For the night of 10 December 2013
North Korea: A South Korean TV station carried a story that might help explain North Korea's unprecedented treatment of Kim Jong Un's uncle as an object lesson for disloyalty.
According to the report, in early October when internal pressure to purge Chang Sung-taek was becoming intense, one of his close aides fled to China. A former high-ranking army general, the aide was attached to the Central Administrative Department of the Workers Party of Korea, where Chang Sung-taek served as director.
An unidentified source claimed, "This close aide left the country with key documents related to North Korea's nuclear development." The documents are known to contain information on the nuclear materials North Korea has secured, along with information on its nuclear facilities. according to the report.
They also reportedly include account books for the slush funds managed by Chang Sung-taek and Kim Jong Un The source said that the government in Seoul currently has taken the aide into custody but is experiencing difficulties, as China and the United States are also interested.
Comment: This story is unconfirmed and contains several questionable points, but it makes more sense than that Chang engaged in excessive counter-revolutionary greed. The gravity of a security breach of this nature would justify the extent of the public debasement of Chang.
If the story is true, there will be continuing turmoil from investigations and interrogations, internal terror, and many executions of senior officials, probably including Chang. This will be accompanied or followed by a nationwide re-education. There might not be an army winter training cycle. The North will be extremely sensitive to perceived slights to its dignity by foreign powers.
Both China and South Korea will need to be on guard through the winter to prevent any spillover of instability and to respond quickly to provocations. They also might reap a whirlwind of strategic intelligence.
The North's need to stage and broadcast a Stalinist-style show trial is the strongest indication yet that the leadership is fearful and unstable. It bears repeating that the leadership is Stalinist/despotic by cultural inclination, tutelage and choice. This internally unstable situation could evolve into a humanitarian disaster.
Syria: Syrian TV reported that on 9 December the Syrian army captured the town of al-Nabk in west-central Syria after days of fighting. This town was the last rebel strong point on the road that links Damascus to Homs and the coast.
Comment: The Syrian army's offensive in the Qalamoun Mountains along the border with Lebanon appears to have been successful. The highway from Damascus to the coast is under government control. A security threat will persist, but the task of supporting Damascus should prove easier. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons eventually should be able to use the main highway to remove Syria's chemical warfare agents and filled munitions.
The bulk of daily reporting continues to indicate that the rebels are fighting each other as often as they are fighting the government forces. The Kurds in the northeast are in a de facto alliance with the government to keep jihadists out of Kurdish lands. Little by little, the Syrian government forces and their allies are making gains, some are strategic. The Ba'athist government in Damascus is not in danger of falling.
The hardest military challenges for the government forces appear to lie in the border region with Turkey, but they can wait as long as the Damascus life-line to the coast is open. A change of policy in Turkey to withdraw its support from the opposition would go far to facilitating a ceasefire.
Central African Republic: Update. Press sources reported two French soldiers were killed in Bangui on 9 December. The paratroopers were on a night patrol near the airport when they clashed with a rebel militia group.
Comment: These are the first casualties in the French Operation Sangaris in Central African Republic.
End of NightWatch for 10 December.
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