Asia/Africa update: August 7 2018



At least three Taliban attacks–one overnight in Farah province and two on Tuesday in Logar province–have killed dozens of Afghan forces and civilians. At least four pro-government fighters were killed in Farah. Four women were killed in the crossfire during one of the battles in Logar. At least 12 Afghan fighters were killed in the other Logar battle by what appears to have been an errant US airstrike. The US pilots apparently targeted an Afghan police checkpoint instead of the Taliban who were attacking it. Afghan casualties prior to the friendly fire strike are believed to have been very high but it’s been difficult to get a bead on exactly what that means in terms of numbers. At least 19 Taliban fighters are believed to have been killed in Farah, but no word on Taliban casualties in either of the Logar battles.


Imran Khan hasn’t even taken office as prime minister yet and he’s apparently already being investigated by Pakistan’s National Accountability Bureau, its anti-corruption office. Khan is suspected of misusing a helicopter as the leader of the provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.


Four Indian soldiers and two suspected Kashmiri separatists were killed in a battle near the line of control in Kashmir on Tuesday. The suspected rebels are believed to have crossed into Indian-controlled Kashmir from the Pakistani side of the line.


It’s been a long time since we checked in with Rodrigo Duterte, and if you’re wondering who he’s threatening to kill now it’s apparently corrupt police officers. Duterte met on Tuesday with 100 Philippine police officers facing corruption charges who are nevertheless still serving as cops because of manpower shortages. He issued his threat on what must have been an entertaining live TV broadcast:

“If you’ll stay like this, son of a bitch, I will really kill you,” Duterte told the policemen in the dressing-down broadcast by local TV networks.

The cases of some of the policemen will be reviewed, but Duterte warned: “I have a special unit which will watch you for life and, if you commit even a small mistake, I’ll ask that you be killed.”

Addressing the policemen’s families, Duterte said: “If these sons of bitches die, don’t come to us yelling ‘human rights, due process’, because I warned you already.”

Ah, so Duterte has a “special unit” of police officers, a “secret police” if you will, whose job is to kill people on his orders? Sounds awesome.


The Trump administration decided late Tuesday to move forward with imposing an additional 25 percent tariff on $16 billion worth of Chinese imports.

Increasingly it seems Asian countries are looking ahead to a time when China, not the US, is the unchallenged hegemon in that part of the world:

Over the past decade, the responses of U.S. allies and partners to China’s rise have suggested that they viewed Washington as an indispensable security partner even as they prioritized stable relations with Beijing and became more closely linked to China economically. As a result, many countries sought to preserve some maneuvering room by positioning themselves to benefit from constructive ties with both China and the United States. Yet in capitals throughout Asia, China’s rising power and influence, growing U.S.-China security and economic competition, and uncertainty about the future of America’s role in the region are leading to debates about the sustainability of this longstanding approach to managing ties with Washington and Beijing.

During our recent discussions with numerous scholars, analysts, and officials from a number of countries in the region, including our interactions in the Washington, D.C. area and other locations, and a trip to Singapore funded by the SAIS Foreign Policy Institute, we found our interlocutors both acknowledging and adjusting to these geopolitical shifts. Indeed, their questions focused on how well these shifts of relative rise and decline in Chinese and American power would be managed, rather than what the ultimate results would be. They overwhelmingly agreed that the United States continues to enjoy many important advantages, but they also see the trends as moving clearly in China’s favor and many believe that Beijing is winning the “long game.”

If you happen to be in China and you’re looking to catch a film, don’t count on being able to see Christopher Robin. It’s banned in China because, well, a lot of people seem to think Chinese President Xi Jinping looks like Winnie the Pooh, and Xi is not one of them.



For reasons nobody seems able to figure out, Nigerian security forces blockaded the Nigerian parliament on Tuesday. Whatever the reason, the move cost the head of the country’s Department of State Security his job, as Lawal Musa Daura was fired after the incident by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. The reason Osinbajo did the deed is because President Muhammadu Buhari is in London again, on what is either a ten day vacation or a ten day medical trip depending on whether or not you take Buhari at his word.

The parliament blockade may have been prompted by the ongoing series of defections by key members of Buhari’s All Progressives Congress, which Alex Thurston says is beginning to really hit Buhari in his proverbial back yard:

In Nigeria, a wave of “decamping” is occurring as politicians switch parties. I’ve written a little about it here and here, as have Matt Page and Lagun Akinloye. All of the party switches have national implications, but in this post I’d like to zoom in on some of the dynamics in one key state: Kano, the most populous state in northern Nigeria and the second-most populous state in the country as a whole. Kano’s decampings give a sense of just how complicated all this has become, and also point to some of the key actors who will shape the outcome in the state in the 2019 elections. Kano is probably a must-win state for incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari – if he loses in Kano, that might spell trouble elsewhere for him in the north, and if he starts to lose pieces of the north then his whole map falls apart.

If you’re interested in more on Nigeria, including a lengthy discussion of Boko Haram, I interviewed Alex earlier today for my Patreon page, and it’s available to the public here.


Journalist Amanda Sperber writes that, while Somalia has received copious foreign military aid over the past several years, the disjointed nature of that aid has actually left the Somali military in worse shape:

These days, after decades of military dictatorship, failed foreign escapades, civil war, and armed insurgency, there’s not even adequate funding for essentials like radios and protective gear. The SNA’s soldiers use their mobile phones—easily tapped by Hormuud Telecom, which has a sizable market share and plenty of al-Shabab influence—to communicate when fighting. Many operate in flip-flops.

Meanwhile, a conglomeration of countries are paying each other, and each other’s companies, ostensibly in support of Somalia as it rebuilds a national army. Each has its own military models that differ in ways big and small, from the way that soldiers salute to the chain of command. More significantly, each has different funding streams, various internal alliances, and broader strategic agendas.


Tuesday is the 20th anniversary of the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, attacks that killed 224 people and brought Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda to the forefront of everyone’s minds. BuzzFeed has compiled a photo essay for the occasion.


The DRC’s ruling coalition says that it will be announcing its candidate for this year’s still-theoretical presidential election within a matter of “hours.” Will it be Joseph Kabila even though he’s term limited and should have been out of a job two years ago? Will it be somebody else who is merely answerable to Kabila? I guess we’ll know soon.

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