World update: March 7 2019

ASIA

AFGHANISTAN

ISIS fired rockets at a gathering of Hazara in Kabul on Thursday, killing at least three people and wounding “dozens” more. The event was intended for several Afghan presidential candidates to speak with members of the predominantly Shiʿa community, and so there were some high profile targets there including Afghan “Chief Executive Officer” Abdullah Abdullah.

Meanwhile, peace talks between the US and Taliban are reportedly getting hung up on the word “terrorism.” The framework the two sides have reached for their talks specifies that Afghanistan will not become a haven for terrorists in the future, though it’s unclear how that could be enforced. But while the Taliban say they’ll guarantee that Afghanistan won’t be used as a launching pad for “international attacks,” the US is looking for a much more expansive definition of “terrorism,” and these things being subjective, the disagreement is proving to be a big stumbling block. Probably the first of many, assuming the negotiators manage to get past this one.

PAKISTAN

One of the Pakistani targets India says its airstrikes hit outside Balakot last week was a religious school associated with the Kashmiri militant group Jaish-e Mohammed. According to Reuters, though, the school looks both undamaged and deserted, and locals say it hasn’t been used since last June. That said, Pakistani authorities aren’t actually letting Reuters reporters access the site so they’re only going by what they can see from a distance.

While we’re on the subject, Pakistani authorities say they’ve taken control of 182 religious schools across the country and arrested more than 100 people in their new crackdown against Islamist groups in the wake of last week’s hostilities with India. Islamabad insists that it’s been planning to do this for a while now and last week’s events had nothing to do with it. Sure, of course.

KASHMIR

Indian police say they’ve arrested a militant with the Kashmiri separatist group Hizbul Mujahideen in connection with a bombing on Thursday in the city of Jammu (the usually quieter part of “Jammu and Kashmir”). The bombing struck a bus, killing at least one person and wounding 32 more.

THAILAND

Thai authorities have, as expected, dissolved the Thai Raksa Chart Party. The party made the apparently fatal error of putting forward a member of the royal family, Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Varnavadi, as its candidate for prime minister in next month’s election, a move that was quickly condemned by her brother, King Maha Vajiralongkorn, and then rejected by election officials.

INDONESIA

Three Indonesian soldiers were killed Thursday in clashes with Papuan separatists amid ongoing tensions over the Trans-Papua Highway project. As many as ten rebels are believed to have died in the fighting but that’s unconfirmed.

NORTH KOREA

38 North is now suggesting that North Korea’s Sohae satellite launching facility has “returned to normal operational status.” Pyongyang began dismantling the facility after last year’s Singapore summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, but apparently began rebuilding it last month, before the Trump-Kim summit 2.0 in Hanoi. South Korean media is also reporting activity at North Korea’s Intercontinental Ballistic Missile manufacturing facility at Sanumdong. At this point there’s no sign North Korea is planning to start missile tests again, but clearly it’s looking to get back some of the leverage it’s given up since Singapore. US officials say they’re still interested in further talks with Pyongyang. The Trump administration ended its major war games with South Korea as an apparent concession to North Korea, but the North Koreans are criticizing the smaller joint exercises that have replaced the larger ones.

AFRICA

SUDAN

Hundreds of protesters turned out in several parts of Khartoum on Thursday to demand Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s resignation. They did so in defiance of Bashir’s state of emergency and his declaration outlawing unlicensed protests, and many were reportedly arrested.

ALGERIA

The Algerian government began laying the groundwork for a crackdown against protesters demanding that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika not seek a fifth term in next month’s election. The government, in Bouteflika’s name, issued a statement on Thursday warning about the possibility the protests could be manipulated by some “treacherous internal or foreign group” looking to cause trouble. Well in that case, somebody better break out the live ammo.

SOMALIA

Al-Shabab carried out a car bombing outside a restaurant in Mogadishu on Thursday, killing at least seven people.

The United States keeps claiming that its frequent airstrikes in Somalia don’t harm civilians, but those claims are increasingly being proven false. Not only are those airstrikes contributing to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians from areas around Mogadishu, but those displaced persons are telling a very different story about civilian casualties:

U.S. military officials maintain that no civilians have been killed in the airstrikes over the past 12 years, but Somalis say that is not the case.

Faduma Hassan Mohamed, who lived in Basra in Somalia’s Lower Shabelle state, told Foreign Policy that 10 of her relatives were killed in airstrikes during fighting between al-Shabab and government forces in August 2018. She fled to one of the about 1,000 displacement camps lining the outskirts of the capital.

Humanitarian agencies say the airstrikes have also wrecked homes and killed livestock, contributing to the displacement.

“People think precision bombing means a sanitized war. The reality is very different,” said Lina Khatib, the head of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Chatham House, which has tracked displacement caused by strikes in Syria.

EUROPE

RUSSIA

European researchers say that Western fears of Russian air defense systems in the Baltic region are probably overblown:

Drawing on expertise at the Swedish Defense Research Agency, we have published a report—“Bursting the Bubble”—that takes a closer look at Russia’s A2/AD capabilities in the Baltic Sea Region. We find that Russia’s long-range missile systems, though capable, fall notably short of the Kremlin’s maximalist claims. The technological limitations of the Russian missile systems, vulnerabilities apparent from their field operations in Syria, and the range of possible countermeasures available to NATO, suggest that Russia’s no-go “bubbles” are smaller than claimed, more penetrable, and arguably also burstable.

Claims of far-reaching Russian A2/AD capabilities are mainly based on three systems: the S-400, the Bastion anti-ship system, and the Iskander ballistic missile. But early analyses have often equated maximum range with effective range, underestimated the inherent problems of hitting moving targets at large distances, and ignored a wide range of possible countermeasures. Together, this has led to the widespread overestimation Russia’s missile capabilities.

AMERICAS

VENEZUELA

Venezuela was hit by a massive blackout on Thursday evening, with authorities blaming it on an “attack” against the crucial Guri Dam. There’s no evidence at this point that there was an attack, and certainly Venezuela’s infrastructure has deteriorated enough that a blackout doesn’t need any more detailed explanation. Certainly though, the possibility of a deliberate attack can’t be entirely ruled out.

EL SALVADOR

Activists Christina Asquith and Louise Donovan argue that the United States, in its zeal to stop Central American migrants from coming north, should be doing more to curb violence against women in El Salvador:

But while Salvadoran women’s rights advocates are trying to curb the violence and tackle the misogyny, the United States is undercutting those very efforts. The Trump administration is pulling funding from programs that support women in El Salvador and focusing funding and energy on a border wall to keep them and others out. Women seeking asylum based on domestic violence claims are now being rejected. In 2018, the United States committed only $600,000 to anti-violence programs, which was 1 percent of its aid budget to El Salvador.

To get a sense of how small that is, consider that at the height of the Salvadoran civil war in the 1980s, the United States was spending $1 million to $2 million a day on military and aid. The legacy of that war, and Washington’s direct role in fueling it, normalized the culture of violence that women suffer from today, many say. “[We] haven’t been taught [how] to live in harmony or in peace,” the criminologist Ricardo Sosa explained in a BBC interview. “We prioritize violence as a way to resolve conflicts.”

The Trump administration’s weak efforts to protect women are not only wrong—they’re also shortsighted. The United States should consider violence against women a national security threat and factor it into programs and policies aimed toward stabilizing international affairs. It’s the right move for El Salvador and a smart one for U.S. policy if it really wants to ease the migrant issue.

Author: DWD

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