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NightWatch 20111017

NightWatch

For the night of 17 October 2011

India-China: Prime Minister Singh has approved the second phase of military expansion along the "China front," and on Indian islands in the Indian Ocean. The government has given the go-ahead to deploy Brahmos cruise missiles in Arunachal Pradesh. This will be India's first offensive tactical missile regiment targeted against China, according to an account in the Indian Express.

The three Brahmos missile regiments raised thus far have been deployed in the western sector to counter the Pakistan threat. The regiment to be based opposite China will be the fourth regiment. The basing of the new cruise missile regiment is consistent with India's second phase expansion plan for defense forces opposite China, but is being fast-tracked because of an urgent request by the armed forces.

Brahmos is a joint Russian-Indian supersonic cruise missile that can carry nuclear and conventional warheads and has a range of 290 km. The missiles are being based in order to extend India's military reach into the Tibet Autonomous Region and counter China's missile bases along the Sino-Indian border.

The second Indian Army expansion on the China border will include setting up a new corps headquarter in Panagarh, West Bengal, which will command two more divisions. An independent armored brigade along with an artillery division will be organic to the corps.

The government also has decided to focus on the security of Indian islands in the Indian Ocean in order to improve security of the maritime routes that cross the Indian Ocean. Two Army brigades are being prepared for basing in the Andamans, at the northwest outlet of the Malacca Strait. A battalion-strength force is being considered for Lakshadweep to support the Navy in the Laccadive Islands, some 400 kms off southwestern India. Air Force assets are also being increased in these island territories.

Comment: The second phase expansion will add 89,000 soldiers and 400 officers to the Indian Army. It will raise the number of army corps to 14 and the number of divisions to 37. 

Prime Minister Singh has approved and overseen the largest expansion of the Indian armed forces in peacetime. Earlier expansions were against Pakistan in anticipation of or during war. Under Singh, the expansions are designed to prepare the Indian armed forces to fight a three-front ground war against China by the middle of the next decade, including against Pakistani forces acting as proxies for China, as well as to defeat Chinese naval and air forces.

Pakistan-US: The Pakistan armed forces spokesman, Major General Abbas, charged that US and Afghan forces failed to hunt down Pakistani Taliban militant Maulana Fazlullah after he and his militants killed Pakistani security forces in several cross-border raids, despite repeated requests from Islamabad.

Abbas said on 17 October that Fazlullah and his militants are based in Afghanistan's Konar and Nuristan Provinces and are trying to re-enter Pakistan's Swat Valley through the town of Dir.

Comment: The significance of Abbas' charges are that Pakistan has specific cases for which it judges US and Afghan forces have been derelict in supporting Pakistani security. Konar and Nuristan are haunts of Fazlullah, according to various press sources.

The underlying Pakistani allegation is that the US wants Pakistani support but does not reciprocate. The alleged failures to respond to Pakistani requests to hunt down Fazlullah pale in significance to Pakistan's provision of aid and comfort to bin Laden and Mullah Omar and his acolytes for the past 10 years.

Afghanistan: The United States shifted hundreds of its troops to the eastern Afghan area bordering Pakistan's North Waziristan on Sunday along with heavy arms and gunship helicopters and sealed the Pak-Afghan border for all types of movement.

Tribesmen living in the border areas said Afghan and US forces had clamped a curfew in the Gurbaz area of Afghanistan's Khost Province and started house-to-house searches. The abrupt deployment of US forces near the border area with Pakistan has escalated tension in North Waziristan tribal region because US forces immediately sealed the main Ghulam Khan-Khost highway for traffic. This stranded more than 900 loaded trucks, including those carrying NATO consignments, and passenger vehicles the whole day.

Comment: The highway is a main delivery route for supplies destined for the Taliban from Pakistan. Some tactical genius deserves a promotion. Closing this border crossing even for a day is tonight's good news.

Syria:

the government. The government announced it is ready to begin negotiations with the opposition in the next 15 days, as prescribed by the Arab League's ultimatum, below, but required that the talks can only be held in Syria. The al-Asad government rejected the Arab League proposal to hold the talks in Cairo. Damascus also insisted that Qatar chair the talks in a ministerial committee specially designed to maintain contact between the Syrian authorities and the opposition.

the opposition. Opposition Syrian National Council chief Burhan Ghalyoun said the council will not engage in dialogue with the Syrian regime, negotiating only with those regime members not involved in the violence who want to address a transition to democracy. Ghalyoun said Damascus must leave power and that overthrowing the regime is the responsibility of the Syrian people, not foreign powers. He added that the opposition council wants Arab and international observers in Syria as well as foreign media coverage, humanitarian aid and a tightening of sanctions on key regime figures.

the Arab League: Arab foreign ministers met Sunday at the group's Cairo headquarters for an initial 3-hour session without Syria's representative, then took a break and reconvened for talks with Syrian diplomats that lasted late into the night.

Just after the meeting with Syrian diplomats, Qatar Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim made no mention of a possible suspension and instead gave Syria a 15-day deadline to enact a cease-fire. The national dialogue is to include members of the opposition from outside Syria as well as inside. If the meeting and a cease-fire do not take place within the allotted time frame, the Arab League will meet again in an emergency session, participants said.

Comment: There are at least three tiers of struggle occurring in and around Syria. The most public is the government's operations to suppress the opposition. An emerging claimant for stature is the émigré opposition leaders who make up the National Council but are comfortably ensconced outside Syria. The third tier of struggle is the Arab League which wants to install an orthodox Sunni Arab regime in Damascus. This struggle is unrelated to the internal or external opposition and has nothing to do with human rights or electoral government. The major players are Arab kings, whose ulterior motive is to remove any government that is friendly to Iran and restore stability to the Arab region.

The interests of the various antagonists are incongruent and work at cross purposes. As in several Arab uprising states, political exiles that have been waiting years for their chance to come to power are not welcome by the opposition people who face Syrian security forces. None of them share the interests of the Arab kings.

The Syrian government continues to receive bad international press and disdain from non-democratic Arab kingdoms aligned with the US. But for all that, it still does not appear to be in imminent peril. The Alawite units of the army remain critical to government survival. The units probably are getting fatigued and the equipment is wearing, but so far the reports of mutinies or defections appear grossly exaggerated.

Israel: Update. On 18 October, Israeli soldier Shalit reportedly has been moved to Egypt in preparation for the prisoner exchange in the next two days. One Israeli soldier apparently is worth at least more than a thousand Palestinian fighters and activists.

Somalia: al-Shabaab-Kenya: Update. Somalia's al Shabaab militants threatened to target Kenya's skyscrapers and tourism industry with suicide attacks if the country does not remove its troops from Somalia, an al Shabaab spokesman said at a news conference on 17 October. The group threatened to inflict on Kenya the same damage that Kenyans have inflicted on Somalia, the spokesman said, warning of attacks similar to al Shabaab's 2010 bombings in Kampala, Uganda, in response to the presence of Ugandan peacekeeping troops in Somalia.

Comment: With US and/or UK assistance the Kenyans should be able to exterminate al Shabaab in the border region before al Shabaab can launch an attack in Kenya. If they fail, then a lot of western support and training will have been wasted.

It is convenient for Kenyan security that al Shabaab publicized its plan for retaliation.

End of NightWatch for 17 October.

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