World update: September 15 2017

UNITED KINGDOM

At least 29 people were injured on Friday when an improvised explosive device went off on a London metro train at the Parsons Green station. The device only “partially” exploded, apparently, so things could have been substantially worse. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, and British authorities raised their terror alert level to “critical,” which means they believe another attack is imminent.

ASIA

AFGHANISTAN

One NATO soldiers was killed near Kandahar on Friday when the convoy he was in was attacked using a vehicle that had been packed with explosives.

Part of the Trump administration’s Big Bold New Afghanistan Plan involves the creation of a national guard-type force that can be deployed to areas already cleared by the regular Afghan army to secure them without depleting said army’s ability to move on to the next offensive and so that local communities don’t have to turn to unaccountable militias for protection. Sounds like a reasonable idea, but the thing is it’s already been done. The Afghan Local Police was established in 2010 out of the Afghan Interior Ministry to function as a collection of local defense units that could supplement both the army and the Afghan National Police. And that program has been, charitably, a total disaster. ALP personnel have been implicated in a number of attacks on international forces, they’ve simultaneously taken casualties at a rate far higher than either the regular military or police, and–worst of all–they’ve been implicated in horrific human rights abuses, both on their own and as the agents of local warlords. Instead of eradicating those unaccountable local militias, ALP units have just become the unaccountable local militias in many places.

Proponents of the new force say it will be totally different this time around, because the guard (or whatever it winds up being called) will be recruited and trained under the army’s auspices and that will give it a professionalism that the ALP has lacked. But the basic idea for this force is still the same–troops recruited out of local communities, armed and trained, and sent back to those same communities to defend them. They’re still going to be vulnerable to the same local pressures that have corrupted the ALP, but with better training and probably better weapons.

People are also worried about expanded US airstrikes under the Trump plan and the potential for increased civilian casualties, but that’s nothing new.

PAKISTAN

Three suspected Afghan Taliban members were reportedly killed Friday in a US drone strike in Pakistan’s northern Kurram tribal area.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has rejected petitions for it to revisit its ruling barring former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his children (including heir apparent Maryam) from holding public office.

KASHMIR

According to an officer in India’s border guard force, one Indian soldier was killed on Friday by Pakistani soldiers firing on Indian border posts in Kashmir.

MYANMAR

Myanmar is blocking Patrick Murphy, US deputy assistant secretary of state, from visiting western Rakhine state during his trip to Myanmar early next week. Witnesses say the Myanmar army is continuing to set fire to Rohingya villages in that area, creating more displaced persons looking to get across the border into Bangladesh. Apparently the Myanmar government would rather Murphy not see that firsthand.

CAMBODIA

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has ordered Peace Corps workers out of his country, escalating a growing feud with Washington. Hun Sen is angry at criticism he’s getting from the US over his authoritarianism, but also he’s angry because the State Department announced earlier this week that it would stop issuing visas to senior Cambodian officials. That decision was taken because the Cambodian government is apparently refusing to accept several of its nationals whom the US is trying to deport because they’ve committed some crime or another. On Thursday, Hun Sen announced in response that he was suspending ongoing American efforts to find some 48 POWs from the Vietnam War period, and now the Peace Corps ban takes things a step further.

PHILIPPINES

Manila’s police chief has relieved all 1200 officers in the city’s Caloocan neighborhood of duty pending retraining. Two teenagers have been killed by police in Caloocan in the past couple of months, leading to increased public scrutiny of President Rodrigo Duterte’s ultra-violent war on drugs.

NORTH KOREA

With the news that South Korea has formed a new military unit for the express purpose of threatening to assassinate Kim Jong-un, the Washington Post’s Adam Taylor takes a look at the history of South Korea’s assassination programs (it’s, uh, not a happy one):

Perhaps the most infamous plot is the story of Unit 684, a group of criminals and other outcasts who were secretly taken to a remote island and brutally trained for a suicidal murder mission against North Korea’s then-leader, Kim Il Sung.

Things didn’t exactly go to plan. When the plot was called off, Unit 684 killed their guards and escaped from the island. They hijacked a bus and headed to Seoul, where most of them died in a pitched battle with South Korean soldiers. The disastrous plan was kept secret until the 1990s (the outline of the story later formed the basis of a blockbuster film, “Silmido”).

AFRICA

TUNISIA

Tunisia has officially decriminalized some types of corruption, and people are not happy about it:

Opposition groups in Tunisia have raised the alarm after parliament passed an amnesty law for officials accused of corruption under the toppled dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

The law was passed on Wednesday evening after a rowdy debate in parliament. In a recent cabinet reshuffle, Ben Ali-era officials were appointed as ministers of finance and education.

The reshuffle was seen as strengthening President Beji Caid Essebsi’s grip on power months before Tunisia’s first post-revolution municipal polls.

The amnesty doesn’t cover people who directly received bribes, a concession to the opposition. Essebsi insists that the measure will boost Tunisia’s economy somehow, which sounds like bullshit but what do I know?

SUDAN

The Trump administration is hearing from both sides over lifting US sanctions against Sudan:

With the clock ticking on an impending Oct. 12 deadline for the permanent lifting of U.S.-imposed sanctions on Sudan, Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour arrived in Washington on Thursday in an attempt to clinch the deal with U.S. authorities.

His wasn’t the only attempt at persuasion: About 50 members of the Sudanese community from all over the United States gathered outside the Capitol in Washington to urge the Trump administration to keep sanctions on Khartoum. The sanctions, slapped on Sudan in the late 1990s, bar trade between Sudan and the United States and put some economic fetters on Sudanese leaders.

Sudan has been playing nice with the US on counter-terrorism stuff and seems for the moment to have stopped fanning the civil war flames in South Sudan, but it’s still got a horrifying human rights record and, if these sanctions are taking off, will have impunity to continue being horrible on human rights.

NIGERIA

The Nigerian government has designated the Indigenous People of Biafra, a secessionist organization in the southeastern part of the country, a terrorist group. the IPOB insists that it is a peaceful organization, but Nigeria says it’s forming a “national guard” and a “secret service,” suggesting otherwise.

EUROPE

RUSSIA

Best buddies Vladimir Putin and Chechen boss Ramzan Kadyrov are at odds with one another for a change over, of all things, the Rohingya. Kadyrov has been allowing pro-Rohingya protests in Chechnya, while Putin has been a staunch supporter of Myanmar’s right to kill and displace as many Rohingya as it wants. This seems like a small thing, but you can’t discount the possibility that it could lead to a wider break between the two men.

GERMANY

Angela Merkel and her conservative coalition are still looking at a big win in Germany’s parliamentary election later this month, but a new poll shows the race tightening a bit with a lot of undecided voters still in play. Merkel’s coalition lost two points to drop to 36 percent support, but the more important finding is that 39 percent of voters are still uncertain about how they’re going to vote. That’s probably not enough to make Merkel worried, but it does suggest there could be a lot of volatility in the final makeup of the legislature, which will impact Merkel’s decisions on forming a governing coalition.

FRANCE

A few hours before the London attack, a man armed with a knife attacked a French soldier at a Paris subway station. The case is being treated as terrorism. Additionally, two women in the French town of Chalon-sur-Saone were injured by a man with a hammer–this is also being treated as a potential terror attack.

SPAIN

The Catalan regional government is asking for “dialogue” with Madrid over its planned October 1 independence referendum. That might be too little, too late. On Friday, Madrid gave the Catalan government 48 hours to suspend the referendum or lose control over most of its regional budget. This would obviously represent the biggest escalation yet in the Spanish government’s effort to quash this vote.

ICELAND

Iceland’s coalition government collapsed on Friday, over…well, over this:

On Thursday, it was revealed that the prime minister’s father signed a letter recommending “restored honor” —a provision within the Icelandic judicial system that expunges the records of criminals—for Hjalti Sigurjón Hauksson, a convicted pedophile. Hauksson had served a five-and-a-half-year jail term for repeatedly raping his stepdaughter over a twelve-year period.

Hauksson’s victim told the Icelandic newspaper Stundin that he continued harassing her even after his release, pursuing her with phone calls and messages to this day.

Additional information came to light on Thursday that Benediktsson had known about the letter since July, when Minister of Justice Sigríður Andersen, who belongs to the same party as the prime minister, told him about it.

One of the three parties in the coalition withdrew on Friday in response to this revelation. As a result, Iceland will now hold a snap election, which means another opportunity for the Pirate Party to build on its recent gains.

AMERICAS

CUBA

The case of the strange “sonic attack” against American diplomats in Havana took another turn when Jeffrey DeLaurentis, chief of the US mission in Cuba, confronted Cuban President Raul Castro about it:

In a rare face-to-face conversation, Castro told U.S. diplomat Jeffrey DeLaurentis that he was equally baffled, and concerned. Predictably, Castro denied any responsibility. But U.S. officials were caught off guard by the way he addressed the matter, devoid of the indignant, how-dare-you-accuse-us attitude the U.S. had come to expect from Cuba’s leaders.

The Cubans even offered to let the FBI come down to Havana to investigate. Though U.S.-Cuban cooperation has improved recently — there was a joint “law enforcement dialogue” Friday in Washington — this level of access was extraordinary.

France has started testing its diplomats in Cuba for possible injuries like the ones suffered by the Americans and Canadians. And Castro’s reaction adds to a growing pile of evidence suggesting that maybe the Cuban government wasn’t responsible–that it could have been some rogue element within the Cuban government, or a third country, or both. What would probably be helpful is if somebody could figure out what’s been causing all these injuries, but so far that effort has gone nowhere.

UNITED STATES

As he tends to do when these sorts of things happen, President Trump reacted to the terrorist attack in London today by lashing out at the victims.

That these criticisms are mostly unfounded is sort of beside the point–if you can’t limit yourself to statements of condolence and friendship in the hours after a terrorist attack, then just shut the fuck up.

But as it turns out, Trump also appears to have dished some information about the attackers that he probably shouldn’t have dished, something else he and his government have a habit of doing. That bit about “sick and demented people who were in the sights of Scotland Yard” isn’t something Scotland Yard has mentioned and that means it’s either not true or they didn’t want to make it public. Maybe Scotland Yard didn’t want to make it public to avoid embarrassment, or maybe they think it could screw with their investigation (H.R. McMaster drew the short straw and later had to try to explain the president’s tweets to the press–it didn’t go well), but the point is that countries are going to start assuming that they can’t tell the President of the United States anything without it winding up in his Twitter feed at some point. Theresa May publicly berated him for his comments today, which would be shameful if America still had the capacity for shame.

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Author: DWD

writer, blogger, lover, fighter

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