A Taliban attack in Farah province late Thursday killed seven Afghan police officers, while another attack on a military outpost in Takhar province on Friday morning killed at least 10 Afghan soldiers.
The Russian government hosted its big Afghan peace conference on Friday, featuring a Taliban delegation as well as several members of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council who were there in lieu of a formal delegation from Kabul. Little seems to have been accomplished, but that’s not terribly surprising for an initial meeting like this. The Taliban maintains that it will not negotiate with Kabul directly because it doesn’t recognize the current Afghan government as legitimate.
Presumably unsure he had the votes to protect his new (?) prime minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, from losing a confidence vote, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena dissolved parliament in what was a hell of a Friday news dump. Sirisena had already suspended parliament, but was planning to reconvene it on Wednesday, at which time legislators were going to choose between Rajapaksa and fired (?) PM Ranil Wickremesinghe, who insists that his sacking was unconstitutional and has refused to give up his post. This decision escalates what was already a political crisis to a whole new level. The last straw for Sirisena appears to have been an announcement earlier on Friday that Sri Lanka’s main Tamil party would vote against Rajapaksa rather than abstaining as Sirisena wanted. Rajapaksa is not well-liked in the Tamil community for his brutality in dealing with Tamil rebels back when he was president from 2005 until 2015.
Three people have been killed in Papua province this week during Indonesian operations to capture or kill Purom Wenda, commander of the West Papua Liberation Army. Two of those killed were Papuan rebels themselves.
A Somali national carried out a knife attack in Melbourne on Friday, killing one person and wounding two others before being shot and killed by police. The attacker also set fire to his truck, which contained several gas cylinders, but the cylinders didn’t explode. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, but absent any evidence of direct involvement Australian authorities are saying the attacker was “inspired” by the terror group. But the attacker was apparently known to authorities, who arrested his brother last year on terrorism charges.
Al-Shabab attacked the Sahafi Hotel in Mogadishu on Friday with at least three bombs and gunmen, killing at least 20 people. At least six attackers died in the attack, two of them after detonating suicide bombs and four more when they were killed by police while attempting to storm the hotel.
The African Union says that it will undertake an investigation after Amnesty International reported that a group of its peacekeepers in Somalia killed four civilians on Tuesday. The peacekeepers drove over a bomb north of Mogadishu and then allegedly got out of their vehicles and “arbitrarily shot” four men at the scene.
The European Union observer mission in Madagascar says it’s only found minor irregularities in Madagascar’s presidential vote on Wednesday. This undermines claims by President Hery Rajaonarimampianina that the election is being stolen, claims he made on Thursday after the early returns showed him in a very distant third place (putting him out of a potential runoff).
The Treasury Department has delayed the implementation of new sanctions against three Russian firms to give oligarch Oleg Deripaska, the target of said sanctions, more time to divest himself of the companies. Treasury imposed these sanctions in April but has repeatedly agreed to postpone them while those companies work to change their governance structures.
Meanwhile, ahead of further sanctions the Russian government is reportedly working to get off the dollar:
President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly slammed the US unit’s dominance on the world’s stage but the country’s previous efforts to de-dollarise its economy have so far had little success.
But with Russian business circles fearing a new round of US measures over Moscow’s alleged international aggression and Washington’s trade policies becoming ever more unpredictable, authorities have now made concrete steps towards their long-standing goal.
Russia’s finance ministry and the central bank are soon expected to present measures to increase the use of other currencies in international trade to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
Russia, like Iran, doesn’t have the economic might to really affect the dollar’s global stature, but depending in part on how much longer Donald Trump is president this kind of thing could become a trend.
Sucellus Emmanuel Macron may be about as well-liked in France as a case of avian flu, and his brand of bloodless center-right plutocratic politics is causing angry resentment and fueling the rise of far right populism all over Europe. But even the collapse of his comrade Angela Merkel in Germany is apparently not enough to deter his pretensions of continental leadership:
The Franco-German alliance has been called the “motor” of the E.U., the central connection without which the entire European machine would cease to function. Many of the E.U.’s recent successes have depended on productive partnerships across the Rhine: Helmut Kohl and François Mitterand in the 1980s and 1990s; and Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, dubbed “Merkozy,” in the early 2010s.
Macron and Merkel, too, have had a fine partnership. Internal pressure from the more conservative factions of her shaky coalition government forced Merkel to resist some of Macron’s European proposals — notably his plans for further economic integration. But she has been a tireless defender of the E.U. since before Macron emerged onto the scene. Her absence will likely leave Macron on his own in the defense of an “ever greater” union.
“The center doesn’t really hold in the same way that it did,” Leonard said. “It looks more like a Franco-German bunker than a motor.”
Macron has cast himself as the defender of European values against the far right tide. Maybe someday he’ll figure out that, far from being the solution, he’s a huge part of the problem. But I doubt it.
One of Macron’s big pan-European ideas is for an integrated European military to defend against external threats like China, Russia…and the US. The man whose constant complaining about Europe has given weight to Macron’s concerns apparently doesn’t like this idea:
On some level, Macron and Trump deserve one another. Unfortunately the rest of us are stuck with them too.
There’s been a lot of talk lately in the media about how a Brexit deal appears imminent, and I admit to falling for it on a couple of occasions. You shouldn’t. The Irish border problem is the same as it ever was, with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party saying on Friday that it will not support Theresa May’s Brexit proposal in parliament. That’s ten “no” votes already in what will probably be a nail-biter…assuming things get to the point of a parliamentary vote at all.
While we’re on that subject, European Union foreign ministers threw a bit of a monkey wrench into the works on Friday when they said that individual member states will need to review any Brexit deal that London and Brussels reach before the two sides could proceed to a summit to hammer out final details and sign the accord. If nothing else that could add weeks to a process that’s already probably beyond any reasonable deadline to have a deal in place by the time the UK exits the EU in late March.
The Pentagon is apparently gnawing on its fingernails in apprehension over what a Democratic House of Representatives might mean for its budget. Look, folks, $700 billion a year just doesn’t go that far anymore, you know? You can’t expect these guys to Defend Liberty on a shoestring budget! The Pentagon’s concern is that it doesn’t have the budget to develop the kinds of weapons and other systems that it believes will be needed to fight a future great power conflict with China and/or Russia because so much of its budget is spent on managing current operations. But rather than, I don’t know, not fighting like seven little simultaneous wars and maybe repurposing some of that money toward making sure we can do our part to bring about Armageddon, they just want more money. It’s almost–almost!–as if the Defense Department’s primary mission these days is to keep growing its own budget. Almost.