World update: December 14 2018



A joint Afghan-US offensive in Kunar province late Thursday killed 20 Taliban fighters and/or 60 civilians, depending on whose story you believe. The Taliban are obviously pushing the latter scenario, while Kabul is obviously pushing the former. The savvy reader will note that they’re not mutually exclusive. Elsewhere, a drone strike in Helmand province reportedly killed four Taliban fighters.


A militant group attacked a Pakistani security convoy on Friday in Baluchistan, killing six Pakistani personnel. No group has claimed responsibility but there’s no shortage of armed groups active in Baluchistan, from separatists to Pakistani Taliban to ISIS.


Would-be Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa will reportedly step down from his post on Saturday, ending Sri Lanka’s long national nightmare. Although technically, don’t you have to actually step up into a job before you can step down out of it? Just asking. Rajapaksa’s controversial and apparently unconstitutional appointment was subject to two lost confidence votes and a plethora of negative court rulings. President Maithripala Sirisena is expected to invite former/current PM Ranil Wickremesinghe to form a new government.


The Wall Street Journal is reporting that “Chinese hackers” are routinely breaching US naval contractors and pilfering plans and data related to naval R&D programs. Apart from the immediate problem of this particular data breach, there’s a much broader problem here, whereby the Pentagon shovels piles of money at private contractors who can’t even be bothered to maintain a basic level of cybersecurity and yet never seem to suffer any consequences, mostly because their lobbyists make sure of it.


The US and South Korean governments have failed to come to terms on a new agreement on the presence of US forces in South Korea, which could mean that the Pentagon will have to furlough its civilian Korean employees by April. Donald Trump wants South Korea to pay more for the privilege of having US soldiers in his country, with some reports saying that the US asked South Korea to up its annual $850 million contribution to something north of $1.2 billion. That South Korean money is mostly used to support civilian personnel.



Under pressure from the right to move Australia’s Israeli embassy to Jerusalem and under pressure from everybody else not to do that, Australian Prime Minister in his inimitable style has opted to do neither of those things. Instead, he’s decided to announce that Australia recognizes West Jerusalem as the rightful capital of Israel, but will not move its embassy from Tel Aviv until after a final status decision on the city as part of an Israel-Palestine peace accord. This baby-splitting decision is sure to make absolutely nobody happy, which I suppose is the kind of decision making you have to expect from the leader of a party that routinely polls about 10 points behind its main opposition.



The Nigerian government on Friday announced that it was suspending UNICEF’s activities in northeastern Nigeria over accusations that the aid agency was spying for ISIS-West Africa and/or Boko Haram. Then a few hours later it rescinded that suspension. What gives? Alex Thurston has some thoughts:

My main comment on all this is that the military is playing politics here in a big way. The military is obviously well aware of allegations, by its own soldiers as well by journalists and other critics, that the fight against Boko Haram is not going well. The problems include not just brutality against civilians, but also lack of proper equipment for frontline soldiers. The military is likely aware, moreover, that even among many civilians there is a strain of suspicion toward Western NGOs, the United Nations, foreign development and humanitarian agencies, and so forth. The politics of this announcement, then, in my view includes an effort to cater to this strain of suspicion while deflecting attention away from the military’s own serious problems.

It’s not so much that UNICEF has been “spying” as it’s been inconveniently pointing out when Nigerian soldiers commit human rights violations. Obviously that, and not the violations themselves, is the real problem.


At least 11 people were killed in the southern Somali city of Baidoa on Thursday in clashes between Somali and African Union soldiers (the AU later denied any involvement) and supporters of former al-Shabab senior leader Mukhtar Robow. The Somali government and the AU peacekeeping force are growing desperate to prevent Robow, who defected from al-Shabab in 2013, from making the full transition to legitimate politics. He’s running for the presidency of Somalia’s autonomous Southwest region next week, and, while everybody was happy with Robow when he was an al-Shabab defector and critic, they’re panicking that he might actually win that office. Would actually win it, in fact, if the Somali government were to allow the vote to take place–it’s already postponed the election three times to prevent Robow from winning. Apart from Robow’s status as a former al-Shabab figure, this situation is a serious test case in terms of determining just how much autonomy Mogadishu is prepared to surrender to the country’s seven regions.


The Tanzanian government says it’s quickly losing foreign aid as donors balk at its hardline anti-LGBT stance. Nevertheless, it says it’s not prepared to stop hating gays no matter how much money it loses.


At least two Rwandan soldiers were killed earlier this week repelling an incursion from unspecified militants attempting to enter the country from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The militants were most likely fighters from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, a militia made up mostly of ex-Hutu génocidaires.



Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is angry at his Russian bosses patrons allies over Moscow’s plans to raise prices on its energy exports to his country. He’s also angry and certain ultra-nationalist Russian politicians for their loose talk about Russia maybe possibly why not someday just up and annexing his country:

Lukashenko on Friday cited Russian ultranationalist lawmaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky as one of those who have suggested that Belarus should be incorporated into Russia.

“It will never happen,” the Belarusian president said. “Sovereignty is a sacred thing for us.”

The Russians have talked about opening up an air force base in Belarus, I guess whether the Belarusians want it or not, and many Belarusians for reasons I can’t fathom seem to think that letting the Russians put a military base on their soil could be the prelude to a Russian takeover. Sounds like a crazy fantasy if you ask me.


As expected, Kosovo’s parliament voted overwhelmingly on Friday to upgrade Kosovo’s small, lightly-armed national defense force to a real-deal army with cool uniforms and everything. Also as expected, the Serbian government responded to the vote by talking openly about an “armed intervention” (otherwise known as an invasion) if the army is used to threaten Kosovar Serbs–something the Kosovar government insists it will not do.


Also also as expected, Prime Minister Stefan Löfven’s latest attempt to form a minority government was soundly rejected by the Swedish parliament on Friday. According to Swedish law, parties can try two more times to form a government before a new election must be called.


French authorities are once again deploying tens of thousands of police officers around the country this weekend in preparation for another round of “yellow vests” protests against Emmanuel Macron and his austerity policies. They do not expect this weekend’s demonstrations to be as large or as chaotic as in past weeks, as the concessions Macron unveiled earlier this week and the Christmas market terrorist attack in Strasbourg have dampened the public mood. However, the new concern is that individuals or groups looking to do violence could use the protests as cover.


After postponing a vote on her Brexit plan that was supposed to happen on Tuesday, Theresa May apparently spent the rest of the week making it less, not more, likely that her plan will pass parliament when it finally does come to a vote:

Theresa May has come home from Brussels empty-handed and without hope of further negotiations over the Irish backstop, with the failure to achieve any kind of breakthrough leaving her brutally exposed.

Plans to work over Christmas on a legal guarantee over the temporary nature of the backstop had run into a brick wall, EU officials said, despite May’s claim that she would be holding further talks “in the coming days”.

Brussels sources claimed May was just keeping up a pretence that the legal guarantee she had promised rebellious Tory MPs during this week’s leadership challenge was still on the cards.


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