World update: January 21 2019



The Taliban carried out a devastating suicide attack against Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security training center in Maidan Wardak province on Monday, killing at least 126 people according to unconfirmed accounts. It was a major blow against the country’s primary intelligence agency and local militias who were being trained at the facility. Later in the day, Taliban representatives met with US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Qatar in a resumption of the previously stalled peace process. The two events are related, in that the Taliban is escalating its military campaign in order to strengthen its bargaining position, and it may also be that Taliban hardliners are pushing the escalation in violence while more moderate elements are pursuing peace talks.


A new report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies reveals one of North Korea’s 20 hitherto undeclared missile bases and says it’s actually a hitherto undeclared missile “headquarters,” from which a hypothetical missile exchange with the United States could be coordinated. That would make it a major topic in denuclearization talks, though until North Korea acknowledges it exists it’s hard to imagine the North Koreans negotiating over it.

John Feffer previews the apparently upcoming second Donald Trump-Kim Jong-un summit and argues that the current dynamic–Trump struggling with troubles in Washington and Kim actually doing pretty well for himself–could mean good things for the meeting:

In his annual New Year’s speech, Kim confidently spoke of his country’s ability to defend against any military attacks but spent the bulk of his speech identifying the economic advances the country has made and the challenges that remain. He did not project the image of a man in a corner. Rather, he appeared to be a man with options. He could keep his nukes or dismantle them. He could negotiate with the United State or not. He could fall back on China’s support if necessary.

A politically weak Trump and more confident Kim could be the best possible combination for a successful summit. Trump is desperate to demonstrate that he can successfully negotiate with someone, anyone. He is acutely aware of the criticism, particularly at home, generated by the first summit in Singapore. He wants to silence his critics with a grand foreign policy gesture.

Kim, meanwhile, has the backing of Beijing and the prospects of moving forward quickly on the economic front with South Korea. He may well be in the mood to compromise.



Hundreds of people protested again in Omdurman on Monday after news broke that a man shot by government forces during a protest last week had died of his wounds. Sudanese authorities insist they haven’t used any live ammunition in responding to the month-long outbreak of protests against President Omar al-Bashir, blaming all the demonstrator deaths so far on unnamed “infiltrators.”


A new report alleges that European governments are deliberately financing inhumane detention camps for would-be migrants from Libya in an effort to keep those people in Libya:

According to a report by Human Rights Watch, who interviewed 66 migrants and asylum seekers in Libya last year, EU institutions and member states are continuing to sustain a network of detention centres characterised by “inhuman and degrading” conditions where the risk of abuse is rife.

Detailing a pattern of treatment in Libyan detention centres which it said “violates international law”, the group accused senior EU officials of being aware of the abuses but repeatedly failing to act.

The report highlights EU assistance to the Libyan coastguard to enable it to intercept migrants and asylum seekers at sea, at which point they are taken to Libya. Italy, in particular, is accused of “abdicat[ing] virtually all responsibility for coordination of rescue operations at sea in a bid to limit the number of people arriving on its shores”.


Al-Qaeda’s Mali affiliate, Jamaʿa Nusrat al-Islam wa al-Muslimin, has claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attack on a United Nations peacekeeping base in which 10 peacekeepers were killed.


Muhammadu Buhari’s information minister, Lai Mohammed, said on Monday that he has “credible intelligence” that the opposition People’s Democratic Party is “mobilizing” Boko Haram and other militant groups “to engage in massive attacks and other acts of violence in several states” in the lead up to next month’s presidential election. Call me crazy, but this seems more like a way to absolve Buhari of responsibility for any violence between now and election day–including violence triggered by, say, a rigged election–while blaming the opposition instead, than an actual statement of fact.


Several African leaders have sent congratulations to DRC President-elect Felix Tshisekedi over his alleged victory in the country’s December 30 presidential election. Another candidate, Martin Fayulu, is still claiming that he won the election with over 60 percent of the vote and appears to have evidence to back up his claim, but without regional support his effort to overturn the results will probably fizzle out. The leaders who have already acknowledged Tshisekedi’s victory are probably hoping to avoid chaos in one of the continent’s largest and already most chaotic countries.


Zimbabwean security forces have reportedly killed at least 12 people in their brutal, sometimes house-by-house crackdown against people who have participated in recent protests against rising fuel prices. President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s spokesperson, George Charamba, called this “a foretaste of things to come” over the weekend.



The Russian government on Monday finally acknowledged the existence of the SSC-8/9M729 cruise missile, the weapon the US says violates the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, but says it will not destroy the weapon because in fact it is only a short-range device. The Trump administration is using the alleged Russian violation as an excuse to scrap the treaty, which it dislikes in part because it doesn’t apply to China.

Meanwhile, polling shows that the Russian public’s trust in Vladimir Putin is at just over 33 percent, the lowest level it’s been at since 2006 (though, to be fair, he’s still the most trusted politician in Russia). Putin’s approval rating is still over 60 percent but he’s clearly taken a big political hit from a weak economy and his government’s austerity policies.


French President Emmanuel Macron addressed his true constituency on Monday–the CEOs of several multinational corporations–and assured them that he has no intention of giving in to protesters who want him to stop immiserating the vast majority of the French people in the name of enriching the elite. So whatever “national conversation” Macron wants to have with the protesters, it’s clear that he already knows how the discussion will end. That Macron chose to have this discussion at Versailles, the home of the French monarchy, and compared himself to Louis XVI, who got his head chopped off in the French Revolution, is almost too on the nose.


Two days after a car bombing in the Northern Irish city, police in Londonderry were very busy on Monday. Three vans were reportedly stolen and suspiciously abandoned around the city, and at least one of them did contain a bomb that police exploded in a controlled detonation.

Meanwhile, Theresa May unveiled her Plan B for Brexit, and it turns out it’s basically Plan A just with less time for parliament to do anything to stop it:

Even though her plan was defeated in Parliament last week by 230 votes, Mrs. May told lawmakers on Monday that she still hoped to win them over by negotiating changes to the plan that many regard as cosmetic.

She told lawmakers that she could not rule out the possibility of leaving the European Union without any agreement, even though preventing that outcome is probably the one thing that a healthy majority in Parliament can agree on as a course of action.

She also said she did not believe there was a majority in Parliament for a second referendum that could reverse the whole process of withdrawal.

And she rejected the option of pivoting toward a model of Brexit that keeps closer ties to the European Union, an option more attractive to opposition lawmakers.

Instead, she appeared to double down on her gamble that, as the March 29 deadline for exiting the bloc approaches, lawmakers in Parliament will hold their noses and vote for her unpopular plan for fear of the alternatives — a no-deal Brexit or no Brexit at all.

Good luck with that, I guess. May’s objection to a second referendum is apparently that it would “damage social cohesion by undermining faith” in Britain’s democracy. Because obviously social cohesion and faith in democracy are at all time highs in the UK as it is. You’d hate to do anything that might risk that. May is also rejecting calls to ask the EU for an extension to Britain’s Brexit date, though that’s likely posturing and if/when her Plan B loses its vote in parliament she probably will do just that. Of course, there’s no guarantee the EU will grant an extension.



Venezuelan authorities arrested more than two dozen military officers on Monday after what they termed an “attempted revolt.” The officers reportedly attacked a national guard outpost in Caracas, close to the presidential palace, and seized weapons before meeting resistance from security forces. This incident does not seem to signal that the military is turning against Nicolás Maduro–rather, these were low-ranking officers who are probably feeling as much as anybody else the pain caused by Venezuela’s wretched economy.


ELN rebels say that last week’s car bombing of a police academy in Bogotá, which killed at least 21 people, was a “legitimate act of war.” The rebels say they want President Iván Duque to restart stalled peace negotiations, but the attack last week seems to have hardened Duque’s resolve against doing that.


The death toll from last week’s oil pipeline explosion now stands at 89 and may rise still higher, as some 51 people remain injured.


Greenland’s ice is melting faster than scientists previously believed, which means we’re probably a whole lot closer to triggering the kind of feedback effect that will lock in massive climate change disruptions no matter what humanity does about greenhouse gas emissions–especially when combined with melting ice from Antarctica, which is losing ice at its fastest rate in recorded history. A natural phenomenon called the North Atlantic Oscillation, which brings warmer air to Greenland, has compounded the effect of human-caused climate change.

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