World update: November 18-19 2017

Reserving the right to pop back up if something major happens, and of course barring some kind of unforeseen problem on the back end, this is going to be our last set of updates until Monday, November 27. Thanksgiving is going to be extra challenging this year for a myriad of family reasons, and so I need a couple of extra days to deal with that. Additionally, while I love writing these updates for you fine folks every night, I could frankly use a little break and a few consecutive decent nights of sleep. We’ll have an occasional history repost over the next few days but otherwise the place will be quiet. Happy Thanksgiving to those readers who are celebrating it, and I’ll see you all next week!



Six Afghan police officers were killed late Saturday when the Taliban attacked three checkpoints in Farah province. At least eight Taliban fighters were also killed, and another seven were killed in Kunduz when the roadside bomb they were trying to place exploded unexpectedly. Afghan forces were able to rescue over 30 people from a Taliban prison in Helmand province on Sunday.

Recruitment for the Afghan army is dwindling as the Taliban has more success. Some of that is simply common sense–people are naturally disinclined to enlist if they think there’s a pretty good chance they’ll get killed because the army is losing the war. But the Taliban is reportedly deliberately taking steps to reduce recruitment as well. Not only has the Taliban been able to retake territory in parts of the country that are prime recruitment areas for the military, it’s now strong enough that it can shake down the families of current service members in order to force them to quit. At this point the Afghan military is on pace to recruit barely 2/3 of the number of soldiers it recruited last year, and that figure was down from 2015.

The weakening of the Afghan military is, as we’ve mentioned before, causing the US to turn to local militias to form a national guard-type force to make up the difference. Very recent history (specifically, the Afghan Local Police program) shows what a huge mistake that’s likely to be.


Pakistani authorities in Balochistan have found the bodies of five more men who were killed while apparently attempting to cross the border into Iran. They were presumably killed by Baloch separatists along with the 15 other men whose bodies were found a few days ago.


One Indian soldier and six Kashmiri militants were killed in a battle in Hajin village on Saturday. The six militants are believed to have been members of Lashkar-e-Taiba.


China is trying to broker a settlement between Myanmar, the Rohingya, and Bangladesh. Step one is a ceasefire, which Beijing says is essentially already in place but needs to be monitored, followed by bilateral talks between Bangladesh and Myanmar on repatriation and then a third stage of talks on finding a long-term resolution to the Rohingya’s status.



Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga says that at least 31 of his supporters have been killed by Kenyan police and pro-government militias since he returned to the country on Friday. On Sunday he called for “international intervention” to put an end to what he called “state-sponsored thuggery.”


With his military now in firm control of the country, his own ZANU-PF party revolting against his leadership, and thousands of people taking to the streets of Harare to demand his ouster, a chastened Robert Mugabe addressed the Zimbabwean nation on Sunday and solemnly agreed that the time had come for him to make a graceful exit from national politics said nothing whatsoever about stepping down. In fact he suggested that his position as president remains unchallenged by the events of the past week. Just when you thought there were no more plot twists this story could take, here’s one out of the blue.

Mugabe is 93, and so you have to consider the possibility that he’s of somewhat diminished capacity and that’s impacting his ability to grasp what’s happening to him. But the BBC’s reporting suggests he had agreed to resign and then simply changed his mind. He even promised to oversee next month’s ZANU-PF party congress, despite the fact that he’d already been removed as party leader and replaced with his former vice president and presumptive successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa. The party had given Mugabe 24 hours to resign or face impeachment, so he’s probably going to be removed from office on Monday. But at this point, I think a “believe it when you see it” attitude would be entirely justified.



Angela Merkel’s chances of serving a fourth term as chancellor got a lot worse on Sunday when coalition negotiations between her CDU-CSU bloc, the Free Democrats, and the Greens collapsed as the Free Democrats walked out. Merkel’s alternatives now are fairly limited. She could form a minority government, which would probably as untenable as her desired lefty-libertarian-conservative coalition would have been over the long haul. She could call for new elections, which might clarify the political situation but would most likely benefit the far right Alternative for Germany party, which is a terrible thought. Or she could try to bring the Social Democrats back into a coalition, but German voters clearly weren’t happy with that coalition, and doing so would make AfD the main opposition party in the Bundestag, which is also a terrible thought (being the main opposition party carries certain perks that it would probably be better if AfD didn’t get).



Former Chilean President Sebastián Piñera won the first round of the country’s presidential election on Sunday, so he may be about to get a second crack at the job. Piñera took 36 percent of the vote and heads into a runoff with center-left journalist Alejandro Guillier, who took 22 percent. Another leftist, Beatriz Sánchez, came in a surprising third with just over 20 percent, but it was still the conservative Piñera who won the day and is in the driver’s seat for the runoff. The leftist Frente Amplio coalition, which Sánchez was representing, also appears to have done well in parliamentary voting. Turnout was only 45 percent, so the extent to which any of these people can be considered legitimate “winners” is debatable.


This slipped through the cracks last week, but Venezuela is in default. Standard and Poors declared the country in default last week, and Fitch Ratings reported that the state oil company had missed bond payments, but so far investors don’t seem to be organizing for immediate action. They may be waiting to see if the Maduro government can renegotiate enough of its debt to make delayed payments or even get some kind of financial lifeline, presumably from Russia.


Finally, if you were outraged at the New York Times report from last week that said the US has been drastically undercounting the civilian casualties caused by its anti-ISIS campaign, you’ll probably appreciate Paul Pillar’s analysis of that report:

These findings provide disturbing food for thought in at least three respects. One concerns the values and morality involved in a U.S. military operation in which so many innocents suffer so much. The human faces that Khan and Gopal attach to some of the specific cases of suffering they have investigated underscore the fundamental wrongness of what has been occurring.


A second concerns the counterproductive aspects of an offensive that is supposed to be combating terrorism. The Donald Rumsfeld question—are we creating more terrorists than we are killing?—is still quite pertinent. The unsurprising resentment against the United States that results from U.S. aircraft killing and maiming innocent people, or destroying their homes, tends to create more terrorists. At a minimum, it fosters the sort of sentiment that existing terrorists exploit and win them support.


A third implication involves the ability of the American public and political class to assess adequately what is going on with a military campaign of this sort. The biggest problem as always is an unwillingness to pay adequate attention to information at our disposal. But in this case there is the added problem of bum information. Khan and Gopal write that the huge disparity between official numbers and probable actual figures of civilian casualties means that this aerial offensive “may be the least transparent war in recent American history.”

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