World update: November 11-12 2017



Concern is mounting in Afghanistan over the Fatemiyoun Division, an Iranian-created force made up of Afghan Shiʿa currently fighting in Syria (and allegedly Yemen). Afghan officials fear that Iran may reorganize veterans of that force once they’re back in Afghanistan, both to serve as an Iranian proxy and for the protection of Afghanistan’s frequently-targeted Hazara community. This story is both important in its own right and offers us the opportunity to see how foreign news gets covered to implicitly push the dominant Blob narrative. Here’s a paragraph from the NYT story on Fatemiyoun:

There is reason for worry. First, there’s a history: The factional divisions that drove Afghanistan’s devastating civil war in the 1990s were seized on by foreign powers who were seeking proxies. And there’s a new concern: A stark increase in attacks against Afghanistan’s Shiite minority, mostly by Sunni extremists loyal to the Islamic State, is already providing Iran a pretext to increase its meddling in the country.

The start increase in attacks against Afghan Shiʿa are bad…because they’re providing Iran a pretext to increase its meddling! What if, and I’m just spitballing here, but what if the increase in those attacks is bad just because, I don’t know, terrorist attacks that kill innocent people are inherently bad?

The best part of this story is actually the part where the reporters admit the whole scenario they’ve spent several paragraphs laying out is not really a thing that’s actually happening:

Afghan officials acknowledge that they have not yet seen evidence that Iran was actively rallying Fatemiyoun veterans. But the officials are deeply concerned that the groundwork is being laid. And statements by Iran’s military leaders, as well as their use of Afghan fighters in other conflicts, suggests that Iran sees the force as an asset in future engagements.

Iran isn’t doing anything as far as we know, but they could, and isn’t that enough?

Actually, the best part may be where we completely gloss over the fact that ISIS is only in Afghanistan because the Taliban continue to destabilize the country, and the Taliban couldn’t exist without decades of support from Sunni Gulf Arabs. Or maybe it’s that this whole story is framed as “Afghanistan could become the next front in the Saudi-Iranian proxy war,” but the Saudi side of that proxy war barely rates a mention, even though we learn 2/3 of the way in that the Saudis are also training their own proxy force of Afghan Sunnis.


Pakistani Taliban splinter group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar has itself split, with the announcement on Sunday that one of its commanders has formed a new group called Hizbul Ahrar. The commander, Mukarram Khan, apparently cam to believe that Jamaat-ul-Ahrar’s penchant for slaughtering people en masse, kidnapping people for ransom, and other neat stuff like that is a bit un-Islamic.


In case you were wondering, and while Bangladesh continues to negotiate their repatriation, Rohingya are still trying to flee Myanmar:

For the Rohingya at Ah Lei Than Kyaw, some 5 km south of the mouth of the Naf river, the beach is a kind of purgatory.


Mohammad Eidnou, a 19-year-old laborer, sold his house and belongings but he and his family have spent everything surviving for the past two months and have no money to pay the $50 a head that boatmen are demanding to take them to Bangladesh.


“I don’t want to go back to my village because there is nothing for us,” Eidnou told Reuters. “We cannot survive.”


Some have been stuck there for over a month, sweltering under the plastic sheeting used to make tents and existing on handouts proved by the Myanmar Red Cross Society.


Indonesian police killed two men on Sunday who were suspected of setting fire to a police station on Sumatra Island. They apparently were carrying some kind of letter with “militant content.”


Donald Trump visited the Philippines on the last leg of his Asia tour, as riot police hosed protesters down to keep them away from the American embassy in Manila. Trump is there to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit, where one of the main topics is expected to be Southeast Asian countries’ ongoing disputes with China over the South China Sea. Before he left Vietnam, Trump said he’s prepared to “mediate or arbitrate” those disputes, which should absolutely fix things right up. He’s “a very good mediator and arbitrator.”


Simply amazing. Even more amazing is that Trump is actually more articulate on Twitter than he is when he’s speaking:

At a news conference in Vietnam on Sunday after his tweets, Trump said it was possible he could be friends with Kim one day and that it would be “very, very nice” but he was not sure that it would happen.


Asked if he could see himself being friends with Kim, Trump said: “That might be a strange thing to happen but it’s a possibility. If it did happen it could be a good thing, I can tell you, for North Korea, but it could also be good for a lot of other places and be good for the rest the world. It could be something that could happen. I don’t know if it will but it would be very, very nice.”

In a normal world this man wouldn’t be allowed to hold sharp objects, but in this world he’s President of the United States.



In an interview with Middle East Eye, Muhammad Dayri, the foreign minister for the Tobruk government, says that he’s “hopeful” a deal on a national unity government can be worked out by mid-December. Meanwhile, 28 bodies were discovered on Saturday in the Wershafana area southwest of Tripoli. The head of Libya’s National Commission for Human Rights says they’re bodies of anti-government fighters who appear to have been arrested and possibly tortured before being killed.

The United Nations has begun moving refugees from Libya into Niger so that they can have their asylum claims properly handled. Refugees who get to Libya generally wind up caught in the human trafficking operation on the Mediterranean coast, often because the lack of open embassies in Tripoli makes it impossible for them to pursue legal resettlement options. It should be easier for them to do that in Niger.


Reuters reports on how traditional disputes between Tuareg and Fulani herding communities in the Mali-Niger border region spiraled into the growth of jihadi movements among both groups. You’ll be pleased to note that the American/European mission to Do Something About Libya played a huge role:

A turning point was the Western-backed ouster of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. With his demise, many Tuareg from the region who had fought as mercenaries for Gaddafi returned home, bringing with them the contents of Libya’s looted armories.


Some of the returnees launched a rebellion in Mali to try to create a breakaway Tuareg state in the desert north, a movement that was soon hijacked by al Qaeda-linked jihadists who had been operating in Mali for years.


Until then, Islamists in Mali had been recruiting and raising funds through kidnapping. In 2012, they swept across northern Mali, seizing key towns and prompting a French intervention that pushed them back in 2013.


Amid the violence and chaos, some of the Tuareg turned their guns on their rivals from other ethnic groups like the Fulani, who then went to the Islamists for arms and training.

It’s interesting that Nusrat al-Islam, the al-Qaeda affiliate based in Mali, is more Tuareg (and Arab) in makeup–though one of its component groups is the Fulani-dominated Macina Liberation Front–while ISIS in the Greater Sahara, based in Niger, seems to be more Fulani-oriented.


US forces in Somalia had a busy weekend, carrying out at least three drone strikes against extremists–whether al-Shabab or ISIS it’s not clear, though at least one of them definitely targeted al-Shabab.

Voters in the breakaway region of Somaliland will go to the polls on Monday to select a new president for the first time since 2010. Though Somaliland is not recognized as an independent state by anybody, the vote will have international observers and there seems to be growing sentiment that the reasonably stable governments here and in neighboring Puntland could be the basis for a future federal Somalia.


English-speaking separatists killed two Cameroonian police officers and two soldiers last week. Militants are reportedly attacking French-language schools in what is a very dangerous escalation of this long-running conflict.



The Guardian’s Julian Coman reports from the frozen front-line of Ukraine’s civil war:

In Avdiivka, the mortar shells still fly sporadically between government-controlled territory and the self-declared People’s Republic of Donetsk. They home in on the town from rebel-held land around the battered buildings of Donetsk airport, a few miles away, and are duly returned as a matter of honour. The bitterness is kept on the boil.


Sitting in one of the meeting areas of a community centre set up by Save the Children International, Brozhyk says that this is one of the few safe havens where her 10-year-old granddaughter, Marina, is able to pick up the pieces of her blighted childhood. “Marina would come here every day if she could,” she says. “There is a high level of fear. Children still sleep in their clothes regularly. Even when they sleep, they hear shelling and that’s not really sleep. One of our relatives lost a leg to a mortar. How do you explain that to a child? When we hear the shells I say: ‘Don’t worry that’s from us, not towards us.’ That makes her calmer.”


Poles filled the streets of Warsaw on Saturday to celebrate the country’s 99th independence day. Good for them! And it sounds like they had a really fun, friendly celebration, by the way:

But for blocks and blocks and blocks beyond the central towers of Warsaw, a much larger crowd swelled beneath a cloud of red smoke. The tens of thousands of people came from across Poland and beyond, and reporters documented their signs:


“Clean Blood,” as seen by Politico.


“Pray for an Islamic Holocaust,” per CNN. [this bit was inaccurately reported]


“White Europe” streaked across another banner, the Associated Press reported — as about 60,000 people chanted and marched through Warsaw in an annual gathering of Europe’s far-right movements, which have by now grown to dwarf the official version of Poland’s independence day.

Nice to see people coming together over heartwarming messages of racial purity and mass genocide. Poland’s right-wing government apparently approves of these folks, so that’s really nice for them.


Incumbent Slovenian President Borut Pahor won reelection on Sunday in a runoff. Pahor won with 53 percent of the vote, but turnout was an all-time Slovenian low 42 percent, so he’s not exactly riding a wave of popular support into his second term. The Slovenian presidency doesn’t have a lot of hands-on authority though it does nominate people to head a number of state offices.


Angela Merkel is frantically calling for more flexibility from her would-be coalition partners, the Free Democrats and the Greens, as talks on cobbling together a government continue to flounder. If these talks fail it’s hard to see where Germany can go apart from snap elections. Merkel could try to form a minority government with just the Free Democrats (sorry, I just vomited in my mouth a little bit), but it would really be a minority government, by nearly 30 votes. Or Merkel could just go it alone, which would make hers an even more minority government. That seems fairly untenable, and as far as I know there’s no precedent for it in German politics.


The European Union is preparing for Brexit talks to completely collapse. EU member states are supposed to decide by mid-December whether the UK has made enough concessions–basically, whether it’s offering to pony up enough money in its “divorce settlement”–to warrant opening talks on a future trade relationship. If they decide it hasn’t, then there’s a strong chance the whole process will come crashing to a halt, and there’s going to be very little time to even negotiate an orderly British withdrawal before the 2019 deadline.



President Donald Trump distanced himself on Sunday from comments made the day before by, um, himself, regarding Russia’s role in the 2016 election. On Saturday, Trump noted that he believes Vladimir Putin when Putin tells him that Russia had nothing to do with the election. This would be in marked contrast with the findings of the American intelligence community, which seems pretty convinced that Russia was involved. On Sunday, Trump said “I’m with our agencies, especially as currently constituted” on the question of whether Russia meddled or not. He apparently meant that he believes that Putin believes there was no Russian involvement. Which, sure, that makes total sense.

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