World update: February 8 2018



Afghan authorities say that four children were killed in Ghazni province on Wednesday in the crossfire during a battle between government forces and the Taliban. However, their families say they were killed in an airstrike, which would kind of rule out any possible Taliban culpability.

On Thursday, the US carried out airstrikes in Badakhshan province against Taliban camps where fighters from the East Turkestan Islamic Movement are also believed to be based. The ETIM is a Uyghur Islamist group that has carried out terrorist attacks in China’s Xinjiang region, and its alleged presence in Badakhshan is behind recent rumors that China is going to build a base in that province for the Afghan military. The strikes themselves are not particularly interesting, but the fact that both the NATO and CENTCOM statements about the strikes went out of their way to mention the ETIM is a little unusual and seems intended to make Beijing happy.

Additionally, joint US-Afghan airstrikes on Thursday reportedly killed four ISIS militants in Jowzjan province.


Vox’s Yochi Dreazen tries to game out what a war with North Korea would look like. It’s not a pretty picture:

So I’ve spent the past month posing those questions to more than a dozen former Pentagon officials, CIA analysts, US military officers, and think tank experts, as well as to a retired South Korean general who spent his entire professional life preparing to fight the North. They’ve all said variants of the same thing: There is a genuine risk of a war on the Korean Peninsula that would involve the use of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. Several estimated that millions — plural — would die.


Even more frightening, most of the people I spoke to said they believed Kim would use nuclear weapons against South Korea in the initial stages of the fighting — not just as a desperate last resort.


Meanwhile, the Trump administration seems to be doing all it can to alienate South Korea:

President Trump’s State of the Union address was building to an emotional crescendo when he introduced Ji Seong-ho, a North Korean defector sitting in the first lady’s box, hailing him as a “testament to . . . freedom” as Ji, who lost a leg, raised his crutches to raucous applause from Congress.


In the White House’s view, the moment was a masterstroke of geopolitical gamesmanship in the campaign to exert “maximum pressure” on Kim Jong Un’s brutal regime.


But the move also caused consternation among South Koreans — coming days ahead of the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, a glittery international showcase that some on the peninsula hope will be a springboard for diplomatic engagement with the North.


At the South Korean Embassy in Washington, diplomats were blindsided. One official said the White House had not told them of Trump’s plans to highlight Ji — or of his meeting with Ji and seven other defectors in the Oval Office three days later.



The Kenyan government has turned on the last of the three TV stations it suspended over their decision to try to broadcast opposition leader Raila Odinga’s recent “inauguration ceremony.” Citizen TV went back on the air on Thursday, after the other two stations resumed broadcasting on Monday.


Stories of Cameroonian military atrocities against civilians in the country’s anglophone region are beginning to filter out from refugees who have made it to safety in Nigeria, and they’re as terrible as you might expect:

Residents of Kembong in southwest Cameroon call Dec. 18 “the day of misfortune”, when troops in search of rebels came to the town. An 81-year-old man, James Oben Ndi, had to flee after his house was burned down.


“All my effects were in that house. There was my daughter’s sewing machine, her clothes. Our whole life was in that house,” he told Reuters during an interview in a church in a nearby town where he has sought shelter.


On Jan. 14, soldiers entered the village of KwaKwa, a few kilometers from Bole, looking for information about a soldier killed there. Villagers fled to nearby cocoa farms as the soldiers opened fire.


A resident named Alex returned under cover of darkness the following evening to assess the damage: most of KwaKwa’s wooden houses were burned to ash and dead bodies lay in the street.



Don’t look now, but there’s a major new corruption scandal in Kiev that looks like it might involve President Petro “check out my 15 percent approval rating” Poroshenko:

It was a remarkable deal by any measure. An oligarch who had come from nowhere, aged just 28, had raised half a billion dollars to buy the media group that had earlier investigated him.


Serhiy Kurchenko, the “gas wizard of Ukraine”, had been named publicly for the first time only a year before. Now, he was able to seize the magazine that had investigated him, Forbes Ukraine. Staff resigned en masse. No longer would they write about his irregular business practices.


That’s what he thought. But Kurchenko could not have known that within months he would flee to Russia, where he would have to watch his prized purchase picked apart by prosecutors intent on seizing his assets and proving they were stolen.


To make matters worse, Forbes in the United States launched legal action to get its title back. It remains tight-lipped about its executive’s embarrassing approval of the 2013 deal and his advisory role.


For the sellers of United Media Holdings (UMH), the cash could not have come at a better time. Boris Lozhkin, who had set out as a journalist in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv in the 1990s, now counted himself among the country’s richest and most powerful men. He walked away with hundreds of millions from the sale.


His business partner and friend, the billionaire “chocolate king”, Petro Poroshenko, would go on to become president of Ukraine in June 2014 and make Lozhkin his chief of staff and later, his chief economic adviser.


The news that Angela Merkel’s conservatives and the Social Democrats have agreed to terms on a coalition deal has been greeted in Germany with a lot of skepticism and a fair amount of criticism. Critics on the conservative side are angry with Merkel for ceding powerful positions to the SPD, chief among them the Finance Ministry. For SPD rank and file members, it’s not clear that even that massive concession will be enough to get their support when the party votes on the coalition. For the skeptics, even if SPD members do vote to approve the coalition there just seems to be too much turmoil here for the arrangement to last. Merkel, whose political career will probably end whenever this current government does, is hoping they’re wrong.



First, another episode of “simple answers to simple questions”:

The answer is “probably not forever,” but more revealing is what the Washington Post defines as “checking an impulsive president”:

These days, Mattis’s influence radiates across the government. In places such as Afghanistan and Somalia, he has been a force for stability, resisting the president’s instincts to withdraw. In Iran and North Korea, he has curbed Trump’s desire for a show of military strength.

If Mattis is holding the line between us and a nuclear exchange with North Korea, then that’s commendable. On the other hand, if he’s the guy insisting that we keep on wrecking Afghanistan in perpetuity, then fuck him. Only in mainstream American media does “keep fighting the same war you’ve been losing for the past 16 years” count as wise, stabilizing counsel. Anyplace else, it’s practically the dictionary definition of insanity.

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