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NightWatch 20100629

NightWatch

For the Night of 29 June 2010

Administrative Note: The most recent NightWatch prior to this was for the night of 25 June.

North Korea: Update. North Korea accused the United States of bringing "heavy weapons" into the truce village of Panmunjom over the weekend, according to the Korean Central News Agency. U.S. forces introduced those weapons on 26 June, according to the Panmunjom Mission of North Korea's army. The message said that armed forces of both sides stand in acute confrontation, so this is a premeditated provocation intended to spark a serious military conflict. Pyongyang called for the weapons to be immediately removed, and warned of "strong military countermeasures" if they are not.

The United Nations Command in South Korea denied the allegation, saying the United Nations Command continues to abide by the 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement. It specifies that no heavy weapons may be brought into the joint security area of Panmunjom. The spokesman added that North Korea should bring its concerns to the appropriate forum.

Concerning nuclear developments, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement, "The recent disturbing development on the Korean Peninsula underscores the need for North Korea to bolster its nuclear deterrent in a newly developed way to cope with the persistent, hostile U.S. policy toward Pyongyang and military threat toward it,"

North Korea cited the threat of a nuclear attack from the United States as a main reason behind its drive to build atomic weapons, according to the statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency.

Comment: As the succession wrangling continues in the North, it will become even more prickly and fanciful. The two items above appear to signal the start of an offensive propaganda campaign that picks nits with South Korea and its Allies about real activity and fictitious provocations. Offensive accusations promise to be prominent in the North's media through September.

China-US: For the record. China denied reports that an artillery exercise in the East China Sea was conducted in response to a joint military exercise between South Korea and the United States, Reuters reported 29 June. A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that it was a routine exercise and that the timing was coincidental.

India: Maoist rebels attacked a paramilitary police unit as it was returning from a mission preparing for a threatened rebel strike in Chhattisgarh State. The Maoists killed at least 26 paramilitary police personnel in the roadside ambush.

The gunfight, which lasted for about three hours, occurred about 3 p.m. in the state's heavily forested Bastar region, as the 63-member Central Reserve Police Force patrol was returning from a "road-opening mission" in preparation for a threatened two-day rebel strike expected to start Wednesday.

Maoist rebels, who control a large swath of Indian territory, often erect roadblocks in jungle areas they control, which the government tries to raze to reassert its authority. A similar assault in April killed 76 paramilitary police personnel. Another in May killed 31 policemen.

Home Secretary G.K. Pillai told reporters that reinforcements reached the area from nearby camps within hours and that all the bodies had been recovered. Some of the injured reportedly were evacuated by helicopter.

Comment: Indian news services assessed that the attack suggests that rebels are growing stronger despite a stepped-up effort launched last year by the Indian government.

It would be more accurate to assess that the Indian paramilitary forces continue to make the same dumb mistakes in the same areas; their tactics have not changed; their intelligence on the Naxalites does not exist or is not actionable enough to save lives; and their response time - in hours -- is a disgrace for a modern professional force. The central government does not consider the Maoists a serious threat yet. Despite the losses and irrespective of ministerial outcries in New Delhi.

The significance is that the poorly armed but tactically effective Maoist rebels inflict repeated beatings on a far superior and better armed paramilitary police force that fails to learn from its mistakes, which at least teach what actions to avoid.

Afghanistan: A report by the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction reported that the United States does not know the capability of the Afghanistan security forces at this time, Reuters reported 28 June, citing U.S. auditors.

According to the report, rankings used to grade Afghan forces varied greatly from one region to another, personnel numbers for the Afghan army were overstated and widespread corruption and drug abuse among Afghan security forces as well as logistics issues plagued the effort to develop independent Afghan forces.

Comment: Open source information on Afghan security force casualties in April and May tends to reinforce the IG report. As US and Western force casualties began to rise, Afghan Army and Police casualties declined, in open source reporting. The data suggested the Afghans were sitting back, letting US and Western forces engage and be engaged by the Taliban, even in joint operations.

Enlistment in the security forces is a jobs program, rather than a career in the Western sense. There is a strong military tradition in Afghanistan, but it resides primarily in the Pashtuns, who are the Taliban today. When Pashtuns enlist, they are infiltrators from the Taliban. The numbers of Afghan army and police personnel are fictitious, but that should not be news.

Kyrgyzstan: After the constitutional referendum last weekend, international observers are praising it as a remarkably peaceful and largely transparent process, The Associated Press reported 28 June.

Boris Frlec, head of the observation mission, said the provisional government should be commended for organizing a remarkably peaceful process and that the referendum was "largely transparent." The provisional government passed a decree, delegating powers to the interim president until national elections are held. Roza Otunbayeva was elected interim president until 31 December 2011.

Russia-Kyrgyzstan: The Russians demurred. President Medvedev said there is not enough authority in Kyrgyzstan to restore order. He added that he does not understand how the parliamentary republic model will work for the country, RIA Novosti reported 28 June.

Medvedev noted that it would turn into a never-ending series of problems with parliamentary reshuffles of various political forces, and an uncontrolled change of power. He said it would help forces with extremist tendencies to gain power. Russia cannot remain indifferent because Kyrgyzstan is a strategic partner and a country that currently has a great many problems, Medvedev stated.

Comment: Medvedev's comments suggest Russia favored a strong presidential form of government.

More ominous is his reference to Russia not remaining indifferent. Similar but stronger statements in the past were indicators that the Soviet Union reserved the right to intervene to secure its interests: in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 for example.

US-Iran Nuclear Program: The televised interview by the Director of CIA, Leon Panetta, generated significant international reaction. Among many other remarks, Panetta said the CIA assessed Iran has sufficient fissile material for two nuclear weapons. NightWatch Readers know that does not mean Iran has two nuclear weapons. It does mean that CIA analysts have concluded that Iran has not abandoned the option of developing nuclear weapons and could do so quickly after the leadership gives the order.

Panetta's comments are a significant break with the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, in principle, meaning the new view is that Iran does not have nukes but has the technology. I can build nukes in a couple of years.

That substance is not much different from the 2007 Estimate, in fact, but it was worded more artfully and blew the crisis over Israel's naval blockade of the Gaza Strip right off the front page of international news. The noteworthy international reactions are summarized below. The Russian reaction is the most significant.

Russia: President Medvedev said he was alarmed by U.S. assertions that Iran may have enough fuel for two nuclear weapons and warned that if confirmed Tehran may face new measures, Reuters reported 28 June. The information must be checked, Medvedev said, adding that if the CIA information is shown to be true, the situation will become more tense.

Foreign Minister Lavrov said Russia is interested in studying any new information the CIA might have regarding Iran's nuclear enrichment plans, according to Itar-Tass on 29 June. The statement came following talks between Lavrov and Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. If the CIA has information Russia does not have, specifically information that proves Iran has begun enriching uranium to a weapon-grade level, Russia would like to "look into it in detail," Lavrov said.

Iran: Iran's nuclear activities don't have a military purpose and the U.S. intelligence agency is aware of that, according to a Foreign Ministry spokesman, Bloomberg reported 28 June. Ramin Mehmanparast described the comments as propaganda intended to allow the United States to avoid nuclear disarmament. What Iran is pursuing is only in the framework of the rights that its International Atomic Energy Agency membership entitles it to, Mehmanparast said, adding that the real concern is disarmament and non-proliferation

Israel: President Shimon Peres said during a meeting with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik believes that Russian President Medvedev's comments regarding the Iranian nuclear program should not be taken lightly, Ynet reported 28 June. Heretofore, Russia had doubts about Iran's capability to develop a nuclear bomb, Peres said. Medvedev's statement has a serious element of change and Israel appreciates this development, he added.

Algeria: La Tribune Online, centrist, moderate publication, ran a sarcastic editorial comment.

"The director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has stated that Tehran has enough enriched uranium "to manufacture two" nuclear "weapons." Leon Panetta has also asserted that Iran could possess a nuclear weapon in "two years." Yet another find by the American intelligence agencies. When the United States decides to get involved in what it calls a "preventive war," it charges the CIA with finding "the excuse." This is a limp scenario with disastrous consequences. This reminds us of the fable of the shepherd who cries wolf to awaken the village. Moreover the epilogue to the last two bloody and dramatic episodes is not yet known. The day following the 11 September 2001 attacks, the Bush administration exerted major pressure on the CIA to justify the invasion of the two countries that had been targeted beforehand and put on the list of the "axis of evil."

The remainder of the commentary applied the above reasoning to the situation of Iran. La Tribune suggested the CIA Director's comments portended an attack on Iran.

Comment: Significant for the absence of any commentary are Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Based on Panetta's remarks, Iran is about where Pakistan was in 1998 when Benazir Bhutto was prime minister and ordered nuclear weapons development. Pakistan, thus, is in no position to criticize Iran.

Saudi King Abdallah is making a state visit to Washington, D.C. today and 30 June. In mid June, the King told the French Foreign Minister that neither Israel nor Iran deserved to exist, according to L'Orient, He was venting his exasperation over Israeli seizure of the humanitarian aid ships for the Gaza Strip and over Iran's defiance on nuclear issues. No doubt, the US President learned the Kingdom's reaction to Panetta's remarks.

Somalia-Anti-piracy patrol: NATO is sending a Dutch submarine to the east coast of Africa to help monitor communications between pirate vessels and the warlords who control them onshore.

The Alliance said today that one of four Walrus-class submarines in the Royal Netherlands Navy will start patrolling waters from the Gulf of Aden to the Indian Ocean starting in September and continuing through November. Walrus-class submarines are among the most modern non-nuclear subs deployed by the NATO-member navies and have stealth technology that makes them difficult to detect even by other submarines. NATO said the Dutch submarine would target pirates responsible for hijacking commercial ships for ransoms worth millions of dollars.

Comment: Somehow, the Dutch managed to make the case that a stealthy submarine could help the anti-terror effort. It should add depth to the effort, but this commitment appears related more to preserving Dutch submarine capabilities. Preservation and exercise of capabilities and assets are recurring, prominent themes in the NATO effort.

Without the justification provided by the Somali pirates, most NATO navies would become reserve fleets. This way they maintain the ability to cooperate with the US Navy to some extent. Core naval war fighting skills are maintained.

Venezuela: The National Assembly approved the nationalization of 11 oil rigs belonging to U.S. firm Helmerich & Payne, El Universal reported 29 June. A report that Venezuelan state-run oil firm Petroleos de Venezuela presented to legislators said that the nationalization was necessary because the rigs were inactive and were required for operations in the eastern and western parts of the country.

Comment: Chavez' incremental nationalization of commercial enterprises takes Venezuela a giant leap into the past of anti-capitalist failures that ensured that potentially prosperous countries remained impoverished. The fall of the Soviet Union, after 70 years of trying, was a testament to the propositions that the technology has not yet been invented and human sensibilities are insufficiently enlightened to make a socialist utopia achievable. Chavez is on the path to make Venezuela, not himself, poor.

Mexico: The El Paso Times reported that thousands of police officers in Juárez plan to be inconspicuous on election day, 4 July, despite ongoing violence. Federal, state and municipal police in Juárez will not safeguard polling stations during the 4 July election, when voters will elect a mayor, governor and other representatives.

Soldiers will not even come out that day, city officials said. "Police could scare people away, and instead of people feeling comfortable, they could feel that they will be inspected or detained," said Max Frederick of the Juárez elections department. "We want people to be happy so they can go out and vote."

Law officers said they favor a low-profile approach on election day for the same reason. "The instructions are not to get close to the polling booths," said José Ramón Salinas of the federal police. "What we are seeking is for people not to feel inhibited." But police will stand by, ready if needed, Salinas said.

Comment: The unasked questions are which candidates do the cartels support and which candidates support the cartels. Perhaps a police presence is unnecessary. That would be the case if the outcome is already decided and not likely to be contested.

End of NightWatch for 29 June.

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