Asia/Africa update: October 22 2018



An Afghan soldier opened fire on NATO troops on a military base in Herat province on Monday, killing one and wounding two others. It may have been another Taliban-organized “insider” attack but there’s also talk that the attacker was angry at NATO forces stemming back to the killing of Kandahar strongman Abdul Raziq last week. NATO commander Austin S. Miller survived that attack and was also present on the base in Herat on Monday.

This month marks the 17th anniversary of the Afghan War. Author Tom Englehardt takes stock of how, uh, far we’ve come:

Yes, 3,546 American and NATO troops had died in those long years (including seven Americans so far in 2018). There have also been Afghan deaths aplenty, certainly tens of thousands of them in a country where significant numbers of people are regularly uprooted and displaced from their homes and lives. And 17 years later, the Taliban controls more of the country than at any moment since 2002; the U.S.-backed Afghan security forces are reportedly taking casualties that may, over the long run, prove unsustainable; provincial capitals have been briefly seized by insurgent forces; civilian deaths, especially of women and children, are at their highest levels in years (as are U.S. and Afghan air strikes); al-Qaeda has grown and spread across significant parts of the Middle East and Africa; a bunch of other terror outfits, including ISIS, are now in Afghanistan; and ISIS, like al-Qaeda (of which it was originally an offshoot), has also franchised itself globally.

In other words, 17 years later, what was once known as the Global War on Terror and is now a set of conflicts that no one here even bothers to name has only grown worse. Meanwhile, the military that American presidents repeatedly hailed as the greatest fighting force in history continues to battle fruitlessly across a vast swath of the planet. Afghanistan, of course, remains America’s “longest war,” as articles regularly acknowledged some years ago. These days, however, it has become so eternal that it has evidently outgrown the label “longest.”


A general strike shut down most of Kashmir on Monday, with the exception of Indian forces deployed to prevent and/or break up any major protests. The strike came one day after Indian military operations in southern Kashmir left seven civilians dead.


Though the Trump administration has been justifying its decision to tear up the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty by citing Russian violations, and on some level the whole thing is just about John Bolton’s desire to eliminate all nuclear arms controls treaties, one serious strategic consideration here is that China is not party to the treaty and it shows:

China is not bound by the INF Treaty and has deployed intermediate-range missiles in significant numbers. As analysts have noted, Harry Harris, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea and former head of the U.S. Pacific Command, has estimated that intermediate-range systems make up “approximately 95 percent” of the People’s Liberation Army missile force.

Some observers have argued that the INF Treaty is anachronistically Eurocentric, failing to take into account the U.S.-Chinese military balance, which is becoming increasingly central to Washington’s strategic calculations. It would be far cheaper for the United States to deploy ground-based systems in Asia rather than to position them on small and expensive sea- and air-based platforms. Trump may have been hinting at such reasoning in his public comments.

However, Washington has few bases in the Pacific where it could place a ground-launched missile within range of China without consent from allies. It is an open question whether governments such as Japan, South Korea or Australia would be willing to host such systems.


The US Navy sent two warships through the Taiwan Strait on Monday in another of its “freedom of navigation” operations. So far there’s been no comment from Beijing but I’m sure they were really happy about the whole thing.

Representatives from North and South Korea met with United Nations Command again on Monday, the second-ever three way meeting between those parties. They agreed to remove guns and guard posts from the area around Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone.



Nigerian Colonel Timothy Antigha, the press officer for the Multi-National Joint Task Force, has written a piece on the state of the Boko Haram insurgency. Though it’s problematic in parts (see Alex Thurston’s analysis), he does get into some interesting thoughts about the group and speculation–in the wake of a couple of recent executions–that its leadership may be fracturing:

In my previous writing on a related subject, I observed that apart from being religious fundamentalists, Boko Haram is also a terrorist social movement. As a social movement, it represents groups that are on the margins of society and state and outside the boundaries of institutional power; Boko Haram seeks to change the system in fundamental ways, through a mix of misinformation, criminality and terror. In pursuit of this objective in the last 10 years or thereabout, Boko Haram has developed a set of principles which form its operational framework and has helped the group to perpetuate fear, ensure publicity and maintain relevance. One of these principles is the mass abduction of civilian population. The most vivid reminders of this tactic are the mass abduction of female students in Chibok and Dapchi. Mass hostage taking therefore provides Boko Haram the leverage to negotiate with government, source suicide bombers and wives for its militants and also generate slave labour for its vast agricultural holdings, among others benefits. In other words, mass abduction is a key component of Boko Haram operational strategy. It is the mainstay of the terrorist group.

It is against this background that the recent execution of Mamman Nur for alleged release of hostage victims and Ali Gaga for ‘offence’ relating to attempted release of another set of hostages must be viewed. Arising from these developments, the pertinent questions to ask are; Is Boko Haram’s strategy of pillage, aggravated indiscriminate killings and mass hostage taking becoming a liability? Is the terrorist group having difficulties rallying its commanders around this strategy? Are there prospects of an implosion within Boko Haram’s command echelon?


Hey, try not to look shocked, but Paul Biya has won yet another term as Cameroon’s president. He took in 71 percent of the vote in an election in which turnout was relatively low (around 54 percent) owing mostly to the threat of violence and a certain resignation that Biya, who’s been running Cameroon since the Iron Age I period according to scholars, would somehow find a way to pull out another victory.

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