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World roundup: November 13-14 2021
Stories from the Philippines, Belarus, Brazil, and more
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
November 12, 1893: Afghan ruler Abdur Rahman Khan agrees to accept the boundary drawn by British Foreign Secretary for India Sir Mortimer Durand as the new border between Afghanistan and British South Asia. The Durand Line, which ran through the traditional homelands of both the Pashtun and the Baluch peoples, has for better or worse (usually worse) remained the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan to the present day.
November 12, 1942: The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal begins. The battle ended three days later with a decisive US victory over Imperial Japan that ensured the Japanese would be unable to provide significant support to their soldiers on Guadalcanal. It thus marks a decisive turning point in the Guadalcanal Campaign and, for some historians, marks the overall turning point in World War II’s Pacific Theater.
November 13, 1918: Allied forces occupy Istanbul. Under the Armistice of Mudros, the Ottoman Empire’s World War I surrender document, Allied soldiers were permitted to occupy the empire’s Bosphorus Fort. A military occupation of the entire city was something of a gray area, though the Ottomans were in no position to object. The later Treaty of Sèvres would have made Istanbul an “international city,” but the Turkish War of Independence and subsequent Treaty of Lausanne incorporated it into the new Republic of Turkey.
November 14, 1965: The Battle of Ia Drang, the first major engagement between the United States and the North Vietnamese Army, begins. It ended on November 18 with both sides claiming victory, though the NVA’s ability to fight the much better armed US army to a draw was a boost to their morale and probably the battle’s most important effect.
November 14, 2001: Fighters with the Northern Alliance enter and occupy the city of Kabul, marking the effective end of the US war in Afghanista—just kidding. I had you going there for a second, didn’t I?
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
The United Nations’ COP26 climate summit finally ended on Saturday, a day later than planned, after attendees were able to agree on a final statement that had been suitably watered down to satisfy the objections of anyone wealthy enough to matter. The “Glasgow Climate Pact,” as I guess we’re calling it, marks a milestone in that it is the first international climate change agreement that explicitly mentions the need to reduce humanity’s dependence on fossil fuels. The fact that we’re sitting here in 2021 considering that a milestone is, I would argue, a pretty good one-sentence condemnation of the international response to climate change. The agreement did not set any new emissions targets but rather gave attendees another year to do their homework. Current emissions reduction pledges, which are voluntary and unenforceable anyway, would put the Earth on a path to warm by 2.4 degrees Celsius, which is well within the “major catastrophe” range. More ambitious pledges are needed if humanity can even pretend that we’re going to come close to the Paris agreement’s 1.5 degrees warming, but we’ll apparently have to wait for next year’s summit for those.
The biggest change in the final draft involved wording around the use of coal, with India, supported by China, leading a last-minute push to change a segment referring to the need to “phase out” the use of coal to one that now talks about the need to phase it “down.” Previous changes to the draft had already weakened the call to phase out coal by changing it to “unabated coal,” which means that the mythical concept of “clean coal” is still driving global environmental decisionmaking. They also watered down a call to end fossil fuel subsidies by changing the language to refer to “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies, adding a qualifier so vague that it renders the whole passage meaningless.
The final pact also doesn’t do much for poorer nations who are looking for help adapting to climate change or, heaven forfend, compensation from wealthy nations for the massive amount of environmental damage they’ve already done in the process of becoming wealthy. This is an ongoing dispute, and given that wealth buys power it’s unsurprising that wealthy nations have been able to resist calls for substantive environmental justice measures.
COP26 did result in an apparent breakthrough on rules for maintaining the carbon offset market. Carbon offsets allow high emitting companies and nations to purchase a financial instrument that says “You’re Doing Great Sweetie!” while continuing to belch large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. Also maybe somebody plants a tree or puts up a solar panel somewhere. Any actual link between them and emission reduction is at best unproven as far as I can tell. But they’re a way for banks to make money, so at least that’s something. The new rules tighten reporting requirements in a way that could make offsets more reflective of actual carbon reductions, though the recent news that we’ve all spent the last several years drastically underreporting the overall global level of carbon emissions calls into question whether any reporting system can really be trusted in this regard.
Perhaps the best summary of COP26’s outcome came from the summit’s president, UK Minister of State Alok Sharma, who said that the final agreement “kept 1.5 within reach, but its pulse is weak.” Even that depressing summation is wildly optimistic compared with the reactions of many scientists to the summit’s outcome. So hey, kudos to everybody for a job, uh, done.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported several Islamic State-related (probably) incidents in Syria over the weekend. In one, the SOHR says that three Iraqi nationals were killed in the overcrowded al-Hol displaced persons camp. Two of them were killed Friday, probably by IS fighters, while the third was gunned down Saturday—possibly also by IS personnel though the circumstances around that shooting seem less clear. Al-Hol is managed by the Syrian Democratic Forces militia and includes displaced persons as well as some of the SDF’s IS captives and family members of IS personnel. It’s badly overcrowded and poorly controlled, so violence is a fairly frequent occurrence and it’s likely that the facility has been compromised by IS.
In the second incident reported by the SOHR, a group of IS fighters attacked a security patrol in the western part of Deir Ezzor province on Saturday, killing “at least 13 members of a local pro-regime group.” Since the elimination of their “caliphate,” IS remnants have used the Syrian desert to shield themselves while carrying out hit and run strikes against Syrian military and auxiliary forces.
On Sunday, the SOHR reported a third incident, a bombing targeting a Syrian army unit in Deir Ezzor province. Five Syrian soldiers were killed, one of then reportedly a general. Presumably IS was responsible for this attack as well though there’s no confirmation of that.
In this weekend’s Yemeni news:
It was another busy weekend of airstrikes, at least according to the Saudi military. They claimed on Saturday that they’d killed at least 186 Houthi fighters and on Sunday that they’d killed another 80-plus, all in strikes around Maʾrib city. The Yemeni military is also claiming that its forces killed 32 Houthis in a battle south of Maʾrib on Saturday, losing nine of their own forces.
There have been reports of skirmishes around the port city of Hudaydah, as Houthi forces move to seize positions that were abandoned by pro-government militias in recent days. Hudaydah city is supposed to be more or less free of combatants under the terms of a local 2018 ceasefire, though the withdrawal of fighters on both sides had more or less ceased as of a couple of years ago. The militia withdrawal, which involved fighters backed by the United Arab Emirates, apparently wasn’t coordinated with either the United Nations or the Saudi-led pro-government coalition. That likely explains the fighting. I haven’t seen any indication of casualties though it’s hard to imagine there weren’t at least a few of them.
An apparent US drone strike around the border between central Yemen’s Baydaʾ and Shabwah provinces killed at least three people on Sunday, according to local officials. Two of those killed are said to have been al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula fighters while the third has been characterized as a civilian.
A new report from the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem catalogues the penchant that Israeli occupation forces have for turning a blind eye toward, or even participating in, settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank. The group catalogued 451 incidents of such violence over the past couple of years and found that in a whopping 13 of them Israeli forces actually did something to stop the settler attack. In 170 cases, they responded to the scene but either did nothing or actually joined the settler attacks. In most cases, they simply didn’t bother showing up.
Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah on Saturday issued an amnesty for 35 opposition politicians, pardoning some and reducing sentences for others, as part of a larger deal to reconcile what had been a growing breach in Kuwaiti politics. Nawaf also accepted the resignation of his government, which is believed to be another part of the deal. Opposition legislators in the Kuwaiti parliament have been at odds with a succession of governments, which has brought governance to a halt because the Kuwaiti legislature actually does have some legitimate authority, in contrast with some of its counterparts in other Gulf states.
Somebody bombed a passenger vehicle in a predominantly Shiʿa part of Kabul on Saturday, killing an indeterminate number of people. I’ve seen at least one claim that six people died in the blast and seven more were wounded, but that’s unconfirmed. Also unconfirmed are claims that the Islamic State’s Afghan affiliate was responsible, but given the target that seems like a safe assumption. IS makes a point of targeting members of the Hazara community.
Two Pakistani police officers were killed in a bombing at a barracks in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Saturday. IS has claimed responsibility for the blast. Also on Saturday, three Pakistani soldiers were killed in separate incidents in Baluchistan province’s Turbat region while six people were wounded in a bombing near the city of Quetta. The Pakistani Taliban, which reached a one-month ceasefire agreement with Islamabad on Monday, has denied involvement in any of these incidents.
Militants attacked a convoy of Indian paramilitaries in Manipur state on Saturday, killing at least five fighters from the pro-government Assam Rifles militia along with two civilians. Indian authorities are attributing the attack to the rebel People’s Liberation Army, which is active in Manipur, but as far as I know there’s been no claim of responsibility.
Elsewhere, Indian forces battled Maoist Naxalite rebels in Maharashtra state on Saturday, killing at least 26 of them. At least three government personnel were wounded in the engagement.
At least three people were injured in unclear circumstances during a protest in Bangkok on Sunday. There are reports of gunfire and of protesters being shot, but those are unconfirmed. The demonstration was organized after Thailand’s Constitutional Court ruled on Wednesday that calls for reforms that would bring the prerogatives of the country’s monarchy more in line with the rule of law—including an end to lèse-majesté provisions that make it a crime even to criticize the royals—are tantamount to calls to overthrow the state and thus should be criminalized.
This weekend saw some significant developments ahead of next year’s Philippine general election. Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, who has been leading presidential opinion polls for some time now and just withdrew from the mayoral race, announced that she will run for vice president. It now appears she’ll be running against her own father, incumbent Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Although he’d previously announced his retirement from politics, Duterte’s spokesperson intimated over the weekend that he would be registering for the VP race. If he does, he’ll run in alliance with Senator Christopher Go, who has consistently said he has no interest in running for president and had entered the VP field himself, but who switched over the weekend to the presidential ballot. Duterte-Carpio may run in alliance with presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., though as far as I know she’s made no announcement to that effect.
Duterte intimated to a reporter that he’d had no discussions with his daughter about her plans and that her decision to run for VP surprised him. If so, that would explain his decision to stand for VP himself and to push Bo into the presidential race. Duterte cannot run for president again because of term limits, but he wants the legal immunity that would come with holding national office and if he and the compliant Bo both win their races (Philippine presidents and VPs are elected separately, not on a single ticket), he could effectively run the country through Bo. Had Duterte-Carpio run for president and won, Duterte could also probably have been assured of legal protection, but he likely can’t make that assumption in a situation where Marcos is president and Duterte-Carpio is VP.
It will be interesting to see how this race shakes out in terms of polling. Bo hasn’t polled well in the presidential field, but it’s possible his alliance with the still-popular Duterte will help him. Then again, polling has also suggested that many Philippine voters would view a Duterte run for VP as an attempt to undermine the Philippine constitution. So now that he’s announced his run his popularity may take a hit.
Anti-junta protests in Khartoum and other Sudanese cities met with an unsurprisingly violent response on Saturday, with the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors reporting that security forces killed at least five demonstrators. At least 16 people have been killed since last month’s military coup, which excised the civilian part of Sudan’s interim government and all but eliminated any chance that the country might actually transition to civilian rule.
A Malian military outpost in the Koulikoro region, near the Mauritanian border, came under attack on Sunday, probably by jihadist fighters. At least four soldiers were killed in the incident and 14 others wounded. At least six attackers were also killed in the fighting and the garrison was apparently able to drive the attackers off.
An apparent attack by Islamist militants on a police outpost in northern Burkina Faso’s Soum province on Sunday left at least 19 police officers and one civilian dead.
Togolese authorities are saying that their security forces turned back an attempted incursion by jihadists from Burkina Faso on Tuesday. The Togolese military has been stationing forces along the Burkinabé border since 2018 because of the metastasizing jihadist crisis there, but this is apparently the first time said jihadists have attacked a Togolese border outpost.
The Nigerian army announced on Saturday that its forces had been battling an Islamic State West Africa Province attack in Borno state for several days, losing four of its soldiers including a general. Nigerian officials claim their forces killed “several” ISWAP fighters in the clash. The battle was ongoing as of Saturday’s announcement and may still be ongoing though I haven’t seen any indication either way. The battle began when ISWAP fighters attacked the Askira/Uba region and a nearby military base, destroying several public buildings in the process.
On Friday, another group of ISWAP fighters reportedly ambushed a Nigerian military unit in Yobe state, killing at least three soldiers.
The Ukrainian military is reportedly putting the proverbial spurs to the construction of a new naval base at the port city of Berdyansk. This base is intended to counter what Kyiv and Western governments have alleged is a Russian attempt to basically annex the Sea of Azov, a charge Moscow denies. While that allegation is untestable short of provoking a naval conflict, it is true that since its unrecognized annexation of Crimea, Russia controls both sides of the narrow Kerch Strait that is the Sea of Azov’s only outlet to the Black Sea. Ukrainian officials unveiled plans for the Berdyansk base in 2018 but it’s still not ready for use.
The European Union is reportedly preparing a new package of sanctions against the Belarusian government over its so-called “weaponization” of migration. The sanctions would charge Minsk with engaging in “human trafficking,” based on allegations that it’s facilitating the transit of migrants to Belarus and then encouraging them to cross the border into EU members Poland or any of the Baltic states. Cham Wings Airlines, a private Syrian carrier, has announced that it will halt flights to Minsk to avoid potential EU sanctions against airlines bringing migrants into Belarus.
Belarus’s neighbors, in keeping with the deep humanitarian ethos for which the EU is deservedly so well-known, have militarized their borders to keep the migrants out, leaving them stranded in makeshift encampments. Polish police discovered the body of a Syrian national along the border on Saturday, bringing to at least 11 the number of human beings who have died sandwiched between a Belarusian government that wants to use them to punish the EU and an EU government whose main concern is keeping them out, not keeping them alive.
Early exit polls suggest that, as expected, Bulgaria’s parliamentary election on Sunday may have been just as inconclusive as the two previous elections it’s held this year. One survey, from Alpha Research, shows the center-right GERB party leading the field with 24.8 percent of the vote, which is roughly in line with pre-election polling and more or less aligned with almost all of the other exit polls. One exit poll however, from Gallup International, has a new centrist party called “We Continue the Change” in the lead with 25.7 percent support. That result would be significantly out of alignment with pre-election polling, though what that might mean is unclear. Certainly neither party is anywhere close to winning a majority of seats, so complicated and potentially impossible coalition talks are undoubtedly in store.
At least one person was killed and three wounded on Sunday in an apparent car bombing outside a hospital in Liverpool. Not much has been released in terms of details, but UK authorities have already arrested three people in connection with the blast and counter-terrorism police are involved in the investigation.
The latest Opinium poll has the UK Labour Party leading the Conservatives, 37 percent to 36 percent, the first time it’s come in first in that survey since January. The cause for this shift in popularity appears to be allegations of Tory corruption. Included in those allegations is Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s documented willingness to chuck ethics out the window on behalf of his (now former) girlfriend. Normally I encourage people to click through and read the links, but in this case if you have a weak stomach I wouldn’t advise it. Anyway, barring some unforeseen development Johnson doesn’t have to hold a new election until mid-2024, so this polling is not much more than a novelty.
I have no doubt that you could accuse any number of governments, corporations, etc., of using the COP26 to try to “greenwash” their lousy environmental records. But as Jacobin’s Claudia Horn and Sabrina Fernandes point out, no attendee did more to try to obfuscate its own recent history than the Brazilian government:
With COP26 happening in Glasgow and so many people expecting tighter commitments to fight climate change, [Jair] Bolsonaro’s government is promoting a big marketing strategy to position Brazil at the future of the green economy. In view of its previous record, recent pledges to reduce and even stop deforestation may sound like previous lies and half-truths Bolsonaro has told at United Nations meetings.
Yet there is reason to believe that the new Brazilian environment minister, Joaquim Leite, really intends to implement initiatives for preserving native forests. However, this is not because of authentic environmental concerns. Rather, Leite and the corporate interests he is promoting see an opportunity to make new profits and deflect attention from the measures that are really necessary to fight climate change.
Agribusiness and industry associations have sponsored the Brazilian delegation at COP26. This is not unique to Brazil’s far-right government. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) thanks its corporate sponsors directly. Corporate officials are present both in official country pavilions and in the negotiations. The business representatives have many shared priorities, but two stand out: lobbying for a carbon-market approach to tackling climate change and indulging in all of the greenwashing that they can get away with.
Brazilian agribusiness, long denounced by social movements for its destruction of nature and oppression of campesino and indigenous communities, wants a share in this strategy. These corporate players want to save their image and profit from the carbon credit system along the way.
Finally, The New York Times reported on Saturday that the US military carried out an airstrike in the IS stronghold of Baghuz back in 2019 that killed dozens of civilians—and then buried evidence of it:
The details of the strikes were pieced together by The New York Times over months from confidential documents and descriptions of classified reports, as well as interviews with personnel directly involved, and officials with top secret security clearances who discussed the incident on the condition that they not be named.
The Times investigation found that the bombing had been called in by a classified American special operations unit, Task Force 9, which was in charge of ground operations in Syria. The task force operated in such secrecy that at times it did not inform even its own military partners of its actions. In the case of the Baghuz bombing, the American Air Force command in Qatar had no idea the strike was coming, an officer who served at the command center said.
In the minutes after the strike, an alarmed Air Force intelligence officer in the operations center called over an Air Force lawyer in charge of determining the legality of strikes. The lawyer ordered the F-15E squadron and the drone crew to preserve all video and other evidence, according to documents obtained by The Times. He went upstairs and reported the strike to his chain of command, saying it was a possible violation of the law of armed conflict — a war crime — and regulations required a thorough, independent investigation.
But a thorough, independent investigation never happened.
A US drone operations team observed the strike and apparently knew instantly that it had targeted civilians, killing at least 70 of them. But even as the Times was preparing to publish this story, US Central Command would only acknowledge four civilian deaths, claiming that the strikes killed 16 IS fighters and another 60 people whose identities could not be determined. The only investigation of the incident appears to have been carried out by none other than “Task Force 9” itself, and you’ll undoubtedly be reassured to learn that they found that they’d done nothing wrong.
The Baghuz strike is just a tiny window into the manifold ways the US military buries, obfuscates, and lies to cover up the civilians it kills, but unfortunately I doubt even The New York Times is going to remember that the next time it’s called upon to parrot dutifully whatever claims the Pentagon makes about the next such incident. It should, finally, put to rest the ridiculous and honestly offensive fiction that victims of US war crimes have any hope of finding justice within the US legal system.