World update: September 1-2 2018

ASIA

AFGHANISTAN

General Scott Miller of the United States Army took over as commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan on Sunday. On another note, I hope some of my fellow passengers on the Titanic got a chance to see the way the crew moved the deck chairs around this weekend. I think it really looks wonderful.

PAKISTAN

The Pentagon has decided to cancel the $300 million in military aid to Pakistan that it had suspended earlier this year over complaints about the Pakistani government’s soft treatment of militant groups. When the US suspended the aid it was with the provision that it money could be reinstated if the Pentagon saw progress in Pakistan’s treatment of militants, but clearly it didn’t see enough. Altogether the US has withheld some $800 million in would-be aid to Pakistan, mostly due to allegations that the Pakistani deep state is aiding the Taliban in Afghanistan. For Pakistan, which is probably about to request a loan from the International Monetary Fund that it really needs but likely won’t get without US approval, this can’t be a good sign.

PHILIPPINES

At least one person was killed and 15 injured in a bombing in the city of Isulan on Sunday. The ISIS-aligned Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters group is considered the most likely perpetrator. That group is also believed to have been behind another bombing in Isulan on Tuesday.

AFRICA

LIBYA

The Libyan government has imposed a state of emergency in Tripoli as renewed inter-militia fighting has gripped the city. At least 39 people have been killed in that fighting over the past week, with two more killed by a rocket on Sunday. Around 400 prisoners reportedly escaped from a prison in the city amid the fighting. A ceasefire that seemed to be taking effect on Thursday has now completely broken down.

NIGER

The Pentagon is reportedly considering a significant reduction in the US military presence in Africa, partly due to last October’s botched raid in Niger that killed four US soldiers:

Three Defense Department officials said the plans, if approved by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, would also close military outposts in Tunisia, Cameroon, Libya and Kenya, as well as seven of the eight American elite counterterrorism units operating in Africa.

The shift in forces is part of the Pentagon’s defense strategy to focus on threats from China and Russia. But they represent a more severe cut of Special Operations forces in Africa than initially expected, leaving a lasting, robust military presence primarily in Somalia and Nigeria.

Some critics are concerned that drawing down US forces in Africa will [deep sigh] allow the evildoers to win, will something something US credibility blah blah, and also will damage US standing in Africa. Most Africans just love having US commandos running around the continent killing people and training elite military units that then go on to carry out coups against elected governments. They can’t get enough of it.

NIGERIA

Fighters with ISIS-West Africa (one of the two Boko Harams) attacked a military base in Nigeria’s Borno state on Saturday, killing as many as 30 Nigerian soldiers. The militants were finally driven off by Nigerian air support.

SOMALIA

An al-Shabab suicide bomber killed at least six people, three of them civilians, on Sunday in Mogadishu. As usual, al-Shabab cited a higher death toll in claiming the attack (10) than the government did in reporting it.

CHAD

The Chadian military on Saturday attacked rebel positions around the town of Tibesti near the Libyan border, though locals are saying the bombardment actually targeted a wedding convoy. That region is home to several insurgent groups that use human trafficking as one of their main sources of income and are able to operate freely on the Libyan side of the border thanks to…well, you know.

EUROPE

UKRAINE

Kurt Volker, the US special envoy for Ukraine, says that the Trump administration is prepared to step up its supply of lethal weapons to help build up Ukraine’s navy and air force. Volker argues that Russian President Vladimir Putin is deliberately refusing to agree on a plan to deploy international peacekeepers because he wants to see how next year’s Ukrainian elections go first. Moscow wants a Ukrainian government that will commit to decentralization and autonomy for the breakaway eastern republics, while the Ukrainians, and the US, are arguing that it will be impossible to conduct legitimate elections next year absent a real, enforced ceasefire. Though the conflict in eastern Ukraine has largely been frozen, small clashes remain a regular feature and continue to kill people.

GERMANY

BuzzFeed has tried to pull together the full story behind the xenophobic riots in the Germany city of Chemnitz last week and the fake news that helped to gin them up:

Just hours after a man was stabbed in a small east German city last weekend, thousands of people began sharing accounts on social media that he had been killed by immigrants involved in a rape attempt. Within no time, it was being said there were two dead. Pictures were shared of a group of women said to have been beaten by immigrants.

It didn’t matter that there was no attempted rape, or that much of the rest of these accounts wasn’t true. The anger soon transferred to the real world. Over the next few days, Chemnitz, a town of around 250,000 people in the state of Saxony, would become the center of anti-immigrant protests that produced shocking images of people raising Hitler salutes, and mobs chasing people through the streets.

THE NETHERLANDS

An Afghan national was wounded and then arrested by Dutch police on Friday after he stabbed two US citizens in Amsterdam on Friday. Dutch authorities say they believe the man “had a terrorist motive” in carrying out the attack.

UNITED KINGDOM

New polling, admittedly commissioned by a group that is opposed to leaving the European Union, suggests that Brexit really could revive the Scottish independence movement. The findings show that 47 percent of Scots voters would support independence if the UK leaves the EU, against 43 percent who would oppose it and 10 percent who are undecided.

AMERICAS

ARGENTINA

The Argentine government is prepared to cut its way to prosperity, because that always works. With the peso losing value fast and the country about to accept an IMF bailout with all that entails, President Mauricio Macri is apparently ready to announce drastic spending cuts on Monday that will include shuttering as many as ten (!) cabinet agencies.

BRAZIL

This is just tragic:

A massive fire raced through Brazil’s 200-year-old National Museum in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday, probably destroying its collection of more than 20 million items, ranging from archeological finds to historical memorabilia.

The destruction of the building, once a palace for emperors that had fallen into disrepair, was an “incalculable loss for Brazil,” President Michel Temer said in a statement.

“Two hundred years of work, research and knowledge were lost.”

There’s no word yet on the true extent of the damage, whether there were any human casualties, or the cause of the blaze.

UNITED STATES

Finally, there’s a new theory as to what’s been causing US diplomats in Cuba and China to mysteriously fall ill:

During the Cold War, Washington feared that Moscow was seeking to turn microwave radiation into covert weapons of mind control.

More recently, the American military itself sought to develop microwave arms that could invisibly beam painfully loud booms and even spoken words into people’s heads. The aims were to disable attackers and wage psychological warfare.

Now, doctors and scientists say such unconventional weapons may have caused the baffling symptoms and ailments that, starting in late 2016, hit more than three dozen American diplomats and family members in Cuba and China. The Cuban incidents resulted in a diplomatic rupture between Havana and Washington.

Medically these at least seems to make more sense than the previous “sonic attack” theory, but it still has gaping holes that need to be filled and that’s before you get to the issue of culpability.

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