World update: January 4 2018



At least 20 people were killed in Kabul on Thursday when an ISIS suicide bomber struck a crowd of police monitoring a protest in the Afghan capital.

A Russian news outlet reported on Thursday that China is financing the construction and operation of a new Afghan military base in the northern province of Badakhshan. Northern Afghanistan is a consistent trouble spot for Kabul in the fight against the Taliban, and it’s also a potential route for Uyghur fighters currently operating in Afghanistan to eventually make their way back to China to potentially cause problems there. Choking off that route is likely Beijing’s main motivation in financing the base.


Well, the Trump administration said they were going to do it, and on Thursday by god they did it:

The United States said on Thursday it was suspending an undisclosed amount of security assistance to Pakistan, which two officials said was worth more than $255 million, until Islamabad takes action against the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network.


The U.S. State Department announced the decision, saying it reflected the Trump administration’s frustration that Pakistan has not done more against the two groups, which have long used sanctuaries in Pakistan to launch attacks in neighboring Afghanistan that have killed U.S., Afghan and other forces.

American officials say the money could be restored if Pakistan decides to start treating the Afghan Taliban as an enemy rather than as an asset. The Pakistanis are unlikely to be very moved by the loss of a few hundred million dollars in aid at a time when China is enormously interested in amping up its relationship with Islamabad, but there are other steps Washington could take–sanctions, more frequent drone strikes on Pakistani territory–that would bite a bit harder but would also probably push the US-Pakistan relationship closer to the point of no return. Pakistan could retaliate by closing off US supply routes into Afghanistan, though again that would escalate things in a dangerous direction.


This is just breaking as I write this, but North Korea has reportedly accepted an offer from South Korea to engage in talks next week on the participation of North Korean athletes in February’s Winter Olympics in South Korea. Any talks are good, so this is welcome news. On the other hand, Pyongyang also looks like it’s preparing for another satellite launch, which is usually a low-key way to conduct a missile test and could be seen as another provocation by the Trump administration.


Next week’s North Korea-South Korea talks will have been made possible in part by a US-South Korea agreement, announced on Thursday, to suspend joint military exercises until after the Olympics. That development comes a day after South Korea and North Korea reopened their hotline, which hasn’t been active since early 2016. That’s another sign that maybe tensions are relaxing just a little bit.



Khartoum has suddenly recalled its ambassador to Egypt for consultations. They’ve offered no reason why, but Egypt and Sudan are constantly at each other over border disputes and arguments about who should get what share of the Nile’s water, so presumably it has something to do with those issues.

On a more positive note, the Sudanese government reached a deal, announced on Thursday, to extend its ceasefire with rebels in central and southern Sudan through the end of March.



While Vladimir Putin has a death-grip on the Russian presidency, Colombia University’s Yana Gorokhovskaia says that non-Putin aligned candidates are doing surprisingly well in local and municipal elections. That might not seem like much, but Gorokhovskaia argues that it does matter:

Electoral innovation in an authoritarian state is important in its own right. But the election of opposition municipal deputies in Moscow will also have immediate political consequences. First, there are now enough opposition deputies to allow a regime opponent — Dimitri Gudkov — to run in Moscow’s 2018 mayoral election. As of 2012, candidates for mayor of Moscow must collect signatures from at least 110 municipal deputies to register their candidacy. In 2013, Nalavny ran an exciting, Western-style campaign for mayor but was only able to participate because United Russia deputies helped him register. In 2018, Gudkov may not need United Russia’s help or permission to run for mayor of Russia’s capital city. Second, though their powers are limited, municipal deputies can have a real impact on the lives of Muskovites — overseeing housing repairs, park construction and urban planning initiatives. They are now deeply involved in the ongoing renovation of Khrushchev-era buildings, an issue that affects thousands of residents.


Here’s some fantastic news for all of us:

A Norwegian court has backed the government’s plans for oil exploration in the Arctic, which had been challenged by environmental groups.


The issuing of oil exploration licences breached a constitutional right to a healthy environment, the groups said.


The 10 licences were issued in 2016 to explore the Barents Sea above the Arctic circle.


Norway is seeking to replace production from its dwindling oilfields in the North Sea and Norwegian Sea.

Nothing like burning a little more oil to set the planet right.



Finally, Tom Englehardt offers a horrifying look at the metastasizing Global War on Terror:

The Costs of War Project has produced not just a map of the war on terror, 2015-2017 (released at TomDispatch with this article), but the first map of its kind ever.  It offers an astounding vision of Washington’s counterterror wars across the globe: their spread, the deployment of U.S. forces, the expanding missions to train foreign counterterror forces, the American bases that make them possible, the drone and other air strikes that are essential to them, and the U.S. combat troops helping to fight them.  (Terror groups have, of course, morphed and expanded riotously as part and parcel of the same process.)


A glance at the map tells you that the war on terror, an increasingly complex set of intertwined conflicts, is now a remarkably global phenomenon.  It stretches from the Philippines (with its own ISIS-branded group that just fought an almost five-month-long campaign that devastated Marawi, a city of 300,000) through South Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and deep into West Africa where, only recently, four Green Berets died in an ambush in Niger.


No less stunning are the number of countries Washington’s war on terror has touched in some fashion.  Once, of course, there was only one (or, if you want to include the United States, two).  Now, the Costs of War Project identifies no less than 76 countries, 39% of those on the planet, as involved in that global conflict.  That means places like Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya where U.S. drone or other air strikes are the norm and U.S. ground troops (often Special Operations forces) have been either directly or indirectly engaged in combat.  It also means countries where U.S. advisers are training local militaries or even militias in counterterror tactics and those with bases crucial to this expanding set of conflicts.  As the map makes clear, these categories often overlap.

Here’s the map he’s talking about. You might want to take a few deep breaths before you look at it:


Don’t worry though–the War on Terror’s objectives are so well-defined and America has been so successful that the days of the US spending hundreds of billions of dollars to splay its military over 40 percent of the planet have to be close to over. Right?

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