World update: November 15 2018



At least 30 Afghan security personnel were killed in several Taliban attacks in Farah province on Wednesday and Thursday. The Taliban has been very active in Farah for the past several months, which Afghan officials have attributed to aid from both Iran and Pakistan. More than 50 Afghans were killed in the province by Taliban fighters just a few days ago.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani released the first official casualty count among Afghan forces since the US formally ended its combat missions in Afghanistan in late 2014, and it’s pretty terrible. Over 28,500 Afghan soldiers and police officers have been killed since 2015. Ghani insists that the Afghans can absorb the losses, but there are obvious reasons to question what kind of effect such a high death toll is having on the recruitment of new soldiers and police.


A Pakistani police officer who was abducted from Islamabad on October 27 has turned up dead in Afghanistan. There was apparently a note affixed to his body claiming that he’d been killed by “a little-known militant group,” but Pakistani officials haven’t been any more specific than that.


After his would-be prime minister lost Wednesday’s no-confidence voice vote, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena is demanding a new vote in parliament on Friday, presumably one that relies on counting votes rather than estimating volume. If Sirisena is willing to accept the outcome of that vote, whatever it may be, it could be a way out of Sri Lanka’s current constitutional crisis. If not, then I guess things will just keep spinning out of control. Like they did on the floor of parliament on Wednesday:


Reuters is reporting that 15 Western ambassadors in Beijing are collectively requesting a meeting with the head of the Xinjiang Communist Party over the treatment of China’s Uyghur minority. Needless to say this is unlikely to lead to anything, but it’s worth monitoring.

Meanwhile, Xi Jinping headed to Papua New Guinea on Thursday ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting this weekend. Xi is using the trip to expand China’s diplomatic efforts in the Pacific, a policy that is increasingly bringing Beijing into a contest with Australia for influence. He’ll undoubtedly be looking to sell the Belt and Road Initiative to leaders in the region.


According to North Korean state media, Kim Jong-un on Friday oversaw the testing of a “newly developed ultramodern weapon.” Cool. It didn’t say anything about what the weapon actually is other than that it’s “tactical,” which rules out a big nuke and probably also some kind of new ICBM (which at any rate would be hard to test without people knowing about it). What effect this will have on nuclear talks with the US remains to be seen but it’s probably not an ideal development.



Gabonese Vice President Pierre Claver Maganga Moussavou will be chairing cabinet meetings for at least a little while, according to a Wednesday ruling by the country’s constitutional court. Why? Well, Gabonese President Ali Bongo suffered some sort of medical ailment last month, went to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment, and has kind of…disappeared. It’s believed he suffered a stroke, though the Gabonese government insists he was just fatigued, and yet you would think that “fatigue” wouldn’t cause a head of state to vanish for several weeks.


Al Jazeera reports on Russia’s military training activities in the CAR:


At least seven United Nations peacekeepers were killed in a battle with Allied Democratic Forces fighters in northeastern DRC on Wednesday. The peacekeepers assaulted an ADF base near the city of Beni and reportedly did succeed in capturing it. On Thursday, a new report from New York University’s Congo Research Group said that the ADF has received money from Waleed Ahmed Zein, a Kenyan financier with ISIS links who was arrested earlier this year. This would suggest that the ADF’s international ties with other Islamist extremist groups are stronger than previously thought.



Somebody threw gasoline bombs at St. Andrew’s church in Kiev and then assaulted one of its priests on Thursday morning. The bombs apparently failed. Authorities in Kiev just turned St. Andrew’s over to the control of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, so it seems likely that these were some disgruntled devotees of the Russian Orthodox Church trying to send a message.


A new report to the European parliament says that Moldova is not making progress on democratization, a must if the country wants to join the European Union someday. The Moldovan government isn’t denying the report’s findings, but insists that it’s not intentionally dragging its feet and needs more help from the EU.


Yet another Swedish party leader is going to take a crack at forming a governing coalition. Centre Party boss Annie Loof has been tapped to see if she can bridge the divide between the country’s dominant center-left and center-right alliances, neither of which came away with a majority in September’s election, or at least between enough of either alliance to cobble together a centrist majority. Loof says she’s not looking to be prime minister (though I’m sure she wouldn’t turn it down if pressed upon her), and instead plans to focus her efforts on finding common policy ground first.


Thousands of people protested in Prague on Thursday demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Andrej Babiš over his increasingly bizarre corruption scandal.


Well, after seemingly getting through her Brexit agreement cabinet meeting on Wednesday unscathed, Theresa May had a fairly rough time on Thursday. Two of her ministers quit over the deal May reached with the EU: Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey and, more importantly, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab. May reportedly asked Environment Secretary and experimental human simulacrum Michael Gove to take over for Raab, and Gove agreed–if he could be allowed to renegotiate May’s deal. Needless to say that won’t be happening. Gove may yet quit the cabinet, as may Transport Secretary Chris Grayling and International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt.

Tory hardliner Jacob Rees-Mogg, who for some reason is actually a person to whom other people listen even though he looks and sounds like somebody lifted him from a Monty Python sketch, is trying to orchestrate a no-confidence vote, which if successful could mean weeks if not months of turmoil trying to replace May depending on whether or not her opponents trigger a new election to oust her, or May triggers one to try to hang on to power. Any delay at this point would likely blow up the EU deadlines for reaching an accord.

At the end of the day all that was left was for May to deliver a political ultimatum: support me and my deal or suffer the chaos that will follow. This is her best and maybe only argument for remaining in an office for which she’s shown she was and is totally unsuited. It’s really too late in the game now for the Tories to oust May without basically locking in a no-deal Brexit, which would be a disaster for everybody except the most committed anti-EU zealots like Rees-Mogg. Hell, given the huge parliamentary majority that has already said it will not vote for May’s Brexit agreement, a no-deal Brexit may be locked in anyway. People who might be open to ousting her need to ask themselves whether it’s worth the risk, and those who are thinking about challenging May for party leadership need to ask themselves whether they want to be PM if there’s no Brexit deal and the food literally starts running out, or whether they’d be better off letting May take all the Brexit-related hits that are sure to start coming soon.



The Argentine senate passed the first in what’s sure to be a long series of International Monetary Fund-mandated austerity budgets on Thursday. It will cut government social spending in 2019 by 35 percent and increase its debt service payments by 50 percent. An IMF spokesman called the budget a “very positive step.” Many of the people who will be immiserated by the budget protested in Buenos Aires as it was being debated.


Former Brazilian Health Minister Alexandre Padilha told reporters on Thursday that Cuba’s decision to pull some 8500 of its doctors out of Brazil will leave “millions” of Brazilians without access to healthcare. Those Cuban doctors worked in some of the poorest and/or most inaccessible parts of the country. In many cases they were the only doctor in town, literally. Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro threatened to cancel the program earlier this month unless the doctors’ credentials were evaluated (this is already required under Brazilian law, but he either didn’t know that or didn’t care) and they were allowed to receive their salaries directly rather than having them funneled through the Cuban government, which took 75 percent of their pay. This almost makes it seem like Bolsonaro was standing up for the little guy, though what he was really doing was insulting Cuba in order to show off to his friends in Washington. If Brazil were to contract with a private company to replace those doctors one assumes that company would take a big chunk of their earnings off the top as well.


Good news everybody! The Space Force isn’t going to cost $13 billion like the Air Force says. Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan says it’s going to cost “single-digit billions” at most. Hell, at that price you can’t afford not to militarize space!

Finally, if you’re a fan of civilian oversight of the military, I’m afraid I have some bad news:

Frustrated by lack of influence and disheartened by U.S. President Donald Trump’s rhetoric, Department of Defense civilians are heading for the door, leaving key positions unfilled in a Pentagon increasingly run by active-duty or retired military officers.

The Office of the Secretary of Defense, or OSD for short, is the civilian arm of the department, crucial in assisting the secretary in policy development, operations planning, resource management, and more. OSD is traditionally a place where people spend entire careers—one former official likened it to “joining a priesthood”—but today it appears to be eroding at all levels. Interviews with a dozen current and former Department of Defense civilians reveal an increasingly hollow and demoralized workforce, with staffers feeling they no longer have a seat at the table.

This is a problem that started during the Obama administration but has drastically worsened under Trump. And really, who could have predicted that a president who hates government workers in general and his recently retired general-turned-secretary of defense wouldn’t value the Pentagon’s civilian workforce?

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