Algerian town of Tiaret on Thursday killed two police officers. There’s been no claim of responsibility yet as far as I’ve seen. ISIS seems like the safe bet, but al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is also a possibility.


Regular readers may remember the case of Paul Malong, the former chief of the South Sudanese army who was sacked by President Salva Kiir in May, ominously left the capital in a “convoy” while insisting he had no plans to form a new armed faction in South Sudan’s civil war, then was quickly recalled to Juba to, uh, remain where Kiir could find him, I guess. Well, it turns out Malong is now under house arrest in Juba, though the government isn’t calling it an “arrest” and isn’t saying why. Either Malong was/is a threat to form his own faction or Kiir is being paranoid, your guess is as good as mine.


Somali authorities have reportedly handed an Ethiopian rebel leader named Abdikarin Sheikh Muse over to the Ethiopian government. Abdikarin is/was the leader of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), which has been fighting for the secession of Ethiopia’s eastern Ogaden region (officially called the Somali Regional State, though historically I think Ogaden is slightly larger than the modern province) since the 1980s. The Somali government detained him last week. This case is generating some controversy because he may have been in Somalia as a refugee, in which case handing him over to the Ethiopians would violate UN conventions on refugee rights.


The Somali government says that ten people who were killed in a joint Somali-US raid on the village of Bariire last Friday were actually civilians. Whoops! The area around Bariire is unstable due to inter-clan fighting, which has made it a safe haven for al-Shabab. As part of the settlement for these deaths, and in addition to monetary compensation and state funerals, tribal leaders in the region want the government to mediate those tribal conflicts to help drive al-Shabab out of the area and this preclude the possibility of another botched raid.


Two people were killed by gunmen and three seriously wounded in a separate bombing in Kenya’s Lamu county on Thursday. Al-Shabab is believed to be responsible.

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