Asia/Oceania/Africa update: April 7-8 2018



Operating under the belief that the Taliban is increasingly reliant for revenue on its control over Afghanistan’s opium trade, the US is taking drastic measures: it’s rethinking decades of utterly failed drug policy bombing more shit in Afghanistan. US and Afghan forces have stepped up airstrikes in western Afghanistan targeting drug labs, the operation and taxation of which nets $200 million to the Taliban annually according to US estimates. There are just a few teeny flaws in this whole operation:

However, David Mansfield, an authority on Afghanistan’s opium industry, says bombing labs has a negligible effect on Taliban revenues, because heroin profits and taxes are not as large as U.S. Forces estimate and the simple labs can be quickly rebuilt.


Calling strikes on drug labs “the theater of counter-narcotics,” Mansfield said the risk of civilian deaths may be greater than potential benefits of curbing Taliban revenues.


“There has been little account of the number of casualties attributed to the bombing of drugs labs,” he said in an email to Reuters. “And in contrast to the narrative of USFOR-A, those that work in labs are not seen as Taliban but as civilians” by rural Afghans.

But apart from that, everything is going great!

Elsewhere a US airstrike in Jawzjan province has reportedly killed Qari Hekmat, a former Taliban commander who went over to ISIS last year and immediately gave it a substantial presence in northern Afghanistan.


After meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani late last week, Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is now publicly calling on the Taliban to accept Kabul’s offer for direct talks. So that’s nice. In fact, the Pakistani read on Abbasi’s trip is substantially more positive than the Afghan read, which only mentioned an agreement on a common security framework or some such vague nicety. According to the Pakistanis, the two leaders reached agreement on several joint infrastructure projects and commercial deals. It’s not clear why their interpretations of the meeting are so different.

On Sunday, a crowd of protesters estimated at around 15,000 people demonstrated in Peshawar to demand the release of people they say have been disappeared by Pakistani authorities under a crackdown against militant Pashtun groups like the Pakistani Taliban. The protest was organized by the Movement for Protection of Pashtuns, a group formed earlier this year in response to government mistreatment of Pakistan’s Pashtun population.


Hey, if you’re worried about a trade war with China, don’t be. President Trump and his BFF are on it:

Wow, I feel better already. They’ll always be friends! I’m so glad they met at President Camp!

New White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow (yes, we do live in the dumbest possible timeline, why do you ask?) says he’s assembling a “coalition of the willing” (oh goodie, one of those again) to “pressure” China. Except there doesn’t seem to be anybody in the coalition yet, and several of the countries Kudlow mentioned–Canada and “much of Europe”–have more reason to be pissed at Trump than at China right now, and it’s not clear what kind of “pressure” Kudlow is talking about. To be honest, he probably doesn’t know himself.


CNN reported on Saturday that the US and North Korea have been holding “secret, direct talks” in advance of next month’s expected meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. Mike Pompeo’s CIA has been taking the lead on these talks, which definitely puts me at ease. They’ve apparently been able to get a confirmation that Kim is prepared to discuss denuclearization, though it’s not clear they’ve made sure that everyone is defining “denuclearization” in the same way or that Kim isn’t going to want more in exchange for said denuclearization than Trump is prepared to give.



Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull may be in a little political trouble on account of how his Liberal Party keeps coming out on the short end of public opinion polls with an election looming next year:

The latest widely watched Newspoll, published in The Australian newspaper, showed the Liberal-National coalition trailing the opposition Labor Party 52-48 on a two-party preferred basis, a margin that would deliver Turnbull an election defeat.


Although Australia is a year away from a general election, the Newspoll leaves Turnbull facing questions about his future.


Three Australian prime ministers have been ousted by their own parties since 2010, dumped by colleagues after their popularity began to wane.

This is the 30th straight Newspoll that Turnbull has lost, which is interesting because it was after his 30th downer of a Newspoll in 2015 that Turnbull challenged then-PM Tony Abbott for leadership of the Liberal Party, and won. At this point it doesn’t appear anybody is preparing to after Turnbull in a similar fashion, but his position can’t be that secure.



Senior figures within Algeria’s ruling National Liberation Front party are urging barely conscious mannequin Abdelaziz Bouteflika to run for a fifth term as president in next year’s election, assuming the 81 year old lives that long. If it ain’t broke, you know? Bouteflika has had at least one and possibly two strokes in the past five or so years that have left him pretty much unaware of his own surroundings. This makes him the ideal front man for the Algerian military, which really runs the country. He’s almost never seen in public and nobody really seems to care, so why not keep on keeping on?


The Malian army said on Saturday that a day earlier its soldiers had killed 14 jihadi prisoners who were, uh, attempting to escape custody in central Mali. Forgive me for being a little skeptical here, but the Malian military doesn’t exactly have a spotless record when it comes to its treatment of prisoners, and “killed while attempting escape” is pretty convenient.


The Nigeria military claims that it freed 149 Boko Haram prisoners in a raid on Saturday. It’s unclear which Boko Haram faction had kidnapped them.


New Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed made it clear over the weekend that one of his first priorities in office will be ending the sporadic violence along the border between Ethiopia’s Oromiya and Somali regions:

On Saturday, Abiy arrived in Jijiga – the capital of the Somali region – in a bid to tackle the problems.


“This has been a tragedy that should never have taken place,” the state-run Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation quoted him as saying in a speech.


A report said he pledged “to find sustainable solutions within a very short time” and provide support to those displaced.


Speaking of borders, Africa is splitting apart:

A piece of East Africa is expected to break off the main continent in tens of millions of years. And if you need any proof, look no further than Kenya’s Rift Valley, where a giant, gaping tear opened up following heavy rains and seismic activity, according to Face2Face Africa.


The enormous crack in southwestern Kenya appeared March 19 and measures about 50 feet wide and several miles along, Face2Face Africa and other news sources reported. Moreover, it’s still growing longer.


The rift is probably a sign of things to come as the plate tectonics under Africa rearrange themselves. The majority of Africa sits on top of the African Plate. However, a long, vertical piece of eastern Africa lies on top of the Somali Plate. This juncture where the two plates meet is known as the East African Rift, which stretches an astonishing 1,800 miles, or about the distance from Denver to Boston.

On the plus side, I guess tens of millions of years is enough time to prepare. This current crack, though, which has been caused as much by heavy rains as by the inexorable shifting of the earth’s crust, could be a problem if it keeps growing. Recent seismic activity has come uncomfortably close to endangering peoples’ lives.


At least one person was killed in Bangui on Sunday when government forces and peacekeepers raided several militia bases in the city’s PK5 neighborhood.


The Washington Post looks at the 40,000 people who have been displaced from the DRC to Uganda due to fighting in Ituri province since February:

Nearly 400,000 people have been displaced by renewed violence, according to the United Nations. More than 40,000 of them have fled Congo entirely, crossing Lake Albert in rickety boats to Uganda, where they have been resettled in an ever-expanding refu­gee camp.


Ituri is only the latest of Congo’s provinces to veer toward humanitarian catastrophe. More than 13 million Congolese need emergency aid, and 4.5 million have been displaced from their homes nationwide — more than anywhere else in Africa. But even by Congo’s standards, the speed and scale at which the crisis in Ituri has unfolded is extraordinary, catching many, including locals, by surprise.

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