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NightWatch 20130127

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NightWatch

For the night of 27 January 2013

North Korea: The Korean Central News Agency published in English on 26 January that, "A consultative meeting of officials in the fields of state security and foreign affairs took place as regards the grave situation prevailing in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).

Kim Jong Un, first secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK), first chairman of the DPRK National Defense Commission and supreme commander of the Korean People's Army (KPA), convened the meeting and guided it….

(NightWatch omitted a section that contains a by-now familiar justification for North Korean behavior and a screed against the US and the UN. The news item concludes with the paragraphs below.)

"… It also became clear that there can be no denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula before the world has been denuclearized."

"At the consultative meeting Kim Jong Un expressed the firm resolution to take substantial and high-profile important state measures in view of the prevailing situation as the stand had already been clarified by the National Defense Commission and the Foreign Ministry of the DPRK through their statements that powerful physical countermeasures would be taken to defend the dignity of the nation and the sovereignty of the country."

"He advanced specific tasks to the officials concerned."

Comment: The operative words are "to defend the dignity of the nation and the sovereignty of the country." This North Korean leadership justifies its missiles, nuclear and space programs as programs that any sovereign state has the right to build, not as proving the North is the rightful leader of a reunified Korea. The main complaint is the North is being thwarted in its "economic construction" by the US and others.

The language is not the language of military conflict or of reunification by force, but of confrontation between the US and North Korea. The US is picking on North Korea and North Korea means to stand up to the US, but without going to war.

South Korean news services, quoting officials sources, have reported no signs of irregular activity in the North Korean armed forces. It is the middle of the winter training cycle.

When Kim Chong-il was in charge, rants and threats always were calculated to obtain concessions from the US, the UN, China, South Korea, or anyone else interested in donating to the Kim family business.

The diatribes and threats of the past week contain no invitation to donate in return for North Korean restraint. More importantly, the statements seem to ignore the context of the past 60 years. North Korea is not like any other state for many reasons rooted in that history. Kim Chong-il understood that. Kim Jung Un appears determined to escape that legacy to some extent, but his tactics are achieving a degree of isolation that Allied policy has failed to achieve.

Egypt: President Mursi declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew for the next 30 days in three Suez Canal provinces. Street violence has resulted in 50 people killed and more than 300 injured in the last three days. The three provinces are Port Said, Ismailiya and Suez. Most of the casualties occurred in Port Said.

In a televised address on Sunday, Mursi said he would not hesitate to take more action to stem the latest eruption of violence across much of the country. President Mohammed Mursi canceled a scheduled trip to Ethiopia on Saturday and instead met for the first time with top generals as part of the newly formed National Defense Council.

Comment: The riots began as protests against the death sentence verdict by an Egyptian criminal court for 21 persons convicted of starting a brawl over a soccer match last February in which 74 people died. It escalated into a larger protest against the Mursi government in commemorations of the second anniversary of the so-called revolution on the 25th.

The opposition groups remain disorganized and powerless except to aggravate local street disorders by assembling flash mobs. They are no threat to the Mursi government at this time, but they sustain and prolong conditions of uncertainty about personal and public safety.

Thus, the significance of the riots, which occurred with little apparent warning, is that such riots can occur with little apparent warning. That is an important indicator of an unstable internal security situation.

Egypt-Mali: Comment: Last week, before the weekend rioting, President Mursi inserted himself unbidden into the Mali situation by offering a multi-point peace plan. Mursi strongly and outspokenly has opposed the French assistance to the Mali government.

His plan would have had the Bamako government accept Mali's breakup into southern and northern halves; acceptance of a northern Islamist government and the withdrawal of the French. This plan, had it been taken seriously, would have surrendered northern Mali to 2,000 Islamist fighters who are opposed by the majority of people in northern Mali.

This was the plan of a person committed to spreading Sharia. No one paid any attention to it… not even the Islamists in Mali.

Mali: Military update. In the past three days the Islamist fighters have fled three, and possibly all the major towns in north central Mali. The French and Malian forces have moved quickly to occupy the vacated towns.

On the 25th the coalition forces arrived in Homboro.

On the 26th they reached Gao, captured the airport and found the bridge across the Niger River intact. The French suffered no losses with around a dozen "terrorists" killed, the French defense ministry said. The rebels were said to have fled on foot, or by camel, since there was no fuel.

On the 26th another element reached the outskirts of Timbuktu. Other forces clashed with Islamists at Lere.

On the 27th, during this Watch, French and Malian forces captured the airport at Timbuktu, according to al Jazeera. They plan to enter Timbuktu city on the 28th.

The most important town held by the Islamists is Kidal, which is the next ground target.

Comment: Lacking capable air defense weapons, the Islamists ran. No Readers should interpret that as signaling the conflict is over. Some locals in Gao who spoke with the French media said the Islamists were hiding in outlying villages and apparently hoping for a chance to counterattack.

The good news is that Mali is not Afghanistan. The Islamists are intruders in a normally tolerant, secular society. They are not the leaders or spokesmen of an ethnic uprising. A relatively small number of armed men imposed their will by force. Most northerners oppose them, by all accounts. They have no adjacent country in which to obtain safehaven and support. One man told a reporter that there will be many Malian children named "Hollande," after the French President.

They overreached last year during a period of instability in Bamako caused by an army coup. That condition has been corrected for now. Nevertheless, there will be more clashes.

Niger-Chad: Chadian and Niger troops on Saturday moved to the Malian border to open a new front. The combined forces reportedly reached Gao on the 27th and will garrison that town, freeing the French and Malian forces to continue the offensive towards Kidal.

End of NightWatch for 27 January.

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