Asia/Africa update: June 4 2018

ASIA

AFGHANISTAN

A suicide attacker struck a meeting of the Afghan Ulema (religious scholars) Council in Kabul on Monday, killing at least 14 people. The scholars had just issued edicts declaring that the Afghan insurgency has no religious basis and suicide bombings are counter to Islamic law. It’s unknown who was behind the attack but ISIS seems like a slightly stronger candidate based on who these scholars are and the connections that some of them have with the Taliban.

PAKISTAN

At least two and perhaps ten or more Pashtun activists were killed on Sunday in the South Waziristan town of Wana, after a meeting of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (a civil rights organization) was attacked first by Taliban militants and then by Pakistani security forces during protests that broke out after the Taliban assault.

TAIWAN

The Pentagon may send a warship through the Taiwan Strait, a common enough “freedom of navigation” exercise but one that almost always arouses Chinese hostility and will, if done this year, come while the Trump administration is potentially waging a trade war against China and looking for Chinese help to rein in North Korea. China has been engaging in its own provocative military demonstrations around Taiwan lately out of concerns over the independence desires of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.

CHINA

Speaking of that trade war, the Chinese government shows no sign of budging to Donald Trump’s demands that it change its approach to intellectual property rights. China either steals or demands technological information from companies that try to do business there, which boosts Chinese industry at the expense of everybody else, and while Beijing is amenable to reducing the US trade deficit it’s not going to change a policy it sees as key to its economic development.

NORTH KOREA

Trump now says he’s not going to use the phrase “maximum pressure” when referring to his North Korea policy, perhaps because it seems to offend the North Koreans, but the White House said on Monday that the policy hasn’t changed, just the terminology. The administration understandably seems inclined to hold off on new sanctions for now, but has no plans to lift current sanctions against Pyongyang unless, presumably, negotiations lead to some kind of breakthrough.

Vladimir Putin popped up on Austrian TV on Monday to offer his view that the US should begin offering North Korea some sanctions relief now, in exchange for Kim Jong-un’s decision to suspend nuclear and missile testing. I don’t know if he’s trolling or what, but I do know that Russian state media photoshopped a smile onto Kim’s face on Sunday when it broadcast images of his handshake in Pyongyang with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Which is pretty hilarious.

AFRICA

Pentagon officials say that the Defense Department’s new focus on the “peer competitor” threats from Russia and China will likely result in a serious cutback to US special forces operations in Africa over the next three years:

Ordered by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in recent weeks, the assessment of Special Operations units worldwide follows an ambush in Niger that killed four American soldiers last fall. The review is an outgrowth of a Defense Department strategy that focuses on combating rising threats from Russia and China.

More than 7,300 Special Operations troops are working around the world, many of them conducting shadow wars against terrorists in Yemen, Libya, Somalia and other hot spots. The Special Operations Command in Tampa, Fla., has also assumed important new missions in recent years, like taking the lead on combating weapons of mass destruction.

Pentagon officials said Mr. Mattis and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are worried that the commandos are spread too thin. The two leaders have ordered the military’s Special Operations and Africa commands to present a range of options by mid-June to balance rising security challenges — which also include North Korea and Iran — with vital counterterrorism operations.

LIBYA

Libyan National Army forces reportedly began entering Derna on Monday, the culmination of months of LNA airstrikes and maneuvers to surround and besiege the city. Derna is the last major population center in eastern Libya outside the control of LNA commander Khalifa Haftar, who insists that the city is controlled by “terrorists.” There are Islamist elements in Derna, but by “terrorist” I’m pretty sure he means “anyone who hasn’t submitted to me.”

In happier news, perhaps, and further west, the communities of Misrata and Tawergha have reached an agreement on a deal that will allow the people of Tawergha to return home for the first time since 2011. Al Jazeera explains:

MOROCCO

Human Rights Watch is accusing the Moroccan government of human rights violations in its suppression of protests in the city of Jerada that began last December:

The rights group denounced the indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force in a new report released on Monday after a series of protests that began after two brothers accidentally died inside a coal pit they were mining illegally in December, 2017.

“The repression in Jerada has gone well beyond an effort to bring allegedly violent protests to justice,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

“It looks like it is about suppressing the right to peaceful protest social and economic conditions.”

NIGERIA

At least 13 people were killed in two different attacks in Nigeria’s Benue state on Sunday. One attack, in which six people died, is being classified as “cult violence” by locals, whatever that means. The second attack, which killed at least seven, involved an attack by herdsmen against a village in southern Benue overnight, and can presumably be counted among the ongoing wave of violence between herders and farmers across central Nigeria.

SOMALIA

The United States says it carried out an airstrike on Saturday that killed at least 27 al-Shabab fighters in Puntland.

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC

Attackers ambushed a United Nations patrol in the southwestern CAR on Sunday, killing at least one UN peacekeeper and wounding seven more, one critically. Four UN peacekeepers have been killed in the CAR so far this year.

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