American and Pakistani officials are peddling two different accounts of Wednesday’s drone strike that reportedly killed at least one Haqqani Network bigshot on the Pakistani side of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The Pakistanis say that the strike hit an Afghan refugee camp in Kurram province, while the US denies that there even is a refugee camp in Kurram. Not much gray area there I guess. The United Nations says it’s not running any refugee camps in Kurram, but of course that doesn’t mean there aren’t any camps there. The accounts also disagree on how many people were killed–the US says two Haqqani fighters were killed, while Pakistan says that two people were killed overall but it can only confirm that one of them was in the Haqqani Network.
The Maldives new free trade agreement with China, signed just last month, is the culmination of several years of heavy diplomatic and financial contact between the two countries. China views the Maldives as an important client in dealing with India, and as a strategic ally because of its positioning with respect to major maritime trade routes. But as in the cases of Sri Lanka and Pakistan, there are concerns that the agreement is setting the stage for the Maldives to get too heavily indebted to China for comfort:
The FTA’s opponents are also warning of a looming Chinese debt trap. Already over 70 percent of Maldives’ current foreign debt is owed to China, on which the loan interest alone “is more than 20 percent of Maldives’ budget,” Nasheed told Times of India. The FTA can be expected to draw Maldives deeper into Chinese debt, giving Beijing “huge leverage” over Maldives, undermining the country’s sovereignty and independence, he warned.
This has been the experience of Sri Lanka, for instance. China extended loans totaling billions of dollars for infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka. With some of these projects, such as the strategically located Hambantota port and an airport nearby, not attracting enough business and unable to repay the roughly $8 billion owed China, the cash-strapped Sri Lankan government agreed to hand over Hambantota port to China on a 99-year lease as a way of paying down some of that debt.
SOUTH CHINA SEA
This is…probably not great news:
China may be getting ready to overtly “militarize” its island bases in the South China Sea. After years of counter-accusing the United States of militarizing the region while maintaining that its man-made islands were “necessary defense facilities,” Chinese officials are using a recent transit by a U.S. warship to lay the groundwork for deploying real force projection capabilities to its outposts.
Beijing is probably likely to up its naval deployments in Scarborough Shoal, the area under question, but it could start building another manmade island large enough to house a military facility, as it’s done in the Spratlys. It could also start fielding a heavier military force in the Spratlys. Neither of those choices is great for regional stability or the US-China relationship.
Although it was banned from exporting coal by the United Nations in August, Reuters is reporting, based on “Western intelligence sources,” that North Korea shipped coal out three times since then. They’ve allegedly been sending the stuff to Russia and from there on to South Korea and Japan.
There’s a new front opening up in Libya’s civil war, this time in the south with the Libyan National Army battling militia groups from Sudan and Chad:
On Jan. 15, 2018 near the Jaghboub Oasis, close to the Egyptian border in Libya’s northeast, Sudanese Justice and Equality Movement fighters killed six soldiers from the Libyan National Army’s 106th Infantry Brigade and the 501st Brigade. JEM captured one LNA soldier.
The 106th is a salafist unit led by Abdulrahman Hashim Al Kilani from the southern Kufrah region. The 501st Brigade is a small reconnaissance unit that is normally responsible for protecting and securing of Tobruk International Airport and Gamal Abdel Nasser air base.
Three days after the ambush, the LNA launched Operation Desert Fury. It began with air strikes targeting militia vehicles.
To the north, meanwhile, the UN says it is concerned by reports of summary executions being carried out in Benghazi by LNA forces following recent terrorist attacks in the city.
Senegalese authorities have arrested 24 people in connection with the attack in the country’s Casamance region earlier this month that left 14 people dead. They now believe that at least one member of the breakaway Movement of Democratic Forces for Casamance was behind the incident, though the cause remains unknown.
At least 26 people were killed in central Mali on Thursday when their vehicle ran over a mine near the Burkina Faso border. It’s unclear who was behind the bombing, though in that area there is certainly no shortage of suspects.
So much for Boko Haram being on its last legs or whatever Muhammadu Buhari said about them a couple of years ago. A BBC investigation found that the group—or groups at this point, since they’ve splintered—killed 900 people in 2017, slightly up from 2016. It carried out 150 attacks last year, up from 127 in 2016, and a higher percentage of those attacks happened in Nigeria than was the case the year before, perhaps reflecting that the group’s territorial reach has shrunk even if its capacity to kill people hasn’t.
The United States appears to have given up on South Sudanese President Salva Kiir. In a speech to the UN Security Council on Thursday, US ambassador Nikki Haley pronounced Kiir “unfit” for his office. Ceasefire violations last month by the South Sudanese army and Kiir’s decision to promote three generals accused of crimes against humanity seem to have been the final straw, coupled with Kiir’s continued obstructionism with respect to the delivery of humanitarian aid. The US is pushing for an international arms embargo for South Sudan but so far hasn’t been able to get much traction on that front.
Gunmen crossed into Cameroon from Nigeria on Thursday and opened fire on a border post. There are conflicting reports about injuries but nobody seems to have been killed. It’s not clear who carried out the attack—Boko Haram is a possibility, but so are anglophone Cameroonian separatists.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
Joseph Kabila’s government had a very successful year in 2017 in terms of slaughtering its own citizens:
“State agents” in the Democratic Republic of the Congo carried out 1,176 extrajudicial killings last year, according to a report published by the United Nations mission in the central African country.
The report says at least 89 women and 213 children were among the dead. The number of extrajudicial killings had tripled over the past two years, and Congolese armed forces were responsible for 64% of the total, the UN said.
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