Asia/Africa update: June 14 2018



The Pentagon says it conducted an airstrike in Afghanistan’s Kunar province on Wednesday targeting “a senior leader of a designated terrorist organization.” They won’t release the name, but it’s believed they were targeting Mullah Fazlullah, one of the leader of the Pakistani Taliban. It sure is going to be awkward if the US military kills a Pakistani Taliban leader on Afghan soil, after all that talk from Washington and Kabul about how Pakistan has been letting the Afghan Taliban operate freely from its side of the border.


RFE/RL’s Daud Khattak sees several recent developments in the Afghanistan-Pakistan relationship as a sign that the two countries are warming toward one another–provided they can finally stop pointing fingers at one another:

So here is the takeaway, in a nutshell: Whether due to prevailing common sense or pressure from the big powers – China and the United States – Afghanistan and Pakistan are gradually inching toward a better understanding of each other and a belated realization that peace will be an outcome of mutual collaboration.

All earlier steps toward peace and stability — some of which may rightly be termed half-hearted and with ulterior motives — between the two estranged neighbors quickly floundered, primarily because of terrorist attacks followed by mutual finger-pointing. Given that, one of the foremost questions this time is how to avoid the blame game.


A Kashmiri journalist and his bodyguards were gunned down on Thursday in Srinagar. There’s no indication as yet who was responsible or their motive, but the reporter, Shujaat Bukhari, was clearly targeted intentionally.


China’s recent deployment of offensive missile systems in the Spratly Islands may have changed the strategic situation in the South China Sea by undermining Beijing’s constant claims, contrary to the evidence, that it’s not militarizing its presence there:

But it is more meaningful to assess capabilities and threats than try to define what “militarization” is or isn’t. If runways and bunkers on the Spratlys seem to intuitively constitute “militarization,” they also don’t pose a threat on their own until they are filled with missiles and warplanes, and to date they have remained largely empty. Even when China installed point-defense weapons on the islands in 2016, official responses were largely muted because the systems’ short ranges did not pose a threat to warships steaming a few miles offshore or aircraft high overhead.

The new missiles China has reportedly deployed, including YJ-12B anti-ship cruise missiles and HQ-9B anti-air missiles, do.

Some variants of the YJ-12B are thought to be able to strike surface ships at ranges up to 250 nautical miles, and the HQ-9B can target aircraft 100 nautical miles away. Deployed on the three largest Spratly islands China occupies, these missiles could target nearly any ship and most aircraft in the southern half of the South China Sea.

This radically changes the strategic environment in the South China Sea. These missiles mean that China’s bases in the Spratlys are no longer theoretical military threats but real ones. This, combined with reports that China has also installed military jamming equipment on the islands (which it may have already used against passing U.S. aircraft), led to a swift response from the United States and many of its partners.


Singapore appears to be getting a big PR boost out of hosting the Donald Trump-Kim Jong-un summit this week. So that’s nice. If nothing else comes out of that meeting at least it boosted the reputation of a repressive one-party city state with one of the worst human rights records in the world.


Trump is reportedly on the verge of imposing tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese imports across 800 product categories, perhaps as soon as Friday. Now that he’s met face to face with Kim, he apparently doesn’t feel the need to kiss up to China in exchange for help on North Korea. So if only two things come out of the meeting, at least they’ll be the PR for the one-party state thing plus a trade war.


Honestly I’m tired of talking about the North Korea summit, so what’s say you and I just kick back and revel in the little absurdities of the thing?

Yes, that’s US President Donald Trump there, snapping off a salute at North Korean General No Kwang-chol. Was it an act of politeness? Or a dumbass president awkwardly saluting a military officer of a nation with which his country is still technically at war? Surprisingly, views differ! It seems there’s actually no protocol about whether it’s appropriate for a president to salute foreign military personnel, even allied foreign military personnel. Needless to say the salute found its way into a North Korean propaganda video produced after the summit.

At LobeLog, Paul Pillar has a fairly biting piece on how much better the outcome of Trump’s summit makes the Iran nuclear deal look–the deal that, of course, Trump just sabotaged. I’m not going to excerpt this one, you’ll have to go read it.


Acting preemptively to preserve the American Imperium, Democratic Senators Chris Murphy (CT) and Tammy Duckworth (IL) have introduced legislation that would make it harder for any president, but most especially the current one, to withdraw US troops from South Korea. Trump has hinted that he’d like to pull US troops out of South Korea but did not offer that as yet another concession to Kim on Tuesday. Nevertheless it’s gratifying to see Democrats embracing military intervention so lustily. I’m not sure if the Murphy-Duckworth legislation makes any allowances for letting South Korea decide whether or not there should be US troops in South Korea, but honestly, why would we start giving a shit about that sort of thing now?


Eager not to be left out of the regional conversation, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe is considering holding his own summit with Kim Jong-un. But he’s getting pushback from families of the surviving Japanese nationals who were abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s and have never been returned home. North Korea says it abducted 13 Japanese nationals and eventually repatriated five while the other eight died in North Korea. Japan says North Korea snatched 17 of its citizens, and that the whereabouts of the other 12 are still unknown. The fate of the abductees would have to be a major part of any North Korea-Japan summit.



The so-called Libyan National Army is reportedly “close” to completing its conquest of the city of Derna, with mere “dozens” of opposition fighters still holed up in the city using explosives and sniping at the LNA’s fighters. Derna is the last major population center in eastern Libya outside of Haftar’s control.

Other forces opposed to Haftar attacked Libya’s largest oil ports, Ras Lanuf and Es Sider, on Thursday. The ports had to be evacuated in response, showing that Haftar’s LNA isn’t as omnipresent as his press clippings might suggest. If the ports remain shut down it could cost Libya the revenue from up to 400,000 barrels of oil per day.

The US announced on Thursday that it carried out an airstrike south of Bani Waled earlier this week that killed one fighter from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.


The Nigerien government has extended states of emergency in its southeastern Diffa province and its southwestern Tillbéri and Tahoua provinces. Diffa is frequently plagued by Boko Haram attacks, while southwestern Niger deals with spillover from al-Qaeda and ISIS affiliates in neighboring Mali.


South Sudanese rebel leader Riek Machar says he will accept Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s invitation to meet with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir next week in Addis Ababa. Kiir has yet to respond to Ahmed’s offer. South Sudan continues to struggle to find a way out of a civil war that has killed as many as 300,000 people and displaced as many as 1.5 million.


Kenyan Auditor General Edward Ouko says that corruption in the East African nation is so rampant that, left unchecked, “it will engulf us.” That sounds bad. Ouko says his office has evidence that high level public officials are conspiring to steal “billions” of Kenyan shillings out of the government’s coffers every year. One Kenyan shilling is worth just shy of one cent US, but still, billions is billions.


Two people were killed by a knife-wielding attacker in a mosque in Cape Town on Thursday. The attacker was subsequently killed by police. South Africa just experienced an attack on a mosque in a town outside of Durban last month. The government has suggested “extremism” of some sort played a role in that attack but so far the motive for Thursday’s attack is unclear.

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