Asia/Oceania/Africa update: September 23-25 2017



A car bomber attacked a NATO convoy in Kabul on Sunday, wounding several people but killing nobody (at least as yet).

Increasing Taliban activity in Afghanistan’s southern Oruzgan province has forced the closure of all or nearly all of the province’s medical facilities. The provincial government says the Taliban threatened the facilities unless the government agreed to effectively put them under Taliban management and to send medical personnel to treat Taliban fighters. The Taliban insists that government incompetence is the reason for the closure. Either way the people of the province are suffering.


Although Nawaz Sharif is barred from holding any political office, it appears he’s planning to resume his old gig as the boss of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party in fairly short order. This is going to present a challenge not only to the state institutions that removed him from the premiership, but also within the PML-N party, whose mid-level figures were eyeing a chance to move up in the world with Sharif sidelined.


The Myanmar military says that it found the bodies of 28 Hindu civilians killed in Rakhine state by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army last month. ARSA denies killing them, but Myanmar is trying to use their deaths to justify its subsequent ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya. It should go without saying, but even if ARSA did kill these people it would in no way justify the deaths of hundreds of Rohingya and displacement of hundreds of thousands more.


With operations in Marawi winding down to a close–still–this Reuters piece offers an interesting retrospective on the insurgency there and the errors the Philippine military made that allowed it to really take root:

Much of this bloodshed could have been avoided, local political leaders told Reuters.

Naguib Sinarimbo, a Muslim leader who has negotiated between the military and Islamic separatists for years, said he and other elders had urged the armed forces to allow militias and rival Islamist groups to take the lead in ousting the Islamic State militants.

The groups were familiar with Marawi’s terrain and, through family and clan links, could influence many of the fighters to lay down their weapons, they told the armed forces.

The proposal was rebuffed, Sinarimbo said. Air power, the military assured them, was the path to a quick win.

Four months later, “quick” is clearly no longer an option.


Trump may have deleted this tweet, I’m not sure, so here’s the screenshot:

Screen Shot 2017-09-25 at 6.54.49 PM

That’s US President Donald Trump threatening yet again to destroy the entire nation of North Korea, all ~25 million people included I guess. This time he tweeted it, which seems like it might be a violation of Twitter’s terms of service but who knows? I probably don’t even need to say this, but rest assured that Pyongyang took it calmly and totally in stride:

North Korea’s foreign minister has accused US President Donald Trump of declaring war on his country and said Pyongyang had the right to shoot down US bombers.

Ri Yong-ho said this could apply even if the warplanes were not in North Korea’s airspace.

Ah, well, good thing the US doesn’t regularly fly its bombers near North Korea the–oh, right, my mistake. Though you may feel like we’re at the “crack each other’s heads open” stage of this crisis, the totality of North Korea’s recent remarks does not reflect a regime intent on destroying itself by starting a nuclear war with the United States. But we are at a point where things can go sideways fairly easily.

The New York Times reported Friday, before this latest round of shouting, that the White House was “weighing” how to respond to North Korea’s threats, because Trump talking about “totally destroying” North Korea in front of the whole UN was just a generous offer, I guess. The threat to shoot down American aircraft is more specific than Trump’s general threat to wipe North Korea off the map, but I don’t think you can really call it an escalation unless you’re deeply committed to maintaining the illusion that America isn’t being a belligerent aggressor in these exchanges. Which of course the NYT is, but the rest of us don’t have to fall for their spin.


Somebody sent a bunch of fake alerts to US personnel in South Korea late last week advising them to evacuate. The Pentagon is investigating. Normally this is the kind of thing you pass off as a scam or prank, but given the overall situation on the Korean peninsula it’s a serious concern that someone tried to do something like this.


Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe announced on Sunday that he plans to dissolve parliament on Thursday and call for snap elections that will probably happen in late October. Abe is riding relatively high in the polls at the moment, so it’s a good time to call for new elections–as long as he doesn’t take criticism, fair or otherwise, for exploiting the North Korean situation to boost his electoral chances. Abe’s coalition may lose a few seats in the snap election, but it should retain its majority and in the process give itself another five years in power.



Neither of New Zealand’s two major parties came out of Saturday’s election with a majority, so both the incumbent National party and the opposition Labour party are courting the New Zealand First party, led by Winston Peters who is…hey, cool, a xenophobe:

Over the past nine years of National government, Peters has repeatedly opined on his many “bottom lines” if he were to form a coalition government with a major party at the next election.

These may include: plans to slash migration to 10,000 a year – a drop of more than 60,000 annually; a ban on foreigners buying land and establishing a foreign ownership register; moving public service jobs out of Wellington to regional areas; holding a referendum on the anti-smacking law; and installing New Zealand woollen carpets in all government departments, schools and agencies.




US airstrikes on a camp in central Libya, some 240 kilometers south of Sirte, killed 17 people on Sunday. The Pentagon has classified all the dead as ISIS fighters, so I guess we’ll have to take their word for it because it’s not like they’ve ever gotten that sort of thing wrong before.

Around 2000 people rallied in Tripoli on Monday for Basit Igtet, a “Swiss-based Libyan businessman” who has proposed that instead of the country being run by the Government of National Accord or Khalifa Haftar, why not put him in charge instead? Why not, indeed?


Three United Nations soldiers were killed by an improvised explosive device in northern Mali on Sunday.


Kenya’s chief prosecutor has ordered an investigation into possible corruption at the country’s electoral commission, in the wake of August’s election results being annulled by the Kenyan Supreme Court. The court offered no opinion on whether the commission or any of its members intentionally mangled the August results in its ruling. Challenger Raila Odinga has threatened to boycott the election’s scheduled October 26 do-over unless changes are made to the commission.


As you may have already heard, the Trump administration presented a new iteration of its travel ban on Sunday that targets eight countries. Five of them–Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen–were already on the list, while two others–North Korea and Venezuela–were put there because they make Donald Trump angry and also too because they’re non-Muslim countries so maybe people will stop calling this a “Muslim ban” pretty please? The eighth country is Chad, and frankly nobody can seem to figure out exactly why Chad got put on the list.

Chad regularly gets praise from Washington for its cooperation in counter-terrorism matters, so it’s a little strange to suddenly learn that it “does not adequately share public safety and terrorism related information.” And while Chad has a significant terrorism problem–or, more precisely, a lot of small terrorism problems–there’s no explanation why they made the list and countries whose terrorism problems are causing Chad’s terrorism problems–Nigeria, for example, or Mali–didn’t. Nor can anybody seem to explain how Sudan got off the list while Chad got put on, except insofar as UAE ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba has apparently been lobbying the Trump administration on Khartoum’s behalf. It’s possible that Chad’s weakening economy, another victim of cheap oil, has left it less able to deal with its own internal security and that’s the reason for its inclusion, but so far the Trump administration hasn’t explained its decision.

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