Donald Trump may be a world of chaos all by himself, but the world beyond Trump is changing in dramatic ways, often with little notice. We’d like to tell you about it and we’re keeping track of these global changes, from the incremental to the monumental, so that you don’t have to.
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Afghanistan — October 31, 2017
The Afghan government lost significant ground to the Taliban in the last six months, signaling Kabul’s “deteriorating” capacity to fight back against a dominant Taliban.
That’s one of many glaring takeaways from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction’s quarterly report published Tuesday. (SIGAR, a U.S. government watchdog agency, has been tracking Afghanistan reconstruction efforts since 2008.)
By nearly every metric, namely — attacks, casualties, and territory — SIGAR’s latest report paints a dire picture.
The Afghan government controls the fewest number of districts since SIGAR first began recording district-level data in Dec. 2015. Kabul lost nine districts to insurgents over the last six months ending in August 2017. The losses means some 700,000 Afghans are now living under insurgent control or influence, according to U.S. Central Command’s U.S. Forces Afghanistan (USFOR-A).
FDD’s Long War Journal estimated in September that the Taliban controlled or contested 45 percent of the country.
Read more: U.S. troops will face the deadliest Taliban yet
Attacks by the Taliban and the Islamic State are also deadlier than ever, increasing in frequency and scope. In April, the Taliban carried out its deadliest attack since 2001 on the largest military base in northern Afghanistan, killing at least 140 people. The number of U.S. military personnel killed in action between January and August 2017 also doubled compared to the same periods in 2015 and 2016, according to the SIGAR report.
Just Tuesday a suicide bombing in Kabul killed at least four in the capital’s diplomatic zone, while two days earlier, the Taliban claimed an attack in Kunduz province that killed at least 22, according to AFP.
The U.S. has sharply ramped up airstrikes on the Islamic State and the Taliban. As a result, civilian casualties by coalition and Afghan security forces have soared by 52 percent in the first nine months of 2017 compared to the same period in 2016. Women and children reportedly accounted for over two-thirds of these casualties, the report noted.
Read more: Afghanistan has collapsed into chaos
SIGAR’s special inspector general John Sopko condemned USFOR-A in the report’s introduction for “clbadifying or otherwise restricting information SIGAR has until now publicly reported.”
“[T]he continuing lack of a fully effective ANDSF undermines the viability of the Kabul government and impedes U.S. efforts to disengage from combat operations in Afghanistan,”the report stated. “Clearly, the time is ripe to ask why an undertaking begun in 2002 and costing $70 billion has — so far— not yielded bigger dividends.”
This summer, President Trump announced he was sending 4,000 more troops to Afghanistan, in hopes of tipping the balance back in Kabul’s favor.
— Alexa Liautaud
South Korea — October 31, 2017
China and South Korea agreed Tuesday to end their year-long feud over the deployment of a U.S. missile defense system, days before Donald Trump lands in the the region.
Relations have been strained since Seoul announced in July 2016 it was deploying the American THAAD anti-missile system on its territory.
South Korea insisted the move was to counter the threat from North Korea, however Beijing said the system’s radar could penetrate Chinese territory.
Chinese consumers boycotted South Korean firms in response, shaving 0.4 percentage points off the country’s projected economic growth this year, according to the Bank of Korea.
Both sides issued statements Tuesday saying that while differences exist over THAAD, they were looking to mend the relationship.
“Both sides shared the view that the strengthening of exchange and cooperation between Korea and China serves their common interests,” South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
An official for South Korean President Moon Jae-in told Reuters the recent strain between Beijing and Pyongyang over the latter’s nuclear and missiles programs may have encouraged the détente between China and South Korea.
North Korea’s nuclear ambitions will be at the top of the agenda as Trump begins
— Tim Hume
North Korea — October 30, 2017
North Korea risks collapsing its underground nuclear testing site, potentially unleashing a leak of radioactive fallout, if it conducts another test, South Korea’s chief meteorologist said Monday.
Nam Jae-Cheol, head of the Korea Meteorological Administration, told a parliamentary committee that six nuclear tests at Punggye-ri, deep beneath Mount Mantap, had left the site hazardously unstable.
“There is a hollow space, which measures about 60 to 100 meters in length, at the bottom of Mount Mantap in the Punggye-ri site,” Nam said, according to South Korean news agency Yonhap.
“Should another nuke test occur, there is the possibility of a collapse.”
Yet some experts aren’t convinced that a collapse is in the cards. Following Pyongyang’s latest – and largest – test, carried out on Sept. 3, Jeffrey Lewis, director of the Middlebury Center’s East Asia Nonproliferation Program told the Los Angeles Times, that there had been no significant radiation leaks from the site to date, and displayed less visible damage than similar tests in Pakistan.
“The North Koreans seem to be pretty good at this. They’ve buried their test site well,” he told the newspaper.
All of North Korea’s six nuclear tests have been carried out at Punggye-ri, more than 3,000 feet beneath mountainous terrain in the remote northeast of the country.
Pyongyang’s most recent test caused earthquakes that were felt across the border in China, and triggered landslides across the mountain range.
Read more: Kim Jong Un is going seriously capitalist
It’s not just Pyongyang’s enemies who are concerned. In September, Chinese geologists warned their North Korean counterparts that another test risked collapsing the site and triggering a radioactive leak that could spread across the border, the South China Morning Post reported Friday.
More nuclear tests are expected as Pyongyang attempts to develop a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking the mainland United States. North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho said last month that Pyongyang was considering conducting a hydrogen bomb test over the Pacific Ocean. Carrying out such a test — the first atmospheric nuclear test anywhere in the world since 1980 — would be a huge provocation to the U.S., and its allies, potentially bringing the countries to the brink of war and unleashing devastating impacts on the environment.
— Tim Hume
Iraq — October 30, 2017
ERBIL, Iraq — One month ago many Iraqi Kurds thought — for the first time in their history — that they were on the cusp of forming a new nation state.
Today, that dream has faded.
On Sunday evening, Kurdish president Mbadoud Barzani announced he’s stepping down November 1. After his speech, hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside of parliament to support their leader who just weeks earlier had defied the international community, including Bagdad and the United States, in his pursuit of an independent Kurdish state.
“I am the same Masoud Barzani,” Barzani said, announcing his resignation. “I am a Peshmerga (Kurdish fighter) and will continue to help my people in their struggle for independence.”
Read more: Photos capture gleeful Kurds voting for their independence
But it was Barzani’s brazen push for independence that would be his undoing. Within weeks of the referendum, Baghdad, which had declared the vote illegal, took control of disputed oil fields, Kurdish airspace and vital border crossings.
With the help of the Iranian-backed Shia militia known as the PMU, Iraqi forces deployed to disputed areas in Northern Iraq, seizing on critical territory like Kirkuk, an oil rich city that Kurds had temporarily won in the battle against ISIS. The siege overpowered Kurdish forces, leaving them little choice but to retreat.
Their defeat and now Barzani’s resignation have left hopes of Kurdish independence in disarray.
Yet Barzani struck a strong tone in his speech, and criticized the U.S. for allowing Iraqi forces and Iranian-backed Shia paramilitary fighters to use U.S.-made tanks against the Kurds in the recent military offensive to retake disputed territories.
“Our people should now question, whether the U.S. was aware of Iraq’s attack and why they did not prevent it,” he said.
But many Kurds believe Barzani’s government gave in too easily to what they see as an Arab onslaught.
Read more: How a Russian oil giant bankrolled the Kurdish split from Iraq
Barzani’s powers will be distributed between the prime minister, who is also his nephew Nechirvan Barzani, parliament and the judiciary.
Now, the Kurdish regional government faces a political crisis without their president or the valuable, oil rich, disputed territories.
The overwhelming majority of Kurds who participated in the September 25 referendum — nearly 93 percent — voted in favor of independence.
— Hind Hbadan
Somalia — October 30, 2017
Al Shabaab gunmen who killed 29 people in a siege at a Mogadishu hotel Saturday were disguised as members of Somalia’s intelligence services, security officials say.
The five terrorists, wearing the uniform and carrying identity cards of intelligence agents, entered Mogadishu’s Naso-Hablod hotel after twin bombs exploded at the entrance, Col. Ahmed Yare, an intelligence officer, told the Guardian.
The militants went from room to room killing guests at the hotel, which is popular with government officials, holding off security forces for about 12 hours. The attack eventually ended after two attackers were killed and the remaining three arrested.
Read more: Somalis fear the war against al-Shabaab will never end
Police officer Abdullahi Nur told Reuters that at least 29 people were killed, including three children, and CNN reported that more than 40 were wounded. Al Shabaab swiftly claimed responsibility for the attack.
The siege was the second major terror attack in Mogadishu this month, coming two weeks after a mbadive truck bomb blast killed more than 350 people in one of the deadliest single attacks anywhere in the world in recent years.
The militants’ use of intelligence service IDs will raise concerns that government security forces have been compromised by the terror group.
The prime minister’s office announced Sunday that two of the country’s top security officials – the head of the intelligence service and the commissioner of police – had been sacked amid concerns over their failure to prevent attacks.
— Tim Hume