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NightWatch 20100701

NightWatch

For the Night of 1 July 2010

South Korea: Update. The government in Seoul rejected North Korea's proposal for direct military talks on the sinking of the patrol ship Cheonan, saying the issue should be handled under the armistice that ended their 1950-53 war, Agence France-Presse reported 1 July. Seoul should focus on discussions at the U.N. Security Council, said South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Kim Young Sun. It is more appropriate to hold general-level talks between the United Nations Command and North Korea's military and address the issue within the framework of the armistice agreement, he said.

Comment: Bilateral talks on military issues should be handled through the UN channel which the North has sought to marginalize, in hopes of its elimination. The UN Command could call the North's bluff by inviting a North Korean team to investigate the evidence. The North's rejection of the evidence is the inevitable end state, but the process is worth pursuing to ease tension and call the North's bluff about the importance of its own investigation.

China-US: Adding insult to insult. Today a deputy Chief of General Staff of the Peoples Liberation Army said that Defense Secretary Gates is welcome to visit China when the time is right.

General Ma Xiaotian said that the key to whether or not Chinese and US armed forces could surmount the difficulties they now faced and could return to the track of healthy and stable development rested with whether the US side would earnestly respect China's important concern for its core interests; show sincerity in addressing the important and sensitive issues of the two armed forces' relations -- such as sales of US arms to Taiwan and conducting naval and aircraft reconnaissance [on China] -- and create the conditions for the resumption and healthy development of the two armed forces' relations.

The Chinese general made the remark at a conference on food security, in response to a reporter. Wrong rank, wrong guy, wrong venue.

Pakistan: Update. A day after security authorities warned of imminent terrorist attacks, two bombers detonated at a Sufi mosque in Lahore, in eastern Pakistan.

"At least 37 people were killed and 175 injured" in two suicide attacks at a complex housing the tomb of a Sufi saint, Lahore city police chief Aslam Tareen told Agence France-Presse. "It was a suicide bombing and we have found the heads of two suicide bombers," Khusro Pervez, commissioner of Lahore said. "We are looking into the circumstances around how the bombers penetrated the area despite strict security." During this Watch the death toll reached 41.

Inspector-General Police (IGP) for Punjab, Tariq Saleem Dogar, ordered to further intensify the security at Shrines, mosques, sensitive installations and important locations in the province in the wake of bomb blasts at Data Darbar here Thursday. He said that he had directed all regional, city and district police officers across the province to remain highly alert, ensure foolproof security, and maintain law and order in their respective areas.

He also ordered intensified patrolling around railway stations, bus terminals, bus stops, markets, cinema halls, hotels, mosques, imam bargahs, churches and other important places in big cities. The IGP has urged people to remain peaceful and avoid ransacking of media, police vehicles as well as public and private buildings.

Comment: Pakistani intelligence looks proficient for a change, but clearly was not heeded by the police forces in Lahore or Punjab. Target reconnaissance reports always signify.

US-Pakistan: For the record. American intelligence officials estimated that there were somewhat "more than 300" al Qaida leaders and fighters hiding in Pakistan's tribal areas, The New York Times reported today. Michael E. Leiter, Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said there have been some "incredible successes" against al Qaida's leadership. The group is weaker than it has been at any time since 2001, he said, adding that weaker does not mean harmless.

Once again, the public statements about al Qaida indicate the fight against terror is actually in Pakistan not Afghanistan, where the US acknowledges fewer than 100 al Qaida operate, part time.

Afghanistan-Pakistan: Afghan President Hamid Karzai agreed to send an unspecified number of military officers to Pakistan for training, the Washington Post reported. Afghan National Security Adviser Rangin Dadfar Spanta said the move was intended to show confidence in Pakistan in hopes of facilitating talks between the two countries on the Taliban.

Details are unclear, with the number of officers participating said to be either a handful or a few dozen and the commencement date said to be "soon." U.S. Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, who leads the NATO training command in Afghanistan, said the United States was not aware of the arrangement.

Comment: As the result of strain between the US and Karzai plus the lobbying efforts of Pakistani Chief of Army Staff General Kayani, Pakistan is now in the catbird's seat. That means it has powerful, possibly decisive, influence on both sides of the fight in Afghanistan and is developing a political and military position from which it can shape the strategic situation to suit its national interests. Increasingly and ironically, American success or failure in Afghanistan will be determined in Islamabad.

In wrestling, this would be called a reversal. In international security affairs, it is a triumph that took nine years to achieve.

Afghanistan: The Taliban in Afghanistan stated that there is no question of their entering into any kind of negotiations with NATO forces, the BBC reported 1 July. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the Taliban does not want to talk to anyone, not to Afghan President Hamid Karzai and not to foreigners until foreign forces withdraw from Afghanistan. He said the Taliban is certain it is winning and asked why the Taliban should talk if it has the upper hand. Foreign troops are considering withdrawal and there are differences among the ranks, he stated

The operation commanders of the Islamic Emirate (as the Taliban movement calls itself) are going to meet shortly to finalize a new war strategy under which the foreigners working on their national agendas, particularly Indians, will be targeted, according to Taliban commander Qari Ziaur Rehman, The News reported 1 July. The Taliban commander said the Taliban would never hold talks with the Karzai regime or the NATO commander because the Taliban "already won the war." All non-Muslims who try to alienate the Afghan people from the Islamic Emirate will be driven out of the country, he said.

Comment: The statement about targeting foreigners is worth noting, particularly because it singles out the Indians who have been providing large scale infrastructure help to Afghanistan. Taliban attacks against the Indian construction companies and units serve only the interests of Pakistan and mark the Taliban as acting willingly as a Pakistani proxy.

Moreover, if the Taliban execute this new strategy broadly against all civilian foreigners, it guarantees that the US plan to build up a civilian effort in Afghanistan would risk a blood bath and be still-born.

Correcting the press. The new US commander in Afghanistan told the press today that the US was making progress and had taken the initiative away from the Taliban who had it at the start of the year.

The fighting data tell a different story. The Taliban were in winter lull mode at the start of the year when the Allies ramped up operations culminating in the big operation in Marjah, Helmand Province. The Taliban were in reactive mode. They responded by avoiding direct combat with US forces, fleeing Helmand and increasing roadside bombing attacks in general.

The US always has the initiative when it launches operations. Nevertheless, that observed condition is marginally relevant because neither side has the initiative in gaining and holding ground, according to open source reporting. The Taliban have the initiative in one sense. With few to no anti-aircraft weapons and no heavy weapons, they enjoy great success in using words -- in the form of broadcasts and demonstrations -- to limit, if not neutralize, US tactical air and artillery support for troops under fire. That is a breakthrough in the uses of propaganda in modern warfare.

The mid-level decapitation program. A NATO spokesman extolled the success of special operations forces in neutralizing mi-level Taliban leaders. He said more than 110 had been captured and a few dozen killed. He said another 500 insurgents have been killed or apprehended in the nearly daily operations - largely in the south where the Taliban are strongest.

"Intelligence is reporting that the insurgency is having difficulty replacing the leaders who have been taken off the battlefield," NATO chief spokesman Brigadier General Josef Blotz said. "One insurgent recently captured told the assault force that captured him that he was ... tired of running."

Comment: Good news is hard to come by in Afghanistan, but anecdotal, idiosyncratic comments by a single insurgent are hardly representative of the whole. In June 108 Americans were killed. The Taliban do not lack for mid-level leaders, but focused decapitation can delay changes of command for a limited time.

The real problem for NightWatch is that NATO spokespeople never provide a baseline. 500 Taliban were killed or captured in what time period and where? What percentage of the Taliban does this number represent? Does it take into account Karzai's program of releasing the captured? How many mid-level Taliban leaders are there in the 400 districts of Afghanistan? NightWatch estimates a 1,000, depending on the definition of a mid-level leader which also is not provided.

NightWatch considers mid-level leadership to encompass a range of commanders, starting with those who control two or more fighting groups, upwards through those that control all the fighting bands in a grouping of districts within a province.

The fight against the PKK

Turkey: Four members of the Turkish security forces were killed in a firefight with Kurdish guerrillas near the town of Pervari located in Siirt province in southeastern Turkey, according to security officials, Reuters reported 1 July. A lieutenant and three village guards who work for the military were killed, officials said

Syria: Syrian security forces staged operations against the PKK in Aleppo, Kamishli, Afrin, al Hasaka and al Raqqa cities, and detained 400 people on charges of being a member of the militant organization, Anatolia news agency reported 1 July. The detainees were also questioned about charges of collecting unjust money, attempting to divide Syria and establish a separate state, and separate the Kurds living in Syria using "ethnic and religious motivation."

Comment: This is the first recent press report of a Syrian crackdown on the PKK Kurds, in parallel with actions by Turkey and Iran. The Iranians shelled Kurdistan across the Iraqi border of northwestern Iran last month. The coincidence of anti-Kurd activity in three countries is suspicious. Turks, Persians and Arabs agree in their dislike for the Kurds.

UN-Gaza Strip: For the record. The United Nations has begun handing out humanitarian aid that was on a Gaza Strip-bound Turkish flotilla hit by a deadly Israeli commando raid last month, the UN press office said on Thursday.

After the international media spotlights moved on, Hamas backed off its rejection of the aid because it passed through Israel.

Algeria-Mali: Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for killing 11 Algerian policemen on 30 June. The assault took place at dawn during a military vehicle patrol in the town of Tinzaouatine, near the border with Mali, local media reported. The location is in the middle of the Sahara.

Mali responded by opening its border to Algerian forces in pursuit of those responsible for the killings, Reuters reported 1 July, according to a Malian military source. The source said the Algerian army can pursue the insurgents "anywhere on Malian territory" and that Algeria and Mali have been in contact to discuss further measures.

Last week the Algerian government announced a new strategy in coordination with neighboring countries to confront what it described as "trans-Sahara terrorism," according to the BBC.

Comment: AQIM is the group that threatened terrorist attacks to disrupt the World Cup games in South Africa. It is managing about one attack per month against isolated targets. The Saharan states -- Algeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Libya, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, with US assistance and encouragement -- have limited its effectiveness and confined it mainly to desert hideouts.

End of NightWatch for 1 July.

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