Asia/Africa update: November 29 2017



Russia analyst Samuel Ramani looks at Moscow’s efforts to curry favor in Afghanistan–even as it’s allegedly providing military aid to the Taliban and despite, you know, lingering bad blood from the Afghan-Soviet War–through the magic of business deals:

On October 30, 2017, a delegation of 20 prominent Russian businessmen arrived in Afghanistan to negotiate with Kabul over an expansion of Russian investments in Afghanistan’s agriculture, transport, and mining sectors. These negotiations resulted in a joint pledge to substantially increase annual trade turnovers between Russia and Afghanistan, deepening Moscow’s economic links to the war-torn country.


As the profitability of economic investments in Afghanistan is highly uncertain due to the country’s ongoing political instability, Russia’s commitment to stronger commercial ties with Afghanistan is intriguing. A closer examination of Russian conduct in Afghanistan reveals that Moscow’s investments in Afghan economic development initiatives and military assistance provisions to Kabul are part of a broader strategy to rebrand Russia’s image in Afghanistan.


Gunmen attacked a Shiʿa mosque in Islamabad on Wednesday, killing a Pakistani intelligence officer. There’s been no claim of responsibility for the attack.


Philippine authorities say their forces killed 14 Maoist insurgents in fighting south of Manila on late in the day on Tuesday.


38 North has done further analysis on North Korea’s ICBM test early Wednesday morning. It’s likely that the device was a new model, the Hwasong-15, a modification of the Hwasong-14 ICBM that Pyongyang had previously tested twice. That’s what the North Koreans are claiming, anyway, and there seems to be enough new about this design that it is indeed a new model. 38 North’s findings are consistent with other estimates suggesting that the missile, if flown on a normal trajectory could cover 13,000 km in flight. But they caution not to make too much of that maximum distance:

However, it is important to note—as Dr. Wright does in the last paragraph of his post—the Hwasong-14 and -15 missiles which were tested likely carried very small payloads, which exaggerate the range that can be achieved with a North Korean nuclear weapon. Indeed, the engineering model used for this analysis indicates the missiles were tested with a 150 kg payload. It is doubtful North Korea can fashion a nuclear weapon that weighs less than 100 kg. It is also unlikely that North Korea has enough experience developing, testing and validating the technologies needed to build a 50 kg re-entry vehicle capable of protecting the warhead during the high-temperature, high-stress environment experienced during descent through the atmosphere. As the figure below indicates, a Hwasong-14 or -15 fitted with a 500 kg payload (weapon plus re-entry vehicle mass) and flown on a standard trajectory has a maximum reach is roughly 8,500 km. This means Kim Jong Un’s nuclear bomb must weigh less than 350 kg if he expects to strike the western edges of the US mainland. A 600 kg payload barely reaches Seattle.

It may seem paradoxical, but if the North Koreans conclude that, having tested a hydrogen device and an ICBM that brings the US mainland under threat, their main nuclear and missile work is done, they could be more open to negotiations now than they’ve been in some time. Indeed, Pyongyang’s statements after the missile test seemed to indicate that they feel like they’ve completed their work, even though there are obvious reasons to doubt that they can actually marry a bomb to a missile capable of hitting, say, Washington. But the specifics of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities don’t matter that much–what matters is whether or not Kim Jong-un now feels like he can concede to freezing his nuclear program in place without compromising North Korea’s status as a “nuclear power.”

At this point it’s likely the North Koreans will continue working to complete and refine their weapons, but the further along they get the closer we come to a point where their willingness to negotiate will increase considerably. The question is whether anybody is going to be interested in negotiating with them. The Trump administration, at least, isn’t showing any signs that it would be interested in a conversation just now.



Human Rights Watch is accusing armed groups aligned with Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army of perpetrating a massacre in the town of Abyar, east of Benghazi. The bodies of some 36 men were found there in late October, most of them obviously executed. Some of the men are known to have been arrested by Haftar’s forces in Benghazi before they wound up in Abyar.

Libya is also in the news again over its slave markets. The existence of these markets, the product of traditional Libyan racism actualized by the human trafficking rings that have exploited Libya’s chaos to detain and abuse African migrants looking for passage to Europe, has been known for several months now. But they were spotlighted by a recent CNN special report that has drawn massive global attention, particularly from elsewhere in Africa. Nigeria, for example, has started sending flights to Libya to airlift its stranded nationals out and bring them back…well, back to the place they were trying to leave in the first place.


This slipped past me earlier this month, but a new report from the CESifo Group contends that Nigeria’s oil industry is killing infants at a rate of more than 16,000 per year:

The study, published as a working paper by the CESifo group, found that if an oil spill occurred within 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) of the residence of a mother before she fell pregnant, the mother’s baby would be twice as likely to die. Oil spills that occurred while the mother was actually pregnant did not have an impact on child or neonatal mortality, according to the study.


Researchers found that even if the oil spill occurred five years before the mother conceived, it still resulted in the neonatal mortality rate doubling from 38 deaths per year to 76 deaths per year for every 1,000 live births.


Given that there were almost 5.3 million live births in Nigeria in 2012 and that around 8.05 percent of these births took place within 10 kilometers of an oil spill, the authors estimated that oil spills could have killed around 16,000 infants within their first month of life in 2012.


A Murle tribal militia in South Sudan’s Jonglei state massacred at least 43 men, women, and children in the village of Duk Payel on Tuesday. Complementary to the country’s civil war, there are lower level tribal conflicts going on all over the place. Tuesday’s attack was the latest salvo in an ongoing Murle-Dinka conflict.


AFRICOM says it has investigated reports that its forces killed 10 Somali civilians in a raid in August and has found that they did not. What a stunning development. Nobody could have guessed that AFRICOM would absolve itself. What’s particularly laughable about this is that it’s so widely accepted that the American forces killed those 10 civilians that the Somali government has already paid compensation money to their families. But, hey, it’s like the Pentagon always says:

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