Well, we’re back. As usual when I’ve been gone for a while this update will mostly stick to things that happened today with some pieces I flagged while I was gone in there for good measure.
On July 2, the Azerbaijani armed forces started large-scale exercises, the scenario of which, the Ministry of Defense said in a statement, will be “the liberation of the occupied territories,” as Azerbaijan refers to Nagorno-Karabakh.
And Azerbaijani state television has been airing a computer-simulated video of a potential victory in Nagorno-Karabakh, with artillery and tank attacks eventually leading to a prosperous redevelopment of the territory and a statue of Heydar Aliyev – the former president of Azerbaijan and Ilham’s father – in front of the government building.
“It is the first time that Baku has displayed a video announcing, and forcing, the state to defeat the enemy militarily,” the independent Azerbaijani news agency Turan wrote in a June 2 analysis. “It is the first time Azerbaijan doesn’t hide the exclusively military route to the resolution of the Karabakh problem.”
New-ish Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who is relatively pro-West in his geopolitical orientation and replaced the very pro-Russia Serzh Sargsyan as PM, has tried to assure Moscow that Armenia remains its client. But the Russians appear to be making new overtures toward Azerbaijan, which could in turn be emboldening Baku’s rhetoric.
Four Taliban fighters were reportedly killed in a bombing in Nangarhar province on Thursday. Nobody has taken responsibility for the attack but ISIS seems a safe bet.
Meanwhile, Afghan security forces killed at least four people and perhaps many more than that in Maimana on Wednesday while arresting Nizamuddin Qaisari, a district police commander and militia leader in Faryab province. Qaisari is one of Afghanistan’s many nominally pro-government warlords, who are both essential in fighting the Taliban but completely anathema to actually turning Afghanistan into a functioning state. He’s aligned with Afghan Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum, who is still stuck in Turkey because of allegations that he kidnapped and tortured a political rival back in 2016, and has been threatening Kabul over the Afghan government’s inability to defend Faryab from the Taliban. Qaisari’s bodyguards reportedly resisted his arrest and at least four of them were killed as a result. Then, thousands of Qaisari’s supporters took to the streets of Maimana to protest his arrest, and the Afghan forces eventually fired upon them as well.
On top of inadequate refugee camps and monsoon rains, Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are also coping with what appears to be a killing spree within their community. Some 19 people have been killed in the refugee camps since August. Some have been pointing fingers at the extremist Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, but so far there’s no evidence of ARSA’s involvement and the group’s leaders say there are other armed factions active in the camps.
Meanwhile, a report by Physicians for Human Rights that will be published later this month says that “forensic evidence” substantiates Rohingya claims about their treatment at the hands of the Myanmar military last year:
Of the 25 Chut Pyin survivors examined by PHR, 22 had physical injuries, according to the report.
Seventeen had gunshot wounds, five had suffered blunt trauma such as from kicking or beating, three had wounds from explosions or burns, three had penetrating injuries such as from stabbings, and two had suffered sexual violence.
“All the forensic examinations and medical records were highly consistent with the histories that the survivors described,” said PHR.
Members of the ISIS-aligned Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters group seized control of the Philippine town of Datu Paglas for about 12 hours before they were dislodged by Philippine security forces on Wednesday. Four militants were killed alone with two other people.
Aaaand here we go:
Some U.S. companies are pulling back investments in equipment and jobs “as a result of uncertainty over trade policy,” the Federal Reserve warned Thursday, adding that the U.S. clashes with trading partners were already hurting the stock market and could also harm overall economic growth.
The statement by the Fed, as part of a recap of the U.S. central bank’s June meeting, was the latest indication of the high-stakes of President Trump’s brewing trade war. The conflict will escalate further Thursday night when U.S. tariffs on $34 billion of Chinese imports take effect, with Beijing planning to swiftly respond on an equal amount of goods.
The US-China trade war may be starting for reals tonight, but Beijing seems to have gotten a head start by ratcheting up its regulatory requirements for US companies prior to the tariffs coming online. Since the US has a trade deficit with China, Beijing’s ability to go tit-for-tat with the US on tariffs is limited. So it may turn to other methods to interfere with US commerce. In possibly related news, China’s embassy in Washington has now issued a travel warning for Chinese citizens contemplating a trip to the US. It’s got a whole slew of reasons for people to avoid visiting the US, from “frequent” crime to expensive healthcare and issues with US customs.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be in North Korea this weekend, where he’s tasked with fleshing out some of the details related to Donald Trump’s June 12 Singapore summit with Kim Jong-un and demonstrating that the Trump administration hasn’t gone soft on North Korea. The recent news on this front hasn’t been good for Trump.
Despite President Mad Cow’s assurances that the summit put North Korea on the path to denuclearization, US intelligence officials told NBC several days ago that there’s evidence Pyongyang is actually increasing its production of weapons-grade uranium at undeclared sites while “upgrading” its declared enrichment facility at Yongbyon. Then researchers at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies said that satellite imagery shows North Korea expanding its missile production facility at Hamhung, where North Korea manufactures solid-fueled ballistic missiles (which can be stored fully fueled and thus launched on short notice) and reentry vehicles such as one might use on, say, an intercontinental ballistic missile. Then, US officials told The Diplomat‘s Ankit Panda that North Korea “has continued to produce support equipment and launchers” for its Pukguksong-2 medium-range ballistic missile, which is a solid fueled missile capable of easily striking Japan.
Added up these stories amount to a lot of smoke supporting the argument that Trump got rolled in Singapore. The danger here isn’t so much the possibility that Trump really did get rolled, though that’s not great. It’s that Trump is going to start to feel like he got rolled and do something drastic about it.
At Africa Is a Country, researcher Jessica Moody writes that, while the Ivory Coast has struggled to reintegrate former rebel fighters from the country’s 2002-2011 civil war period back into society, disgruntled ex-fighters are not necessarily the security threat they might appear to be at first glance:
So, why is remobilisation so scarce? What is it that is preventing former fighters taking up arms again in Cote d’Ivoire? And why are ex-combatants threatening to remobilise if they are not actually doing it?
Based on research with around 30 former FN fighters in post-conflict Cote d’Ivoire, I have found that ex-combatants’ approaches to remobilisation are typically shaped by their experience of their first conflict. The primary combat encounter has a long-lasting impact on former fighter’s identities and their attitudes to violence, and in the case of Cote d’Ivoire, this creates something of a barrier to remobilization.
Last week, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar reached agreement on a “permanent ceasefire” in South Sudan’s civil war. Which is great, except that there’s no particular reason to believe that this ceasefire will be any more permanent than any of the ones that have come before in this conflict. At the very least, though, it could open a window for humanitarian aid to get into the country, which is nothing to sneeze at.
Kiir, meanwhile, is trying to work a measure through parliament that would extend his current presidential term for another three years. The effort has drawn international condemnation and could undermine the aforementioned ceasefire.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is continuing to open up the country’s restrictive government. On Thursday, he canned the head of Ethiopia’s prison service over rampant accusations of prisoner mistreatment and took three opposition movements off of the country’s terrorism list. All these changes may help explain why somebody tried to assassinate Abiy last month.
Abiy has a budding crisis on his hands in southern Ethiopia, where the United Nations says that some 800,000 people have been displaced in ethnic clashes between the Oromo and Gedeo peoples since early June.
At least 17 people have reportedly been killed since Wednesday in Somalia’s Galmudug region due to fighting between al-Shabab and local clans around the port town of Haradheere. The clans are resisting taxes as well as al-Shabab’s demands for recruits.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
The UN is warning that violence in the DRC’s Kasai region could escalate into genocide:
Mutilation, gang rape and killing documented in Congo’s Kasai region could be a harbinger of genocide, the U.N. torture investigator told Reuters on Wednesday, calling for action to prevent another Rwanda or Srebrenica.
Nils Melzer, U.N. special rapporteur on torture worldwide, said he was alarmed by a report issued by U.N. human rights experts on Tuesday which said Congolese rebels and government troops have committed atrocities including mass rape, cannibalism and the dismemberment of civilians.
The U.N. report – building on an earlier report accusing all sides of war crimes and crimes against humanity – catalogued gruesome attacks committed in the conflict in the central region of Kasai, which began in late 2016, involving the Kamuina Nsapu and Bana Mura militias and Congo’s armed forces.
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