Asia/Africa: December 5-6 2018



Taliban fighters killed at least four people, three of them civilians, in a raid on a police checkpoint in Herat province late Tuesday. Insurgents, either Taliban or ISIS, also kidnapped the head of a local TV station in Nangarhar province, killing his driver in the process.

With peace talks potentially looming, the US and Afghan military have stepped up their airstrikes and other anti-Taliban operations in an effort to improve their negotiating position before those still-hypothetical talks happen. But it’s still very much a question whether those talks are actually going to happen. The Afghan government can’t even get its own house in order–it’s now embroiled over a major dispute about the legitimacy of the vote count in Kabul in October’s parliamentary election–let alone manage a peace process.


Although it’s almost cliche now, the way to get the Afghan Taliban to negotiate may yet involve encouraging Pakistan to entice them in that direction. There’s been some recent movement in that direction, as the Trump administration has seemed interested over the past few days in rebuilding a US-Pakistani relationship that had grown pretty frosty. Even the Pakistani military is now talking about its support for an Afghan peace process, which (if it’s not just rhetoric) could be a significant development.


The Myanmar government has begun shutting down its camps for internally displaced Rohingya in Rakhine state, allowing the former occupants of those facilities to, uh, move into different camps that look suspiciously like permanent internment facilities. They’re still not free to return to their former homes or even to leave their confinement.


Singapore has lodged a protest with the Malaysian government over its plans to expand its Johor Bahru port. The Singaporean government argues that this expansion will encroach into Singapore’s territorial waters. The dispute could wind up in international court.


The Indonesian government has suspended efforts to recover the bodies of construction workers believed killed by Papuan separatists over the weekend after its forces skirmished with Free Papua Movement fighters. It says that the bodies of 16 of the 19 workers who were killed have been identified, and nine of them retrieved.


So, how was your Wednesday? I’m guessing it was better than Meng Wanzhou’s:

Canada has arrested the chief financial officer of China’s Huawei Technologies, who now faces extradition to the United States on suspicion she violated U.S. trade sanctions against Iran.

Meng Wanzhou, who is also the deputy chair of Huawei’s board and the daughter of company founder Ren Zhengfei, was arrested on Saturday in Vancouver at the request of American law enforcement authorities.

“She is sought for extradition by the United States, and a bail hearing has been set for Friday,” Justice Department spokesman Ian McLeod said in a statement to The Globe and Mail on Wednesday. “As there is a publication ban in effect, we cannot provide any further detail at this time. The ban was sought by Ms. Meng.”

Meng is apparently wanted on suspicion of having tried to evade US sanctions against Iran and/or North Korea, but presumably Iran given the Trump administration’s proclivities. This is a huge and provocative move. Huawei is the largest telecom manufacturer in the world and has tremendous influence in China. Beijing is naturally already demanding Meng’s release. Apparently the administration values punishing Iran so much that it’s willing to risk a major deterioration in whatever’s left of the US-Chinese relationship in order to send a message to any potential sanctions busters. It is unclear whether the US plans to levy any penalties on the company on top of this arrest.


New evidence shows that, good feelings between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump notwithstanding, North Korea is continuing to develop its intercontinental ballistic missile program:

North Korea is expanding an important missile base that would be one of the most likely sites for deploying intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States, two experts on the North’s missile programs said Thursday, citing new research based on satellite imagery.

The activities at the Yeongjeo-dong missile base near North Korea’s border with China and the expansion of a new suspected missile facility seven miles away are the latest indications that North Korea is continuing to improve its missile capabilities, said Jeffrey Lewis and David Schmerler of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey in California. And they come despite President Trump’s repeated claims of progress in efforts to denuclearize the North.

Dr. Lewis and Mr. Schmerler said they were still not sure whether Yeongjeo-dong and the new facility under construction in nearby Hoejung-ni, both in the mountainous area near North Korea’s central border with China, were separate bases or parts of a larger single operation.

But their geographic locations make them ideal to “house long-range missiles,” they said in a report they were preparing.

The facilities are located close to the North Korean-Chinese border, long thought to be the ideal location for North Korean missile facilities because it might deter potential preemptive US airstrikes.



Libya’s elections commission is planning to hold a nationwide referendum on the country’s new constitution by the end of February, with an eye toward holding a general election sometime later in 2019. There’s only one problem: it needs around $28.7 million to pay for the referendum and, uh, money isn’t that easy to come by in Libya these days. The elections commission’s budget is currently zero, which would preclude it doing much of anything, let alone holding a national vote.


The United Nations concluded several days of negotiations over Western Sahara in Geneva on Thursday, and while there was no breakthrough on finally settling the disputed region’s status, all concerned did agree to meet again early next year. This was the first set of talks over Western Sahara in six years, so really just the fact that they were held at all is something of an accomplishment.


The European Union and France pledged at a conference in Mauritania on Thursday to inject roughly $1.5 billion in additional funds into the G5 Sahel force, the multinational army intended to combat Islamist extremist groups in West Africa. The G5 (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger) has struggled to get any traction against groups like ISIS-Greater Sahara and various offshoots of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Indeed the problem of violent extremism has at best remained unchanged and in some cases–Burkina Faso in particular–has been getting worse.


US Africa Command says it killed four al-Shabab fighters in a December 4 airstrike in the town of Awdheegle, in southern Somalia. However, residents of the area reported a much larger operation involving Somali commandos and US ground forces, so the casualty count could easily be higher than that.


US Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Tibor Nagy told reporters on Thursday that the anglophone separatist crisis in Cameroon is only getting worse and that there are concerns that the government’s brutal treatment of the country’s anglophone regions could trigger radicalization.


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