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NightWatch 20100712

NightWatch

For the Night of 12 July 2010

Japan: Update. The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) failed to gain a majority in elections for the country's upper house of parliament 11 July, according to the BBC. The leader of Japan's opposition

The ruling party won 44 of the 121 seats contested. With the 62 it still holds, it is short of the 122 needed for a majority.

Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has ruled out joining a coalition with the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), Kyodo reported. Sadakazu Tanigaki, president of the LDP, also called for general elections to be held early. Prime Minister Naoto Kan has ruled out calling a snap election following his party's poor performance in upper house polls because his administration has only been in office a month.

The DPJ still has a majority in the more powerful lower house which it can use to force legislation through parliament, but its ability to govern effectively has been challenged. Analysts of Japanese politics are interpreting the election as a referendum on the ten month's of DPJ government.

UN Command-North Korea: Update. The UN Command (UNC) announced today it will hold working-level military talks with North Korea at Panmunjom on 13 July to discuss the March sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan. The command's statement said North Korea accepted a UNC proposal made on 26 June to hold colonel-level meetings in preparation for General Officer Talks to discuss the sinking of the patrol ship.

During this Watch, North Korea requested a delay in the talks on 13 July for administrative reasons. No alternative date has been proposed, if any.

NightWatch Comment: The US and South Korea are still working on the plans for the show of force military exercises which are supposed to intimidate North Korea. The US is not sure it can afford to send an aircraft carrier because that will disturb China. Plus, the location has to be changed from the Yellow Sea to locations farther away from China because that also will disturb Chinese leaders.

The lesson of the 1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis is that a great power must act like a great power or it is not a great power. The US sent two carriers to deter China from intimidating Taiwan at that time. The US acted like a great power regardless of China's pique and military ineptitude.

Put another way, actions define a power as great or not. Thus, American concessions to Chinese concerns constitute US acknowledgement and investiture of China as the great power in Northeast Asia and present the US as voluntarily subordinating its actions to China's desires. Every Asian nation, especially the Republic of Korea, will interpret the message in this fashion.

A failure to hold show of force exercises off North Korea for any reason means the US is sending the message that it is no longer the great power of Northeast Asia and the protector of its allies. The North Koreans will have completed a clean sweep, sinking an allied ship, intimidating the UN, gaining Chinese support and forcing the US to back down in support of its ally.

Several press accounts of the UN statement last Friday reported that US diplomats were priding themselves about the cleverness of the language in the statement. That sentiment is curious because a statement is trivial compared to a resolution of the Security Council, which is not much better. Friday's bland exercise in diplomatic legerdemain succeeded in blaming the torpedo for shooting itself at the South Korean ship.

North Korean leaders are risk averse, but even they know a diplomatic victory in the rare occasions when they get one.

Bangladesh: Prosecutors have charged 824 people with the killing of dozens of army officers during the February 2009 mutiny at a barracks in Dhaka, according to the BBC. Most of the accused were members of the paramilitary border force, the Bangladesh Rifles, who rebelled over pay and conditions.

Prosecutors said the 824 people, comprising 801 soldiers of the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) and 23 civilians, had been charged with murder, conspiracy, aiding and abetting murder, looting military weapons and arson. They are considered responsible for killing 74 people, most of them senior army officers, were killed during the two-day rebellion. The case will be handled by Bangladesh's civil courts in what will be the largest trial in the country's history.

In military courts in parallel prosecutions, some 3,500 soldiers who had joined the rebellion are being tried on lesser charges. At least 200 guards have already been convicted by the tribunals with jail sentences ranging from four months to seven years. This is a study in democracy.

Al-Shabaab's Long Reach

Uganda: The Somali Islamist terrorist group al-Shabaab claimed it was behind the twin blasts in Kampala on Sunday that killed 74 people watching the World Cup final. The explosions, which also injured about 70 people, ripped through a rugby club and an Ethiopian restaurant as football fans watched the last few minutes of the World Cup.

An official said a Somali's head was found at the scene of one blast, and he might have been the suicide-murderer. A spokesman for al-Shabaab, Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, said, "Al-Shabab was behind the two bomb blasts in Uganda….We thank the mujahideen that carried out the attack. We are sending a message to Uganda and Burundi, if they do not take out their AMISOM [African Union Mission in Somalia] troops from Somalia, blasts will continue and it will happen in Bujumbura [the Burundi capital] too."

Comment: Wikipedia indicates AMISOM contains 2,700 soldiers from Uganda and 2,550 from Burundi, more than half the originally planned total of 8,000. Joining with a UN mission, the AMISOM force is supposed to merge into a 20,000- man force, but Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Uganda have not honored their troop pledges.

Burundi: al-Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage said the attacks in Uganda were the beginning of plans to take revenge on African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces, Radio Simba reported 12 July. He said the Ugandan people tested al-Shabaab's warnings and that Burundi could be next.

In a comment addressed to the people of Burundi, he said, "You are softer than the Ugandans. We have repeatedly asked you to press your government to have your troops leave our country...but you still have a chance."

Burundi's National Defense Force announced it will not withdraw troops from Somalia despite al-Shabaab's threats, according to the Voice of America. The spokesman said the peacekeeping forces are in Somalia to support the Somali government and will remain there. He also said measures have been taken to protect the population of Burundi.

Comment: The most obviously troublesome aspect of this crime is the ability of al-Shabaab to recruit, train and arm suicide-murderers outside Somalia. Al-Shabaab have not had great success doing that inside Somalia. The implications are that a support system exists in Kampala.

The most significant aspect of the crime is that Ugandan intelligence apparently failed to detect the construction of a support cell of Somali terrorists in Kampala. Its President, Lieutenant General Museveni, knows the value of good intelligence and al-Shabaab has issued warnings in the past. They obviously were ignored.

The warning to Burundi should prompt an intense intelligence investigation of Somalis and their sympathizers in Bujumbura. Security should look for and find a support cell among émigré Somalis that includes a cache of explosives.

As for al-Shabaab, in some ways it is more effective acting as an agent of al-Qaida outside the country than it is on the battlefields around Mogadishu. AMISOM and the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia have been on the ropes repeatedly, but al Shabaab still has been unable to unify the anti-government tribes and fighting groups and has failed to capture the capital.

The NightWatch hypothesis is that the bombing will serve as a wakeup call to the East African states that al-Shabaab is more than a local faction fighting in Somalia. Expect high level meetings and security consultations. This could backfire against al-Shabaab and certainly against émigré Somalis in East African states.

Libya-Israel-Gaza Strip: The Libyan-chartered cargo ship that left Greece on 10 July 10 carrying 2,000 tons of relief supplies heading for el-Arish, Egypt, reportedly is bound directly for the Gaza Strip, according to Youssef Sawani, head of the Gadhafi International Charity and Development Foundation which sponsored the voyage, Israel Army radio reported yesterday. The ship is expected to arrive off Gaza or el-Arish on the morning of 14 July.

The Israeli navy went on high alert Sunday to stop the blockade runner. Defense officials said the navy was tracking the ship and had put forces on standby in case it needed to board the vessel, as it did when confronted with the Gaza-bound flotilla in late May. Israel will stop this ship if it attempts to run the blockade.

End of NightWatch for 12 July.

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