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NightWatch 20110816


For the Night of 16 August 2011

North Korea: Update. The Korean Central News Agency published a commentary that criticized the start of US-South Korean military exercise Ulji Freedom Guardian on 16 August. A few excerpts follow.

"By starting the above-said saber-rattling they once again brought to light their belligerent and ugly colors as the very ones talking about peace but preparing a war while whetting sword behind the scene."

"They would be well advised to bear in mind the resentment of the army and the people of the DPRK and their resolution to retaliate against them are running high. They are fully convinced that if a war breaks out on this land, they will lose only the Military Demarcation Line and gain the national reunification, the cherished desire."

Comment: The North Korean propagandists love contradictions and paradoxes: talking peace while preparing for war; losing the Military Demarcation Line while gaining national reunification. Thus far, North Korean reaction to the Allied exercise is moderate.

Earlier threats were bluffs. Progress towards resuming six-party talks has been glacial. The Allied exercise will have ended long before talks resume. The North does not have to deliver on any of the promises it made in return for a last minute decision to not hold the Allied exercise. The North's propagandists knew that would be the case all along.

North Korea-Vietnam: A Vietnamese Defense Ministry delegation headed by Deputy Minister Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh arrived here by air Tuesday, according to the Korean Central News Agency.

Comment: The Vietnamese are looking for a source of cheap arms and political support in the continuing standoff against China in the South China Sea.

The irony is that Vietnam wants North Korean arms to use against China while North Korea increasingly depends on Chinese aid for national survival. The North Koreans will sell anything Vietnam has the money to purchase.

Afghanistan: A US report has found that $360 million in development aid for Afghanistan has leaked to criminal and anti-government forces during the past ten years.

Comment: The actual figure is probably up to ten times higher, if the leakage total included amounts lost in Pakistan in shipping supplies from Karachi port. The significance of the statement is the implicit admission that the US is funding both sides of the counterinsurgency. The yearly average of $36 million a year will buy a lot of small arms and ammunition and IED supplies, the main weapons of the Taliban.

NightWatch has reported on multiple occasions that one of the laws of counterinsurgency is that the wealthiest combatant usually finances both sides of the insurgency.

Turkey-Syria: Turkey will discuss radical changes to its Syrian policy when its top security council meets Thursday amid Damascus' continued refusal to heed Ankara's demands for reform.

"We are not meeting in optimism but rather in frustration," a Turkish diplomat told the Hürriyet Daily News on Tuesday. The National Security Council, or MGK, will meet Thursday to decide a change in Turkey's attitude toward Syria and to plan for a variety of scenarios in Syria.

The Turkish diplomat said recent developments in the Syrian cities of Deir ez-Zor and Latakia could not be tolerated. "Turkey has never tolerated operations that could result in civilian casualties so far and we will not tolerate them in the future." Meanwhile, Ankara is not considering calling on Assad to step down at the moment, the Daily News has learned. Similarly, the country is also not planning to withdraw its ambassador to Damascus, Ömer Önhon, as that option would only be considered as a last resort, according to one diplomat.

Comment: Turkey is acting as a regional leader for its own purposes, but it also is fronting for Saudi Arabia and the US, acting as the advocate for Syrian Sunnis. The Saudis oppose democracy and secularism, especially when backed by Iranian Shiites.

The assertion that Turkey has never tolerated operations that could result in civilian casualties is errant nonsense. The Turkish Army with Prime Minister Erdogan's backing has killed far more Kurds than the Syrian Alawites have killed Sunnis this year, which excuses neither. Turkish Shiites strongly support the Alawites in Syria, according to news service reports.

Libya: Update: Today's reports indicate that Zawiya is not securely in rebel control and that fighting continues. That is no surprise in light of the town's strategic location, on the main road to Tunisia.

What is surprising is that the western faction of the rebels could muster sufficient strength and capabilities to mount an offensive operation so close to Tripoli with even limited success. Rebel forces in the West appear much more organized, better led and more effective than those operating from Benghazi. If they consolidate recent gains, the West will become a formidable faction in the post-Qadhafi government. That could be a future problem.

End of NightWatch for 16 August.

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