World update: August 10 2018



“Dozens” of people were reportedly killed in an overnight Taliban assault on the city of Ghazni. It’s unclear how close the Taliban came to capturing the city, but judging from the descriptions by Afghan authorities–who are naturally going to be inclined to downplay any Taliban successes–they probably came pretty close before the Afghans, with US air support, were able to drive them back. Fighting may still be ongoing to the west of the city. The government has acknowledged that 14 police officers were killed along with 30 Taliban fighters, but that preliminary count may be too low.

The alleged friendly fire incident that killed 17 Afghan police officers in Logar province earlier this week is causing some strain between the US and Afghan governments. US officials are insisting that, having reviewed the airstrike in question, they are convinced it hit Taliban forces. But Afghan officials, who have seen the victims and even apparently recognized some of them, are equally insistent that the strike hit police officers. With the US conducting more airstrikes and killing more people in Afghanistan this year as part of the Trump administration’s surge there, incidents like this may become more frequent.


The Trump administration has reportedly been quietly booting Pakistani officers from its joint military training programs as part of its overall reduction in military aid to Islamabad. The Pentagon typically likes to protect these kinds of programs because it argues that they create goodwill among mid-level officers in foreign militaries and thereby engender closer relations in the long run. But the Trump administration has so far had it in for Pakistan, arguing that Pakistani support for the Taliban is prolonging the Afghan war–which is a legitimate point even if it obscures the failures of the US military.


The Indian government’s recent population count in Assam state, which has left four million mostly Muslim residents off of citizenship rolls on the off chance that some of them might actually–*GASP*–be Bangladeshi migrants, is leading to ridiculous situations like this:

The rice farmer doesn’t know how it happened. Abdul Mannan just knows a mistake was made somewhere. But what can you say when the authorities suddenly insist one of your five children isn’t an Indian? What do you do when your wife and daughter-in-law are suddenly viewed as illegal immigrants?

“We are genuine Indians. We are not foreigners,” said Mannan, 50, adding his family has lived in India’s northeastern Assam state since the 1930s. “I can’t understand where the mistake is.”

Neither can nearly 4 million other people who insist they are Indian but who now must prove their nationality as the politics of citizenship — overlaid with questions of religion, ethnicity and illegal immigration — swirls in a state where such questions have a long and bloody past.

The government insists that anyone who can prove their citizenship will be safe from possible deportation (deportation to where? nobody knows!), but oddly enough it turns out that subsistence farmers often don’t do a lot of personal record keeping and so many actual Indian citizens may find themselves rendered stateless on account of being Muslim living under a Hindu nationalist government.


The Maldivian government is asking India to withdraw its small military presence from the archipelago nation, after an agreement between the two countries lapsed in June. India and the Maldives have historically been very close, but current Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen is more inclined toward China. That inclination has freaked people out in Delhi, understandably given how close the Maldives are to India, and the possibility of an Indian intervention cannot be ruled out.


The United Nations is accusing China of holding more than one million Uyghurs and other Muslims in internment/reeducation camps in Xinjiang province, a charge that Beijing completely denies. Those denials are now being challenged by actual eyewitness reports from Kazakh nationals who have escaped the camps and managed to get across the border into Kazakhstan:

Taken together, their statements provide new evidence of extralegal detention and forced indoctrination in Xinjiang, revealing how the government, which has been predominantly targeting ethnic Uighur Muslims, also is detaining members of other, mostly Muslim groups, including Kazakhs.

People who have recently arrived here from China told of villages with checkpoints and countless security cameras and scanners where those suspected of having foreign ties can be interrogated, held without charge and sent to “reeducation centers” indefinitely.

At these camps, Muslim minorities spend their days singing propaganda songs such as “Without the Communist Party, There Would Be No New China,” and their nights in crowded cells, they said. One man released from a camp said he had been waterboarded.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Hui are clashing with Chinese authorities in the Ningxia region of northwestern China in an effort to prevent the destruction of the Weizhou Grand Mosque. The government claims that the mosque was built without proper permits but there is reason to believe that its real objection is to its architectural style, which is far more Middle Eastern than traditionally Chinese. The two sides may compromise on some sort of redesign rather than a full teardown. The Hui people are ethnically East Asian Muslims, many of then Han Chinese, and as native Mandarin speakers are distinct from ethnically Turkic/Turkic-speaking Muslim groups like Uyghurs. They have historically been much better treated by Chinese authorities than the Uyghurs, but it hasn’t always been entirely smooth sailing for them.


The South Korean government says it believes that three South Korean firms imported North Korean coal after the United Nations banned such imports last August. It plans to press charges against them and may take action against the commercial vessels that facilitated the operation.

Meanwhile, South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s approval rating has hit a new low of, uh, 58 percent. That’s still pretty good, to be honest. People may be angry at Moon for his government’s failure to respond to record high temperatures that have led to record high electricity bills because people are running their air conditioning so much. Seoul did announce a couple of days ago that it would adjust residential energy bills for July and August, but people presumably haven’t seen any affect from that announcement yet.



Sudan’s National Congress party announced on Friday that it will be renominating President Omar al-Bashir in Sudan’s next presidential election. In 2020. Sure, you may say it’s a little early for that kind of thing, but to be fair I don’t think anybody expected that the party would not put Bashir forward for another term. And Bashir, who has been insisting that he has no interest in running in 2020, may need the next two years to engineer the kind of constitutional change he’ll need in order to legally stand for another term.


A group of United Nations experts is warning that the activities of armed groups in Libya are threatening the chances for Libya to conduct elections this year and transition into a new political phase. Wow, glad they cleared that up for everybody. The experts noted with particular concern that many armed groups are supporting themselves by getting into the lucrative human trafficking business, as well as a proliferation of weapons coming into the country despite an international arms embargo. The latter problem seems to be particularly concentrated in eastern Libya, which I’m sure has nothing to do with the Egyptian government arming Khalifa Haftar’s forces or anything.


Fighters from the Dozo militia reportedly killed 11 Fulani people in the town of Sofara in central Mali on Friday. Fulani are frequent targets of militia attacks because of a perception that their community has been radicalized. While there are some Fulani fighters in, for example, al-Qaeda’s Nusrat al-Islam affiliate, the accusation that all or even most Fulani have adopted salafi-jihadism is unsupportable. The real driver behind these attacks has more to do with tensions between the mostly herding Fulani and settled farming peoples who live in close proximity to them. Herders and farmers have historically grated on one another, and climate change has in some cases forced them into even closer proximity than ever.


The Nigerian military has begun a new operation in the northwestern part of the country against criminal gangs that have continually raided towns and villages there:


The Cameroonian military is investigating reports that its soldiers have been brutalizing civilians:

For the second time in about a month, Cameroon is investigating video footage that Amnesty International said shows Cameroon security forces executing unarmed people in the country’s Far North region.

On Friday, the human rights group said its experts have analyzed footage that appears to show “Cameroonian security forces shooting at least a dozen unarmed people” in the village of Achigaya sometime before May 2016.

The shaky, grainy video, which Amnesty provided to The Washington Post, shows armed men in camouflage fatigues wandering through a village, with some structures burning around them. The camera pans to a group of people who are sitting and lying on the ground by a wall. They are then shot at repeatedly, first from a distance, and then up close.


Emmerson Mnangagwa’s presidential inauguration has been postponed while Zimbabwean courts hear challenger Nelson Chamisa’s challenge to the results of last month’s election. The country’s Constitutional Court must rule on Chamisa’s challenge, which he filed on Friday, within two weeks. If it rules in Chamisa’s favor it could throw out the results altogether. Bear in mind that this is all happening in the midst of a major government crackdown against the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. The court’s ruling, whatever it is, undoubtedly will make tensions even higher.


The debate over land redistribution in South Africa is intensifying now that the African National Congress appears to have moved to an expropriation-without-compensation position on the issue:

Shockwaves are still being felt in South Africa after President Cyril Ramaphosa’s controversial announcement that the country’s constitution is to be changed to explicitly allow for the expropriation of land without compensation.

Markets reacted negatively and the currency, the rand, has continued to plummet over the last week.

This is because the plan has invited comparisons with the chaotic land reform programme across the Limpopo River in neighbouring Zimbabwe, which saw scenes of violent evictions of mainly white farmers.

But the move will be welcomed by those tired of waiting for reforms promised when white-minority rule ended in South Africa in 1994.



“Tens of thousands” of people turned out across Romania on Friday to protest corruption and the ruling Social Democratic party’s efforts to decriminalize corruption. Demonstrations in Bucharest turned violent, with police turning tear gas and water cannons on the protesters, hundreds of whom were reportedly injured. Many of the protesters were Romanian expats who returned home to protest against the conditions that forced them to leave the country in the first place. As many as 25 percent of Romanians have had to go abroad to make their living.



If you want to know why the influx of Venezuelan refugees almost caused the Colombia-Ecuador border to be closed on Thursday, consider that more than 500,000 Venezuelans have entered Ecuador so far this year. That absolutely dwarfs the migrant situation in Europe, which has been deemed a “crisis” and has caused people all over that continent to vote for fascists who promise to close their borders. Around a fifth of the Venezuelan migrants who enter Ecuador are staying there while the rest continue south into Peru and beyond.


In addition to the 448 people who have been killed in violence in Nicaragua since anti-Daniel Ortega protests broke out in April, human rights activists estimate that as many as 2000 people have at one time or another been arrested by Nicaraguan authorities on political charges. Many of those who have since been released describe being tortured by Nicaraguan security forces:

A 24-year-old student at the national university said a female police officer told her to tell the truth while threatening her with a knife. She slapped her face.

“They know how to hit us without leaving marks,” she said.

A 23-year-old woman who recently graduated from another university said she was slapped and hit by a rifle butt during her interrogation, but her boyfriend, who they suspected of being a leader, suffered worse abuse.

“They put a cigarette on his testicle, they burned him,” she said. “And the next day, he says they gave him an ointment, like to cover up what they had done.”


Finally, because I suppose we must, let’s talk about the Space Force. Vice President Mike Pence delivered a speech on Thursday at the Pentagon to kick off the new military branch, which at this point appears to have the very narrow focus of protecting US satellites from possible attack by a future enemy (only Russia and China could pull something like that off now, but more countries may develop the capability to threaten US satellites in the future). We can presume, I think, that the Space Force will also develop offensive capabilities to target enemy satellites as well, even though it will undoubtedly be reluctant to acknowledge that.

This seems like a job that the Air Force could handle, especially since it has its own Space Command that’s now likely to become part of the new branch. But the Air Force has apparently not done much to develop ways to counter potential threats to US satellites, and so it’s being bypassed. At least one former Air Force officer told Foreign Policy that the reason for this is budget cuts, to which you would think the obvious question would be “what fucking budget cuts, are you serious with this bullshit?” but apparently not.

There is one cool Space Force thing happening: you can vote on the new military branch’s logo. Or at least you can, uh, provided you’re willing to donate to Trump-Pence 2020. I’d say that must be against the law if it didn’t sound so quaint.

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