For the night of 7 May 2013
North Korea: Missile update. South Korean media reported yesterday an unidentified US official was reported to have said that North Korea has withdrawn two "Musudan" intermediate-range ballistic missiles from the district along the coast of the Japan Sea.
Today, Japanese media reported several unidentified Japanese, South Korean, and United States Government officials said that there have been some changes, but it is not a missile withdrawal.
One of the officials said: "It is a fact that there has been some movement, but we cannot say that the missiles have been withdrawn from the site on the Japan Sea." The official thus opined that the move merely means that North Korea changed the missile deployment site.
Another official said: "It is no more than a temporary lull in North Korea's provocations."
Comment: No sources retracted the information that the high combat readiness alert has been terminated. A force-wide return to constant combat readiness normally would include a return of deployed strategic missiles to storage.
On the other hand, Kim Jong Un does things differently. So the strategic rocket force might not have stood down. Kim himself is back on a peacetime schedule of making visits to civilian commercial enterprises.
China-North Korea: The South China Morning Post reported that the Bank of China has closed the account of North Korea's Foreign Trade Bank, which the US has accused of financing North Korea's nuclear program.
The bank received notice yesterday that its account was closed and funds transfers were terminated, a Bank of China spokesperson said. She provided no reasons for the actions.
According to the Post, China's Ministry of Transport sent a circular notice on 25 April which ordered strict enforcement of all UN sanctions against North Korea.
Comment: Irregularities in financial transactions involving North Korean banks are commonplace and adequate justification for closing accounts. The timing of this closure and the Ministry circular indicate these measures represent economic pressure on North Korea to stop causing instability in northeast Asia.
The Chinese government will never admit to pressuring its closest ally. Thus, some alternative explanation probably will surface and it might even be true, just not all the truth.
Kim Jong Un's risky tantrum brought more US military firepower and strategic assets into China's sphere of influence than in many years. The Chinese would not be prone to thank North Korea for the reminder about American capability to project power in northeast Asia just when China is asserting its own bid for regional dominance.
It is not clear how much this closure of account will impact the North, but any bank closures reduce the North's already limited access to international financial facilities. That plus stricter enforcement of the UN sanctions should start to affect the Pyongyang elite, which relies on hard currency to pay for its extravagances and the recent Pyongyang building program.
Pakistan: The Pakistan Taliban warned voters in Karachi against participating Saturday's general election or face death. The threats, posted on lampposts and handed out at mosques, declare the poll to be un-Islamic and single out three of the more secular and liberal parties for condemnation.
Comment: The large Pashtun population in Karachi gives credibility to the Pakistani Taliban's threats to bomb some polling stations, despite heightened security. However, they cannot stop the election in a city of 21 million people. It is by some measures the third most populace city in the world. However, there will be bombings on election day.
Syria: For the record. Multiple internet monitoring services reported that Syria has dropped off the Internet. One reported it is a total blackout for the country of Syria. Supposedly this has happened at least once before, prior to the start of a government offensive.
Israel-Syria: Israel is not getting involved in Syria's civil war, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said on Tuesday, but said Israel would not permit the transfer of arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Yaalon did not mention the Israeli air attacks in Syria over the weekend.
Comment: Israel has shown that it will protect its interests and that the Syrian Integrated Air Defense System is penetrable. On the other hand, Iran has demonstrated the ability to use its proxies to drag Israel deeper into the Syrian uprising and thereby expand the fighting and ease pressure on the Asad government.
It is not clear that Israel is prepared to accept a Sunni fundamentalist regime in Damascus. Israel knows it can live with an Alawite government. The air attacks serve its short term interests in hobbling Hezbollah, but they also remind Arabs that the larger struggle is with Israel.
The Iranian foreign minister admonished Arab leaders today by asking the question, in paraphrase, why are Arabs fighting Arabs when Israel is the enemy?
Egypt: Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi shuffled his cabinet, appointing new ministers for the ministries of justice, parliamentary affairs, petroleum, antiquities, agriculture, finance, planning, culture and investment. Two are members of the Muslim Brotherhood; two are strongly pro-Muslim Brotherhood; one is the co-founder of the Muslim Brotherhood-backed Freedom and Justice Party; one is from a moderate Islamist party and the political leanings of the remainder are not known.
Comment: The opposition expected Mursi would keep his promise to shuffle the cabinet to make it more inclusive and representative of all political parties. He did precisely the opposite by strengthening its identification with the Brotherhood.
Afghanistan: administrative note. A diligent and Brilliant Reader pointed out that the item on Afghanistan troop strength in decline failed to contain an important number, the troop strength in March 2012.
As research was underway on Sunday night to get that number, the main ISP crashed for hours. As a result, that research was not completed by the time for distribution. Strengths for both years are presented below.
March 2012: Army 182,233, air force 5,641.
March 2013: Army 175,441; air force 6393
Source: Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, Quarterly Reports.
For Readers interested in the details, the following is a list of fluctuating strength reports. Afghanistan, the US, ISAF nor NATO have a reliable strength for the Afghan army. That is typical of recruiting a full time force from among tribal fighters. The Afghan army will continue to shrink as the tribal fighters go back to the tribes after the money and the air support run out.
April 2012, DoD Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan, date of information Oct 2011 through 31 March 2012, page 20. The Afghan National Army (ANA) strength was 194,466 (Army 188,209; air forced 5,541).
April 2012, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction Quarterly Report, page 68 listed the army strength as 187,874 (Army 182,233; air force 5,641)
May 2012 NATO Media Backgrounder, page 2 at the top, ANA strength was 195,000
July 2012 Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction Quarterly Report, page 73, listed the army strength as 191,592 (Army 186,012; air force 5,580)
October 2012 Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction Quarterly Report, page 87, listed the army strength as 190,848 (Army 184, 676; air force 6,172)
January 2013 Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction Quarterly Report, page 79, listed the army strength as 180,517 (Army 174,645; air force 5,872) Information dated Nov 2012
December 2012 DoD Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan, date of information April 2012 through 30 September 2012, page 45. The Afghan National Army (ANA) strength was 188,433 (Army 182,209; air force 6,224)
April 2013 - Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction Quarterly Report, pages 94 and 95, listed the Afghan National Army strength as 181, 834 (Army 175,441; air force 6,393), information through 31 March 2013.
End of NightWatch for 7 May.
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