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NightWatch 20100426

NightWatch

For the Night of 26 April 2010

Thailand: King Bhumibol Adulyadej spoke in public for the first time since his hospitalization last September addressing newly appointed judges. He said justices should lead by example and perform their duties effectively in an attempt to maintain stability in the country.

The King did not directly comment on the political standoff in Bangkok, but his words about the duties of judges are an allegorical instruction for the Abhisit government. The message is do your duty and stop vacillating.

The pro-government Yellow Shirts, who form the People's Alliance for Democracy, said that if authorities cannot control the Red Shirt protesters, the Yellow Shirts will take action to protect the country, Agence France-Presse 26 April. They called on the Prime Minister to impose martial law.

Meanwhile the Red Shirt leaders repeated the direction to change shirts.

Comment: The government has waited too long to enforce the law and to pursue fugitive former prime minister Thaksin who stoked the illegal protests from outside. To paraphrase the King, it did not do its duty.

Afghanistan: The Taliban's shadow governor in Konduz Province in northern Afghanistan was killed 26 April by a U.S. airstrike in the Dasht-e Archi District, Pajhwok news agency reported, citing a statement from a senior provincial official. Mullah Yaar Muhammad, aka Mullah Nur Mohammad, was killed in the morning airstrike about 18 miles (28 kilometers) from the capital city of Kunduz.

Comment: This might provide a short respite for the German contingent, which is responsible for Konduz, by disrupting contacts with the Taliban leadership in Pakistan. Shadow governors are a key link in the Pakistan connection for funds, special supplies and higher leadership guidance.

Special analysis: In February 2010 Umar al Faruq, who identified himself as the Taliban commander of Dawlatabad District of Faryab Province in northwestern Afghanistan, gave an interview for a jihadist website. His interview was described as a media statement released by the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. It was posted to the al Sumud web on 19 April.

Faryab Province lies within the area of operations of the Norwegian Provincial Reconstruction Team. They do a creditable job.

Umar described his territory and his operations in terms that he thought were anodyne. But he gave away significant intelligence. He admitted to being 30 years old and the district commander of Dawlatabad, one of the 14 districts in Faryab, which is outside the Pashtun heartland. In time, he became commander for the whole province.

Umar chose his words carefully. He claimed to have a presence in nine of the 14 districts in the province. He said some "mujahedin" are present in other districts but they are not strong. He described his definition of government control as the district centers and the areas around them. His identification of areas under his control or influence did not include the provincial capital, Maimana.

He defined Taliban control as freedom of movement, not as creation or operation of a shadow government. He gave a very credible description of how the Taliban create influence.

"Our jihad in this province started with Da'wah related activities. We used to give inflammatory and religious sermons in the mosques. We also used to visit the people in their houses to tell them about our objectives. The mujahidin, repeatedly, walked down the public roads and stopped the pedestrians to explain the mujahidin's cause to them and the necessity of jihad against the occupation. That is how we explained the matter to people, and thus we gained their trust through Da'wah and education. As a result, the people learned that the mujahidin are the sons of this country, and that they are the best youth of that faithful people, unlike the bad traits, which the enemy attributes to them.

In response to a question, Umar identified only one district of Faryab as under control because of its inaccessibility. He identified two others as half under control, also because Coalition forces have difficulty in reaching them. He claimed to control no district center.

He also identified what he meant by the Taliban having a presence. "Currently, there is a group of the mujahidin in each district, which is necessary. In some districts, there is more than one group. The number of the mujahidin in this province is estimated to be hundreds."

Thus the definition of presence is that a "group" is permanently present. That statement implies a fighting group that has cover and sustainment in at least one village. The actual number of clashes since last November indicates Umar greatly exaggerated his capabilities and strength.

For example, he described his most recent successes: "three violent confrontations between the mujahidin and the enemy have taken place over the last three months." In 90 days, his groups initiated three attacks during the winter.

In the NightWatch open source data base on fighting, during the months of December, January and February - the month of the interview - four clashes were reported. They included the one against the Norwegians cited as a success by Umar. (It was insignificant.)

One attack was reported in December; none in January; and three in February. The key data are the volume and the frequency of Taliban-initiated incidents, vice Coalition operations. One of the four must have been old fashioned bandit activity, not Taliban activity.

The number of clashes suggests Umar grossly exaggerated his forces. If the Taliban have fighting groups in nine districts, there should be at least nine Taliban initiated attacks per month to maintain any sense of a credible threat.

In fact, the risk factors suggest Umar has a decentralized group of no more than 30 fighters in the province. Not the hundreds he claims. These appear to be dispersed in smaller groups among three or four districts to minimize their burden on the limited number of sympathizers who feed and take care of them and for security. A handful of men apparently select a single village within a district to act as their base.

Based on a comparison of the Taliban commander's boasts with reliable information about his demonstrated capability, it is clear that the Taliban is barely holding on in Faryab. A small number of sympathetic villagers support small fighting groups in three or four villages. They are not very active.

Of particular interest is Umar's disclosure of how the Taliban missionaries operate to try to subvert a Pashtun population. Significantly, Umar identified himself and his men as mujahedin, not Taliban. When the Mujahedin began to fight the Soviets, Umar was not yet born. He is borrowing the identity of the genuine Afghan nationalists in order to win villager support for the Taliban.

Although Umar claimed to have Tajik, Uzbek and Turkman support, he was lying. The low level of activity in the province proves the Taliban have failed in Faryab, which is not to say that the villages are pro-government.

Umar's is a fringe operation for the Taliban, occasionally rising to the level of banditry. Nevertheless his interview is instructive about Taliban tactics. The Norwegians should have no difficulty capturing Umar. Profile the Pashtuns in Faryab.

Iraq: The Judiciary Appeals Commission has disqualified 52 Iraqi politicians who entered the 7 March parliamentary elections for their alleged links to the Baath party, Reuters reported 26 April. The 52 include two candidates who won seats representing former interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's al-Iraqiya List.

Disqualification of two of Allawi's men would give al Maliki's political bloc a majority of one. Al Maliki's followers indicated a month ago that Maliki intended to pursue disqualification as one of his three tactics for staying in power. The controversial recount in Baghdad is another of his tactics.

Comment: Allawi will protest but the momentum is on the side of the Shiites and the "fix is in," though not in favor of al- Maliki. Any political bloc representing mainly Sunnis will not be permitted to govern Iraq regardless of election results. That decision was made in Tehran.

Sudan: For the record. On 26 April the National Elections Commission released results from the presidential elections. The incumbent presidents of both the national government in Khartoum - Omar al Bashir -- and of the semi-autonomous region of Southern Sudan - Salva Kiir - won.

With the re-election of al Bashir as Sudanese President and Kiir as Southern Sudanese President (a title which automatically makes Kiir Sudan's First Vice President in any national unity government between north and south), the status quo in Sudan has been maintained.

Comment: Bashir is the only sitting head of state and government who is wanted by the International Criminal Court, which issued a warrant for his arrest for war crimes in Darfur. The election was rigged, but Bashir can claim success in a multi-party election. Elections would seem to be an extravagance for simply validating a dictatorship that had no intention of surrendering power. This is a study in democracy.

Somalia: Al Shabaab militants moved north toward Somali pirate strongholds, forcing some pirates to flee, The Associated Press reported 26 April. The leader of a pirate gang holding two British citizens hostage in Haradhere fled into a forest to escape the militants, and told the AP that al Shabaab militants were chasing the group.

A witness said he saw two vehicles carrying al Shabaab militants enter Haradhere around midnight 25 April before withdrawing. A second witness said pirates have begun withdrawing from the city and were headed toward Hobyo, another pirate stronghold.

Comment: During the short tenure of the Islamic Courts Union in Mogadishu, the Islamists persecuted pirates as being un-Islamic. Al Shabaab appears to follow the same interpretation of Islam. That would make the enemy of our enemy. Apparently orthodox Muslims have no sympathy for thieves who supposedly claim to be pursuing the only livelihood available to them. This is tonight's good news.

End of NightWatch for 26 April.

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