Asia/Africa update: September 27-28 2017



Defense Secretary James Mattis visited Afghanistan on Wednesday, and either ISIS or the Taliban decided to welcome him to the country by firing rockets at Kabul’s international airport after his flight touched down. Both groups claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed at least one civilian, wounded 11 more, and forced the airport to close. In response, American forces decided for some reason that it would be a good idea to conduct airstrikes in support of the Afghan operation to track down the attackers. Airstrikes. In Kabul, a city of some 4.6 million people. Six civilians were wounded in the strikes and people, justifiably I think, are a little pissed off.

Elsewhere on Wednesday, 12 Afghan police officers were killed by a car bomb in Kandahar province, near the Pakistani border.


The Diplomat’s Umair Jamal looks at the continued growth of extremist movements in Pakistan, despite Islamabad’s efforts to control it:

Pakistan launched a major counterterrorism campaign more than two years ago to contain militancy in the country. One of the core aspects of Pakistan’s recent counterterrorism campaign was to revise the country’s public education curriculum, which has been filled with religiously inspired nationalistic rhetoric, and to regulate religious seminaries all across Pakistan, which continue to radicalize young minds. Unfortunately, beyond making tactical gains related to killing militants that are targeting the state, the country’s counterterrorism campaign has not achieved anything.


According to Pakistani sources, one person was killed by Indian soldiers on Wednesday in a village along Kashmir’s line of control.


Buddhist mobs trying to murder Rohingya isn’t just a Myanmar thing anymore:

In Tuesday’s incident, the Sri Lankan monks and nationalists stoned the shelter, prompting its 31 Rohingya occupants – mainly women and children – to flee for their own safety, witnesses said. No injuries were reported.

In a statement, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said the incident was alarming, saying the refugees had been victims of violence and persecution in Myanmar, from which some 422,000 Rohingya have fled to nearby Bangladesh over the past month.


The number of Rohingya who have fled into Bangladesh is now over 500,000, and United Nations Secretary General António Guterres used the occasion of UN Security Council meeting on the crisis to urge Myanmar to cease its clearing operations in Rakhine state. The Myanmar government has decided to postpone a planned UN tour of Rakhine, which I’m sure isn’t as ominous as it seems. The prospects for a better future for the Rohingya are not good, given that villages that have been torched by the Myanmar military are apparently now property of Myanmar, thanks to an interesting legal quirk:

“According to the law, burnt land becomes government-managed land,” Minister for Social Development, Relief and Resettlement Win Myat Aye told a meeting in the Rakhine state capital of Sittwe, the Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper said.

This is apparently true even when it was the government that set fire to the place. How convenient. Anyway, for some reason people are concerned that the government taking over the lands from which it already chased the Rohingya means that the Rohingya aren’t going to be invited to come back. Seems paranoid to me.


Former Thai Prime Minister–and fugitive from the military junta’s idea of justice–Yingluck Shinawatra is in Dubai, according to said junta. I’d have gone with Oman myself, but to each his or her own I guess. If she’s looking for something to do, the spice souk is remarkable and much cooler than the gold souk in my opinion.


Don’t look now, but the death toll in his war on drugs seems to be having a bit of an impact on Rodrigo Duterte’s popularity:

“September 21 is not a holiday. I have declared it as a Day of Protest. All those who want to protest against the government, the police, everyone… you go down and we will protest,” Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte confidently dared his opponents ahead of massive protests organised against his controversial rule.

As many as 20,000 anti-Duterte protesters, composed of leftist-communist blocs, liberal civil society groups, and individuals from all walks of life, participated in separate massive rallies across Manila. They eventually converged in the Luneta Park, where the statue of 19th-century national hero Jose Rizal has stood as an inspiration for freedom fighters throughout the decades.

For Duterte’s critics, it was nothing short of a Day of Rage, as protesters called for an end to Duterte’s heavy-handed crackdown on illegal drugs and declaration of Martial Law in the southern island of Mindanao, where the government is fighting against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL also known as ISIS) affiliated groups.

A survey taken in June, and things have only gotten worse since then, found that 54 percent of Philippine citizens don’t believe police who say that the people they’ve killed were resisting arrest. So that might have something to do with rising discontent with Duterte. Which in turn may have something to do with the fact that the Philippine President is suddenly full of nice things to say about the United States, which remains broadly popular in the Philippines even with Donald Trump in office.


The Washington Post’s Anna Fifield and Emily Rauhala write something that should be obvious but clearly hasn’t penetrated into most American reporting about North Korea:

Although the threats are colorful — on both sides — experts on North Korea say they are in keeping with North Korea’s history of bluster and do not signal a significant change in North Korea’s thinking.

“I’m not concerned. North Korea likes colorful rhetoric, and they always have,” said Tatiana Gabroussenko, a specialist on North Korean propaganda who teaches at Korea University in Seoul. “The problem now is Mr. Trump. He reacts, he answers, he tweets, so he’s making it visible.”

People wonder why tensions with North Korea have risen so far and so quickly this year. There are two things that have changed: one, North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs have reached important milestones in their development; and two, America elected Donald Trump.

Not only are North Korea’s threats pretty much in keeping with their usual bluster, they’ve also been backed up by North Korea’s usual reluctance to follow through on them. Which is another obvious thing that apparently has to be said–North Korea is not collectively suicidal. It’s not looking to start a war. It’s looking to defend itself–which is pretty rational given its circumstances.


In a speech to mark South Korea’s Armed Forces Day, President Moon Jae-in said he’s committed to improving the country’s capability to pre-empt, defend against, and retaliate for a North Korean missile strike. Moon, who has generally advocated diplomacy with respect to Pyongyang, is being put in a bit of a box thanks to the escalating tensions on the peninsula, but he’s got another motive too–he’s campaigned on strengthening the South Korean military in order to justify renegotiating the country’s defense treaty with the US, which subordinates South Korea’s military to America’s in time of crisis.


Prime Minister Shinzō Abe did, as expected, dissolve parliament and call for new elections on Thursday. The election has been scheduled for October 22.



According to Libyan authorities, in the wake of losing its stronghold at Sirte late last year, ISIS has apparently been spending its time in Libya creating a “desert army” comprised of three “brigades” (I have to assume “brigades” is relative here, because otherwise that would be a 5000+ man army and I can’t imagine it’s anywhere near that large). In recent weeks they’ve started setting up checkpoints south of Sirte and attacking other Libyan forces. On Thursday, US African Command announced that two airstrikes it carried out in Libya earlier this week killed “several” ISIS fighters.

The Washington Post reports on Abdulhakim Belhadj, a former (?) al-Qaeda associate who once led the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group but has parlayed his militant past into an informal position of authority in Tripoli:

Today, as key players in the contest between Islamists and their rivals for the soul of the new Libya, Belhadj and his comrades represent a rare instance of former militants associated with al-Qaeda achieving not just legitimacy but the ability to shape the course of a nation.

“These guys are very involved in the political landscape of running things in Tripoli,” said Claudia Gazzini, senior Libya analyst for the International Crisis Group. The worry for some, she said, is: “Have they really shed their jihadist upbringing?”

belhadj youtube
Belhadj, cleaned up for TV


Seven people were killed in a car bombing in Mogadishu on Thursday. As usual, al-Shabab is the likely culprit.

Early Friday, al-Shabab fighters attacked a military base just outside Mogadishu and appear to have captured it along with a nearby village, killing 17 Somali soldiers in the effort.


The Kenyan government is attempting to push an “electoral reform” through parliament that would prevent the courts from overturning the results of October 26’s repeat presidential election. Which, seeing as how it was the courts that overturned August’s first go around, “won” by incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta, seems like it might be a problematic abuse of power. Partly in response to this and partly over the national electoral commission’s unwillingness to make personnel changes before the new vote, challenger Raila Odinga is calling for national protests next week.


Human Rights Watch in a new report is alleging that Cameroonian authorities are brutally punishing Nigerian refugees for attacks by Boko Haram:

The Cameroonian military has forced 100,000 refugees to return to north-east Nigeria since 2015, in many cases after torturing, assaulting and sexually abusing them, according to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The study builds on figures released earlier this year by the UN High commissioner for Refugees, the UN refugee agency. The figures were accompanied by the UNHCR’s first public criticism of the authorities over the returns in two years.

Refugees said soldiers had accused them of belonging to Boko Haram, or of being “Boko Haram wives”, while torturing or assaulting them and dozens of others on arrival, during their stay in remote border areas, and during mass deportations.


Congolese forces and Mai Mai rebels in the eastern DRC engaged in a naval battle on Lake Tanganyika on Thursday. The rebels were reportedly threatening the city of Uvira, on the lake, but DRC boats sunk one of their vessels and were able to drive the rest off.


South Africa’s Western Cape High Court ruled Wednesday that political parties should be required to disclose their donors. This could potentially uncover some extremely embarrassing information with respect to patronage networks and potential corruption.

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