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COVID-19

  • Stock markets jumped for joy at news of promising early results in trials of Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine. If further trials continue to show potential, the vaccine could be publicly available by late 2020 or early 2021.

  • Dozens of other companies are also working on vaccines, and it’s not exactly a race to the finish: most likely, the world will need more than one option because there will be far more demand for a vaccine than any one company could supply.

Afghanistan

  • Pres. Trump took offense to a WSJ op-ed (pasted below) warning him not to be “impulsive” about Afghanistan policy, and he impulsively tweeted some retorts: “Could someone please explain to [the WSJ] that we have been there for 19 years…The Taliban is mixed about even wanting us out. They make a fortune $$$ out of having us stay, and except at the beginning, we never really fought to win."

  • The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan logged 208 civilian casualties (I believe that counts deaths and injuries) in April 2020—a 25% increase over April 2019.

  • Afghan forces bombed a medical clinic in Kunduz today in the course of trying to prevent a Taliban attack, and may have killed civilians who were at the clinic at the time.

U.S.

  • Pres. Trump threatened to withdraw from the World Health Organization within 30 days if the WHO doesn’t make “substantive” improvements, and his administration is characterizing China’s $2 billion donation to fight coronavirus as a diversion from its culpability for the pandemic. [Separately, the WHO excluded Taiwan from its World Health Assembly—likely at the behest of China…that’s perhaps a sign the WHO is indeed becoming more “China-centric.”]

  • U.S. investigators said they found a communication link between Al Qaeda and the Saudi trainee who shot U.S. sailors at a Pensacola Navy base last year: according to information snagged from the attacker’s phone, he even communicated with Al Qaeda operatives the night before the shooting.

  • Consultancy firm EY released its annual ranking of the top 40 markets for renewable energy investments, and ranked the U.S. ahead of China for the first time in four years. Apparently that’s because China is winding down its subsidies for renewables while the U.S. is planning to extend incentives—especially for wind projects.

Venezuela

  • AT&T announced it would leave the Venezuelan market, where its DirecTV platform got stuck between U.S. sanctions and Pres. Maduro’s pomp: the government requires DirecTV to broadcast state propaganda channels, but U.S. sanctions prohibit it from doing so. DirecTV currently has a 44% market share in Venezuela, but is shutting down all operations immediately.

Iran

  • Shahid Rajaee port terminal has been shut down for days because of a hacking attack on May 9th. Analysts believe Israel was responsible, and think it was a retaliation for an Iranian hack on rural water operations in Israel.

Sahel

  • Jihadists attacked a military base at Blabrine, Niger (near Diffa), killing an unknown number of Nigerien soldiers.

Libya

  • Turkish-backed GNA soldiers captured a Russian Pantsir S-1/SA-22 air defense system from the LNA at Al Watiya airbase. The system is believed to have come from the UAE, though it was made in Russia.

  • The Guardian reports that Malta’s government is coercing private ships to push would-be migrants back to Libya, and publicized an anecdote from a survivor who said 12 people on her boat were killed when it was turned around in early April.

DRC

  • Human Rights Watch says heavy-handed tactics by the Congolese army killed at least 55 members of the Bundu dia Kongo (BDK) militia they’re fighting in eastern DRC.

Strategic Minerals

  • China is reportedly starting to buy cobalt again, causing concerns about an unstable supply chain out of DRC.

Other News

  • Super Cyclone Amphan—the strongest storm ever recorded in the Bay of Bengal—is heading for India and Bangladesh. It has weakened a bit, but is still as bad as a strong Category 4 Atlantic hurricane, with wind speeds up to 150 mph (240 kmph). Millions of people have evacuated ahead of its landfall in around 30 hours.

Hopeful News in Afghanistan (WSJ)

A power-sharing deal will mean a united front against the Taliban.

The news has been grimmer than usual in Afghanistan, including last week’s terror attack on a Kabul maternity ward that killed 26 women, children and babies. But the weekend brought a glimmer of progress as the country’s main non-Taliban political rivals agreed to a power-sharing deal.

Ashraf Ghani will remain as president while Abdullah Abdullah, who also claimed victory in the 2019 election, will appoint half of the cabinet and lead any negotiations with the Taliban. The deal means the government will be able to present a united front to the Taliban, who walked away from U.S.-brokered peace talks last month claiming they were fruitless.

The U.S. is hoping the deal will bring the Taliban back to the negotiating table, though the insurgents continue to attack Afghan police, army units and civilians. The Taliban know that President Trump is eager to withdraw all U.S. troops from the country, preferably before Election Day in November, so he can claim a diplomatic victory. But that gives the Taliban an incentive to bide their time in the hope of goading Mr. Trump to do something impulsive.

The compromise shows the good faith of our Afghan allies in putting aside personal agendas for the good of the country. The best chance for a U.S. exit with honor, one that doesn’t lead to a murderous Taliban march on Kabul, is to make clear to the Taliban that the U.S. won’t force its allies to accept a bad deal.

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