For the Night of 21 September 2010
China: Two recent developments exemplify China's expanding use of military forces in support of diplomacy and to maintain stability along the borders.
Xinhua reported six Chinese aircraft launched "long-range sudden attacks" in Kazakhstan as part of ongoing anti-terror exercises of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Chinese Major General Meng Guoping said on 20 September. Four H-6H bombers and two J-10 fighter aircraft participated in the drill, which General Meng described as China's first simulated cross-border strike.
China's air force hopes the exercise will build early warning, command, long-distance bombing, escort and aerial refueling capabilities, the General said.
On 21 September Pakistan's Daily Times reported China's Central Military Commission has approved the deployment of a contingent of four military helicopters to Pakistan to assist in flood relief. The helicopters and crews have participated in disaster relief in China, but this would be the first time China will send military helicopters outside the country on such a mission, Xinhua reported.
This also would be the second military contingent sent to Pakistan. Pakistan's Defense Minister acknowledged the presence of Chinese troops engaged in relief work on the 13th.
Special Comment: Both items manifest China's "emergence" as a "responsible international actor" and help observers deepen their understanding of what the Chinese might mean by those or similar terms.
Since 1990, when China sent five peacekeepers to the Middle East, it has participated in 23 UN peacekeeping missions, according to official Chinese government data. Nearly 10,000 Chinese personnel presently are participating in 12 peacekeeping missions. As a result, China has developed a core of military and police personnel with experience in commanding and sustaining forces in every crisis region of the world and a wide range of terrain and weather conditions.
The deployment of Chinese ships to the anti-piracy patrols off Somalia has been a successful test of capabilities to sustain a limited naval force far from China. It also has enabled China to gauge international reaction to Chinese naval operations far beyond the Asian littoral.
In Asia, China's emergence has been intimidating and less benign. The fishing boat confrontation with Japan is the latest demonstration of the change in style in handling disputes over contested areas. Previously for many years, China deferred discussion of disputed areas in the interest of good neighborliness, especially towards Southeast Asian countries, but it never surrendered any claims. Lately it is asserting those claims openly and bluntly.
A new mission. The simulated scenario for Kazakhstan and the Pakistan relief deployment are part of the emergence, but with a different twist. The Kazakhstan and Pakistan announcements carry special significance for their substance and for the implications of the press releases.
Substantively, the participation of combat aircraft beyond China's borders means that ground forces also must be engaged in such exercises, though not mentioned in the press release. Air forces cannot hold ground and the Chinese practice "joint" training, patterned loosely after US joint doctrine. Chinese joint operations tend to be "coordinated" more than "joint," but they involve ground and air or units from all three armed services working together.
In short, the People's Liberation Army has acknowledged in public that it is training for operations to project Chinese military power beyond China's borders under some conditions for some purposes. Clearly anti-terror operations qualify.
The second substantive point is the target was Kazakhstan, which is not a historic enemy, such as India or Vietnam; not an ally, such as Pakistan, North Korea, and is not a party to a significant Chinese territorial dispute. Like Pakistan, it is a bordering state. Like the helicopter and ground personnel deployments to Pakistan, the simulation involved the use of Chinese military forces in coming to the rescue of a bordering state in trouble.
The press reports are part of the public information program to test international reaction to China's having crossed another threshold as a "responsible great power," namely, policing its neighborhood. That mission expands China's options for responding to requests for help, for example, from the governments of bordering states should they experience an internal instability crisis. Border states at risk are North Korea, Burma and Pakistan, where China already has a military contingent.
Chinese forces are not yet capable of matching the US ability to send relief or provide rescue. The US, for example, sent 30 helicopters to Pakistan for flood relief. Nevertheless, the two developments spotlight China's intentions and near term strategic objective, which is dominance in Asia … all of it.
China-US: Update. On 21 September China expressed concern about the possibility of a joint statement from the United States and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) addressing South China Sea maritime disputes. The Foreign Ministry said internationalization of the maritime issue would complicate rather than help matters.
Comment: China claims almost all of the South China Sea and its resources as part of its national territory by right of succession from the Chinese Empire. Most members of ASEAN have claims to islands, ocean areas and seabed resources that China does not recognize and disputes.
Until recently the Chinese relied on diplomacy to maintain regional stability and the status quo against other claimants. In hindsight that conciliatory approach stands out as a stratagem to freeze the claims until China acquired the military power to back up its claims by force. By asserting its historic claims, China is the agent of instability.
China's assertive and more bellicose style has generated a multi-billion dollar Southeast Asian arms buildup since 2000. Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam have been modernizing or adding new capabilities to their air forces and navies, primarily, to prepare for almost unavoidable confrontations with China in the future.
Afghanistan: The Governor of Balkh Province in northern Afghanistan said on 21 September that the militant group Hizb-i-Islami led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (HiG) not the Taliban, is responsible for most of the violence and instability in the north. Governor Ata Mohammad Nur said the lack of responsible leadership in security institutions, uncoordinated and ineffective military policies and operations, and night raids have strengthened opponents of the government.
Nur said about half of Hizb-i-Islami's members have joined with the government, but the other half are causing insecurity and violence.
Comment: By reputation, Nur is one of several "warlord" governors in the north. They reportedly obtained significant land holdings in the interim period between the last Taliban offensive against the Tajiks in the north in 2001 and the return of refugees from Pakistan to reclaim their farms after US special forces and Uzbek militias routed the Taliban.
Land expropriation in the north by Tajik and Uzbek strong men in late 2001 and thereafter is one of the most serious, least reported and unaddressed problems left over from the overthrow of the Taliban. In the north, it is a major factor contributing to Pashtun support for the Taliban.
Nur's statement that HiG has split is accurate, but even those that joined the government are for sale and usually in the service of Nur as protection and tax collectors. Nur, which means "enlightened," previously was known only as Atta Mohammad and was an ethnic Tajik militia leader. He remains an enemy of Karzai and the Pashtuns.
Nur's exoneration of the Taliban implies that he is making deals with his enemies as he sees fit and outside the control of the central government. Identification of HiG in this fashion indicates Nur has not yet found the price for buying off the HiG remnants, as he has the Taliban. Pashtuns live in several enclaves in Balkh, mainly in Mazar-i-Sharif, one of the largest cities in northern Afghanistan.
Balkh is relatively free of insurgent violence, mainly because Nur uses ancient tactics to maintain the peace: bribery or extermination and confiscation of land. Balkh is not a cradle of good government in a western sense, but it is much less violent than most provinces.
Iran-Iraq: For the record. Al Hayat reported today, 21 September, that Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei used prominent Shiite cleric Kazem al Haeri to issue a fatwa requiring Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al Sadr to support Nuri al-Maliki for another term as Iraqi prime minister.
Comment: Iran just showed its hand and exposed al Maliki as its man in Baghdad.
Yemen: International media have reported that Yemeni forces have surrounded between 25 and 60 al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) fighters in a rural village. The surrounded militants rejected mediation efforts by local officials, setting conditions for security forces to besiege the militants in their hiding places.
Late reporting indicates Yemeni forces attacked five houses in the village but found them empty. The BBC reported up to 15,000 civilians have fled the fighting.
Comment: The US is certainly providing intelligence and advisory support because the US is determined to prevent al Qaida from exporting more terrorists from Yemen and from developing a base in Yemen. The impoverished Yemeni government welcomes the US aid.
Russia: Update. Russia agreed to purchase four French Mistral-class helicopter carriers in a deal worth an estimated 600 million euros ($788 million) that will be officially signed later in September, according to a statement from the Russian Defense Ministry. Two of the four ships will be bought from the French manufacturer and two will be built in Russian shipyards, according to the statement.
Niger-France: Update. Algerian security forces will participate in an operation to find French hostages who were taken from Niger by al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb on 16 September. The Algerian forces will cooperate with French authorities and will base their operations in Bamako, Mali, a French Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
Comment: The cooperation among the Sahelian countries and with France is a significant factor in preventing AQIM from developing a secure base in western Africa. The US strongly supports this cooperation and the military operations. Prior to the 9/11 attacks in the US, competition and suspicion dominated relations among the western African governments involved. This is tonight's good news.
Errata: lines dropped from last night's comment. Touareg raiders reportedly kidnapped and then sold the five French hostages to al Qaida, either because they have limited ability to provide for captives or because the arrangement with al Qaida was made in advance. Today al Qaida claimed responsibility for the raid and that it holds the captives.
The first explanation is the more benign because the practice of selling humans as chattel is ancient in Saharan Africa, where slavery endures despite being outlawed.
The second explanation is potentially more ominous, if Touaregs were involved as reported. Touareg unrest is rooted in resentment over the Nigerien government's failure to share the benefits of uranium mining in lands the Touaregs claim. They also want greater local autonomy. Uranium is Niger's main export.
Resentment fueled a Touareg uprising in 2007 that was suppressed with French military assistance. More recently, the Touaregs have staged periodic nuisance raids against uranium mines, but the raids have been ineffectual, until the kidnappings on 16 September.
Open source reporting from the past several years contains no instances in which the Touaregs fronted for al Qaida or sold captives to them. If the sale is a one time arrangement, the primary significance would be that it exposes and confirms contact between the two groups.
A more ominous alternative hypothesis is that this sale is the first indication in open sources of a continuing arrangement that could expand the capabilities of the Touaregs and al Qaida in the Maghreb. Such an alliance would increase instability in uranium and other ore mining centers of the western Sahara and significantly increase the burdens of counter-terror security operations.
Algeria: For the record. A bomb exploded in Bordj Menaiel, Algeria, about 70 kilometers (45 miles) east of Algiers, killing two policemen and wounding three civilians, AFP reported Sept. 21. The bomb was placed on the side of the road in the commercial center of town, and exploded as a police patrol passed.
Comment: The last attack of any kind by a terrorist group in Algeria also was a bombing on 1 September, when a suicide attack killed two and injured nine. The al Qaida attacks in Algeria are occurring with less frequency and diminishing results.
NightWatch Special Announcement:
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End of NightWatch for 21 September.
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