World update: October 21-22 2017



A horrifying week in Afghanistan got a little worse over the weekend in two separate incidents. On Satuday, a Taliban suicide bomber hit a bus carrying military cadets from the Marshal Fahim Academy in Kabul, killing at least 15 of them. On Sunday, Nazuk Mir, a leader of the anti-Soviet rebels in the 1980s, was killed (by whom it’s not clear) along with his bodyguard in a bombing in Takhar province. In all, over 200 people, mostly Afghan security personnel, were killed during the course of the week, and Afghan legislators are demanding answers from President Ashraf Ghani. Which is great, but if Ghani actually had any answers then 200 people probably wouldn’t have gotten killed this week, right?

Interestingly, Afghan officials are starting to pick up a refrain from the US and complain about Russia arming and aiding the Taliban. Russia doesn’t deny helping the Taliban but insists it’s only because the Taliban are a counterweight to ISIS. Meanwhile, the CIA is reportedly taking a more active role in Afghanistan setting up and advising teams to hunt down and kill Taliban operatives. Which is great news, because historically the agency’s death squad work has really been fantastic for everybody involved.


Pakistan’s Rangers force reportedly killed eight “terrorists” in a shootout in Karachi early Sunday morning. No mention of their affiliation.


The battle in Marawi is reportedly down to the last building still held by ISIS-aligned fighters. It’s believed that 30 militants are still left and are holed up there, but presumably the conflict is nearing an end. Philippine officials declared victory on Saturday despite the fact that the fighting was still ongoing.

BREAKING: The AP is reporting something about Philippine forces finding 40 bodies at the site of the militants’ “final stand,” but I haven’t yet seen any reporting yet saying that the fight is over apart from the “final stand” reference:

And, in fact, it seems that while they have found 40 dead militants, Philippine forces are not yet ready to say that the fighting is over.


One of Xi Jinping’s aims in the ongoing Communist Party congress, and in general, is to strengthen China’s claim on world power status. And, while it hasn’t been a completely smooth ride and he’s been helped unwittingly by Donald Trump, he’s succeeding:

“Xi’s aggressive diplomacy largely comes from his own aspirations, beliefs and strategic requirements,” said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University.


Mr. Xi has already enjoyed remarkable success expanding Chinese influence, not only in Asia, but also in Africa, Europe and as far away as South America. He has benefited from President Trump’s election, which has made it easier for him to present China as a stable, responsible alternative to an erratic, inward-looking United States.


Shinzō Abe’s bet seems to have paid off, with his Liberal Democrats set to come out of Sunday’s early election with its two-thirds parliamentary majority intact. The result will secure Abe a new mandate as prime minister and give his effort to amend the Japanese constitution to broaden and clarify the role of its military.



Attackers ambushed and killed 13 Nigerien soldiers near the country’s border with Mali on Saturday. It’s not known if they were from ISIS’s Greater Sahara branch or al-Qaeda’s Mali branch.


A suicide bomber, almost certainly Boko Haram, killed at least 13 people in Maiduguri on Sunday.


Violence is once again breaking out in Ethiopia’s Oromia region. At least 11 people were killed over the weekend–eight Oromos and three ethnic Amhara–in the town of Bedele, and thousands of Oromos continue to be displaced thanks to clashes near Oromia’s border with the country’s Somali region.


Two roadside bomb attacks hit Somalia on Sunday. In one, 11 people were killed just south of Mogadishu, and in the other six people were killed just north of the city.


Raila Odinga said on Sunday that if the presidential election goes on as scheduled Thursday he will not recognize incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory. This almost guarantees that there will be violence after (and maybe before and/or during) the election.


Robert Mugabe was appointed a goodwill ambassador for the World Health Organization on Saturday and held the job nearly 24 hours before losing it on Sunday. I think this is real bullshit. Sure, Mugabe is a brutal dictator and serial human rights abuser, but who better to generate goodwill on behalf of the World Health Organization than a man who is obviously immortal?



Andrej Babiš is, as expected, in line to be the next Czech prime minister, after his ANO party won a landslide victory in the country’s Friday-Saturday election. It’s quite a political system in which getting 29.6 percent of the vote qualifies as a “landslide,” but here we are anyway. The country’s election returns website was reportedly hacked, which could raise suspicions about the outcome except that this was pretty much the outcome everybody was predicting. The outcome gives ANO 78 seats in the 200 seat Czech parliament, so Babiš will need to form a coalition, but other parties don’t seem to be lining up to partner with a shady plutocrat under a cloud of fraud charges:

The centre-right Civic Democrats, who came second in the election with 25 seats, said they would remain in opposition. “I have already ruled out talks with ANO on taking part in a government or supporting a government,” the party chief, Petr Fiala, said on


Two small centre-right parties, STAN and TOP09, also said they would not work with Babiš. “I can’t legitimise him and create the appearance of normality,” Jan Farsky, the election leader for STAN, told Reuters. “Democratic forces got trounced but they will not regain strength by cooperation with Babiš. That would finish them off.”


The centre-left Social Democrats of the outgoing prime minister, Bohuslav Sobotka, who won just 7.3% of the vote, said they may enter talks with ANO, their current coalition partner, but only if Babiš stayed out of the cabinet.


The centrist Christian Democrats, the third current coalition partner, also made any potential support conditional on Babiš not being in the government. The liberal Pirate party, which came third in the election, said Babiš’s charges were obstacle to any cooperation.

It says something that the best people are hoping for out of Babiš is that he’ll be another Silvio Berlusconi, but the alternatives–that he’s another Donald Trump or, worse still, another Viktor Orbán–are pretty grim.


Thousands of people took to the streets of Malta on Sunday to protest the murder of anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia last Monday and to demand justice in her killing.


At least France’s First Dog gets it:

That’s Emmanuel “don’t call me President of the Rich” Macron’s dog, Nemo, pissing on the gilded fireplace in his owner’s ornate Élysée Palace office. If he could only do the same thing to Macron’s pro-rich, anti-everyone else agenda, France would be in much better shape.


On Saturday, the Spanish government announced its plans to take direct rule over Catalonia and quickly hold elections to form a new regional government that hasn’t, you know, previously tried to secede. The Catalan government, as you might expect, says it plans to resist the attempt, and now seems likely to go forward with an unambiguous declaration of independence. They don’t seem to have popular support for it–a new poll finds that 55 percent of the Catalan public does not think that the low-turnout October 1 independence referendum is a legitimate basis for declaring independence. Which means the pro-independence forces are fighting against the law and public opinion, and so they’ll likely resort to civil disobedience and try to goad Madrid into another violent response like the one that marred the referendum vote. A large pro-indepedence rally was held in Barcelona on Saturday night–the Guardian has pictures.



Argentine President Mauricio Macri’s conservative Republican Proposal party seems to have won a parliamentary majority on Sunday for the first time since Macri became president in 2015. Macri’s predecessor, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, won a seat in the country’s senate, which is noteworthy in part because her legislative immunity will now enable her to dodge corruption charges stemming from her time as president.


Here’s some good news to cap off your weekend:

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. —  The U.S. Air Force is preparing to put nuclear-armed bombers back on 24-hour ready alert, a status not seen since the Cold War ended in 1991.


That means the long-dormant concrete pads at the ends of this base’s 11,000-foot runway — dubbed the “Christmas tree” for their angular markings — could once again find several B-52s parked on them, laden with nuclear weapons and set to take off at a moment’s notice.


“This is yet one more step in ensuring that we’re prepared,” Gen. David Goldfein, Air Force chief of staff, said in an interview during his six-day tour of Barksdale and other U.S. Air Force bases that support the nuclear mission. “I look at it more as not planning for any specific event, but more for the reality of the global situation we find ourselves in and how we ensure we’re prepared going forward.”

Ah yes, now we’re prepared for…uh, what, exactly? What current threat could possibly require putting B-52s back on Cold War status? What justifies giving Donald Trump another hair-trigger?

The answer is, at least publicly, North Korea. The US Air Force seems to think that putting these planes back on high alert will enhance America’s deterrence posture somehow. Somehow we seem to be ignoring the pretty clear fact that North Korea is already being deterred, and the reason I say that is because they haven’t nuked anybody yet. Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons are meant to deter us. So the real answer may not be North Korea–instead, it may be China and/or Russia, and that should make everybody excited. After all, Donald Trump did say he wanted to Make America Great Again, and if you think America was Great back during the height of the Cold War, then obviously you’d want him to recreate that world as closely as possible.

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