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NightWatch 20101007

NightWatch

For the Night of 7 October 2010

Japan: Japan plans to import Russian-processed uranium fuel from uranium ore mined in Kazakhstan via Siberian railways, Japanese Economy, Industry and Trade Ministry officials said 7 October, Kyodo reported. The new transport route is an effort to avoid risks to Japanese maritime vessels, a step taken in response to an incident last July wherein a Japanese crude oil tanker was damaged in the Strait of Hormuz.

In addition, the new route would reduce costs and transportation time, the officials said. The ministry plans to begin using the land route by April 2011 so that it will be fully operational by April 2012.

Comment: The language of the announcement attributes the change to the Trans-Siberian Railroad to the threat of piracy. While that has some merit, the change also avoids maritime shipping via the South China Sea which China now claims as territorial waters. In the next few years, Japan may be expected to take other actions to reduce its vulnerability to Chinese interdiction and extortion, including diversifying suppliers of rare earth and other minerals Japan now imports from China.

India-Russia: India will buy 250 to 300 advanced stealth fighter aircraft from Russian, according to Defence Minister A.K. Antony, as he announced the deal worth nearly $30 billion. Antony and Russian Defense Minister Serdyukov said Russia would supply the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) as well as 45 transport aircraft. India also will jointly manufacture the fighters under license for ten years.

Comment: The future of the Indian Air Force appears to be linked primarily to Russian rather than US firms. This agreement thinly hides an Indian strategic judgment about the threats it faces from China and Pakistan, about the US as a supplier for coping with those threats compared to the Russians.

India is making long term preparations to be ready for a major war after ten years that will require fifth generation fighters because the most likely enemy - presumably China - also will have those air capabilities. The Russians are willing to sell India the aircraft and to license the technology. The US is not building significant numbers of fifth generation fighters and will not sell them even to Israel.

The Indians, Russians and Chinese do not share the US strategic outlook favoring small wars and counterinsurgency forces.

Pakistan: Pakistan has not decided when it will reopen a key border crossing NATO uses to transport supplies to Afghanistan despite a U.S. apology for a helicopter attack that killed two Pakistani soldiers. Today, 7 October, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said authorities are still evaluating the situation and will make a decision "in due course."

Comment: This is pure cheekiness. Strategically, the Pakistanis are showing that they anticipate an end game of US withdrawal and eventual Taliban victory. Tactically they are demonstrating the extent to which the US military presence in Afghanistan depends on Pakistan.

Pakistan-Afghanistan: Update. The NATO supply suspension at Torkham in Khyber District continued for an eighth day with 200 tankers and containers stranded at the Afghan-Pakistani border, Geo News reported. The owners of the vehicles demanded the Pakistani government resolve the matter because of tremendous debt and drivers' security concerns.

A NATO spokesperson reassured the world that NATO has reserves and developed alternative supply routes, so the current supply route suspensions are not hurting the war efforts. NATO diversified its supply routes, the spokesman said, adding that only a third of NATO fuel is transported via Pakistan.

It is unclear when the supply route diversification began, but the NATO statement trivializes the apology the United States Government made yesterday to the government of Pakistan over the 30 September shooting incident. If the US and NATO has so little need for using Pakistani supply routes, why would an Ambassador deliver an apology from the US?

The NATO media message is disjointed from US policy actions. The Pakistanis and the Taliban know NATO supply rates, after nine years. NATO attempts to minimize the impact of the convoy suspensions seem incongruent after the US apology.

Afghanistan: The Taliban have denied that high-level talks are under way with the Afghan government, Afghan Islamic Press reported 7 October. Taliban spokesman Zabihollah Mojahed said a report about talks in The Washington Post was a lie, reiterating that the Taliban have not and will not participate in talks with anyone until foreign troops leave the country.

Comment: There is nothing in published materials about the US strategy that would entice the Pashtun Taliban who follow Mullah Omar to negotiate. The strategy of waiting until the invaders weary and depart which the Taliban adopted in 2001 remains in effect.

Russia-Iran: The Russian Technologies State Corporation announced it has canceled its $800 million contract with Iran for the sale of S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems and is preparing to return payments that have been made by Tehran. A company official said the latest UN Security Council sanctions and a presidential decree banning the sale are the reasons for the cancellation. The company said it will repay Iran's down payment of $166 million.

Note: Today's announcement is the first unambiguous statement of compliance the Russians have made. The cancellation is good news for stability in the Middle East.

Somalia: Update. African Union troops may control half of Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, by the end of October, Reuters reported 7 October. The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) is seizing new ground from insurgents on a daily basis, gradually pushing the frontline toward the outskirts of the city. AMISOM forces currently have a presence across more than forty percent of Mogadishu. The peacekeepers have regained 11 new positions and say the insurgents are at their weakest.

Comment: If the report is more than propaganda, it would be the first news that African Union soldiers are on the offensive in weeks. If al Shabaab has suffered setbacks, that would be a sign the Somali clans who back it are under stress.

France: For the record. The French Constitutional Council on 7 October endorsed a law prohibiting women from wearing the Islamic niqab or burqa in public, finding the law conforms to the constitution. The law in question imposes a 150 euro (nearly $210) fine on anyone who wears the face-covering Islamic veils in public. The council expressed reservations about applying the law in places of worship.

End of NightWatch for 7 October.

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