Asia/Africa update: November 28 2017



Good news everybody: America has turned the corner in Afghanistan! At least that’s what the US commander there, General John Nicholson, says:

After 16 years of war, the United States and its Afghan partners “have turned the corner” and “momentum is now with Afghan security forces,” the top U.S. general there told reporters on Tuesday.


Gen. John Nicholson, head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said the Trump administration’s plan to beef up the U.S. battlefield presence is a “game-changer” that puts Kabul’s battered forces “on a path to a win.”

Yes, truly, the Trump administration’s ingenious plan to do the same thing but more of it, via getting more people killed, has done the trick. If you’re wondering, a cursory Google search tells me that this particular corner-turning means that America has now done about 80 or so full laps around Afghanistan, which is nothing to sneeze at. Nicholson says that with the new American plan, Afghan forces should be able to retake, um, 75 to 80 percent of the country over, uh, the next two years. So it’s not a very sharp corner, I guess. And really it’s not a corner at all, so much as it’s a perpetual war to feed America’s perpetual war industry. In a few years, General Nicholson will have a wonderful new career getting paid to talk about the 20 year old Afghan War to think tanks and defense contractors and the like, extolling the need for Surge 18 to help the Afghan government hang on to its last three neighborhoods in Kabul, so really maybe we should just be happy for him and not dwell too much on the rest of the story.

By the by, a roadside bomb killed at least eight people in Kandahar province on Tuesday. Don’t think of them as dead, think of them as having wiped out trying to go around the corner.


There are, as you might expect, concerns that the Pakistani government’s decision to give fundamentalist protesters the law minister’s (figurative) scalp as a reward for weeks of protesting might, I don’t know, embolden Pakistani fundamentalists. And since the Pakistani military and intelligence community seems to have brokered the deal, the outcome also strengthens those institutions–which were already plenty strong as it was.


Bangladesh is going ahead with plans to convert Bashan Char island, in the Bay of Bengal, into temporary accommodations for Rohingya refugees until they can be repatriated to Myanmar. Sounds like a fair plan to alleviate overcrowding at refugee camps along the border, right? The problem, according to any number of international humanitarian organizations, is that Bashan Char is basically uninhabitable. It floods, a lot, especially during monsoon season, and the surrounding bay is a haven for pirates.

But apart from that, I’m sure it’s a delightful place.


Speaking of the Rohingya, or in this case not speaking of them, Pope Francis decided to avoid the R-word during his Myanmar visit after all. Instead he spoke in generalities about respecting minorities and the like without referring specifically to Myanmar’s failure to respect the Rohingya’s right not to be ethnically cleansed. In fairness to Francis, he was in a no-win situation here. The state of public discourse around the Rohingya in Myanmar is so toxic that if he had directly addressed the ethnic cleansing he would’ve lost his audience.


Around lunchtime today, Reuters reported that US sources were predicting a new North Korean missile test “within days.” And, as it turns out, they weren’t wrong:

North Korea launched a missile that landed close to Japan on Wednesday, the first since a missile fired over its neighbor in mid-September, and the Pentagon said its initial assessment was that Pyongyang had tested an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

More analysis will be done of the flight data in the coming days, but the preliminary estimate from arms control expert David Wright is that, if flown on a normal trajectory, this missile’s range would top out at over 13,000 km. Which puts the entire continental United States in play, including the old White House in Washington and the new White House in Florida, along with all of Donald Trump’s golf resorts. It might be about time to welcome North Korea to the nuclear club. And let’s remember to offer our kudos to Donald Trump, who told us back in January that none of what North Korea has done this year would actually happen. Another big win for America.

Don’t worry though, President Trump is going to “take care of it.” I know I feel better already.



A group of European and African leaders are meeting in Ivory Coast on Wednesday and it looks like the Europeans are going to have some explaining to do. Specifically, they’re going to be asked about migration policies that have left countless African migrants stranded in Libya and left to the mercy of human traffickers and slave traders. The European leaders will try to focus the discussion on investment and development, because that way they can promise to build up African economies–in order, theoretically, to reduce the number of migrants at the source–before they hightail it out of Africa with no intention of actually following through on their promises. But African leaders are likely to demand an increase in legal channels for migration into Europe, something that several European leaders have talked about but for which there seems to be little appetite given the little Fascist Spring that Europe has going on at the moment.


Speaking of Libya’s slave markets, the United Nations may, at French prompting, impose sanctions on individuals found to be participating in them. At the very least, the UN seems intent on emptying out Libya’s migrant detention facilities. However, the momentum for taking steps to eliminate Libya’s slave trade is being blunted by, that’s right, Donald Trump’s Twitter account:

A tweet by Donald Trump accusing CNN of purveying “fake news” has been seized on by Libyan media to challenge a report by the US broadcaster which suggested modern day slave auctions were being held in the country.


Over the weekend, Trump resumed his attacks on the US network, saying: “CNN International is still a major source of (Fake) news, and they represent our Nation to the WORLD very poorly. The outside world does not see the truth from them!


But in a sign that the US president’s persistent attacks on the credibility of American news outlets has a real world effect, the broadcaster Libya 218 used the tweet to question the credibility of the CNN video.

Tripoli is currently dealing with a water shortage, courtesy of a group of Gaddafi loyalists who have taken control of the Hasawna well south of the city. They’re angling for the release of a militia leader arrested by the Libyan government last month, and authorities are reportedly negotiating with them.


Amnesty International is accusing Shell Oil of encouraging a deadly Nigerian government crackdown in the 1990s:

Amnesty said it had studied thousands of internal documents of the company and witness statements which pointed to the need for the UK, the Netherlands and Nigeria to launch an investigation into the firm’s alleged complicity in human rights abuses in Ogoniland.


“The evidence we have reviewed shows that Shell repeatedly encouraged the Nigerian military to deal with community protests, even when it knew the horrors this would lead to – unlawful killings, rape, torture [and] the burning of villages,” the rights group said in a statement.

Officials in Nigeria’s Borno state are considering a plan to boost tourism by, um, embracing its status as Boko Haram’s birthplace. Among the ideas being batted around are a plan to turn Boko Haram founder Mohammed Yusuf’s home into a museum and another to turn Sambisa Forest, Boko Haram’s main base of operations, into a tourist destination. Whatever brings in the customers, I guess.


The Trump administration is hinting about pursuing new sanctions against South Sudan at the UN Security Council, but Russia seems inclined to veto any such measure.


Uhuru Kenyatta was sworn in for another term as Kenya’s president on Tuesday, but it was by no means a peaceful inauguration day in Nairobi:

As the president appeared before the 60,000-strong crowd in Nairobi’s Kasarani stadium for the inauguration, at least three people were reported killed as police fired rifles and teargas to break up supporters gathered a few miles away to hear Raila Odinga, the main opposition leader.


Odinga, 75, spoke briefly before being forced into a car by volleys of teargas from police. He told the crowd he would be “sworn in as president” by his own supporters later this month and called Kenyatta’s government “illegitimate”.


Video footage shows the crowd fleeing amid the sound of gunfire, and helmeted security forces striking unarmed people with batons. Other people scooped up water from slum puddles to clean their eyes.

It’s not clear at this point what the opposition’s endgame is or how, with no political or legal recourse and without the means to sustain itself indefinitely, it plans to get there. Mostly at this point the concern is that the violence could spiral out of control.

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