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NightWatch 20140603

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NightWatch

For the night of 3 June 2014

Taliban-US: What Mullah Omar said. Key excerpts follow from Omar's remarks about the hostage swap.

"This huge and vivid triumph requires from all Mujahidin to offer thanks to the Benevolent Creator who accepted the sincere sacrifices of our Mujahid nation and managed the release of these five renowned Mujahidin from the enemy's clutch…"

"The efforts and endeavors of all Mujahidin, leading council of the Islamic Emirate, the detainers and keepers of the American prisoner 'Bergdahl' and generally the whole nation which played a significant role in this colossal victory are appreciated and I beg even deeper divine help, guidance and favorable turn of circumstances for all of them."

Omar also thanked the Emir of Qatar.

Comment: The mainstream media have covered the increased risk of hostage-taking as the direct and foreseeable result of the hostage exchange. This was not a prisoner of war exchange.

Two points not mentioned in most mainstream commentary are noteworthy. This exchange invests Omar and his Islamic Emirate with stature that neither had when the Taliban ruled in Afghanistan. It negotiated as an equal with the US and got the better deal. That sets a precedent for potential deals with other NATO members. It is a powerful disincentive for Pakistan to rein in Omar and his cohorts.

The second point is the release of the five Taliban leaders will boost Taliban morale; help improve their organizational and fighting skills and enhance their operations. It might have a ripple effect on the now divided Pakistani Taliban.

The timing could hardly be worse for Allied forces. As NATO draws down its forces, the Taliban get an influx of experienced leaders, undermining years of effort to degrade the leadership. These were men Mullah Omar trusted in the early days of Taliban rule.  He now has a seasoned core around which to build a reinvigorated administration and movement.

Kyrgyzstan-US: For the record. Today the US officially returned to Kyrgyz control the Manas Transit Center, near Bishkek. All US military personnel will have vacated the facility within a week, according to the US ambassador.

Since it opened in late 2001, the Manas base processed more than 5.3 million US servicemen, or 98 percent of all military personnel involved in the Afghanistan operation. The US lease runs out next month and Kyrgyzstan refused to extend it, after Russia offered it a bribe of $1 billion in military and energy aid.

Kyrgyzstan is a member of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization. Russia operates a military base at Kant, just 30 kilometers from Manas.

Comment: One of the more convenient side effects from the public announcement of the US military timetable for Afghanistan is that it has provided ample time for countries that supported the US effort to make other arrangements.

As for Russia, it is consolidating once again its central Asian sphere of influence, proving once again that eventually geography will  triumph.

Syria: The Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reported a heavy voter turnout in today's presidential elections. Voting hours were extended from 19:00 to 24:00 Syrian time (17:00 EDT).

The Interior Ministry said there were 15.8 million eligible voters, both inside and outside Syria, and that 9,600 voting centers have been set up around the country.

During this Watch no results have been posted or announced.

Lebanon permitted Syrian refugees in camps to cross the border to vote and then to return to Lebanon. Syria allowed refugees to vote provided they showed their IDs. The Syrian opposition denounced this practice.

Comment: SANA reported voting in every province and in every major town in Syria, including those contested. The opposition failed to disrupt the voting.

Egypt: Today, the Presidential Elections Commission declared former field marshal Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi Egypt's new president, confirming that he won 23.78 million votes (96.91 percent) in the 26-28 May election. The Commission said 25,578,233 people voted in the elections, a turnout of 47.5 percent.

El-Sisi's sole contender, Hamdeen Sabahi, obtained 757,511 of the votes (3.9 percent). Invalid ballots totaled 1,040,608, more than Sabahi.

An Egyptian newspaper reported that al-Sisi got 10 million more votes than Mursi did in the 2012 election, which had a slightly higher turnout of 50 percent, compared to this year's 47.45 percent.

Comment: Al-Sisi is expected to be sworn in on 7 June.

Saudi reaction. Saudi King Abdallah hailed the election of al-Sisi as president and called it an "historic day." The King also called for a donors' conference to help Egypt through its economic troubles.

Ukraine: Open sources reported fighting in three towns today.

Slavyansk. One Ukrainian soldier was killed and 13 others were wounded when militants attacked a Ukrainian convoy heading to the town of Slavyansk in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine.

Luhansk. On 3 June separatist militia forces took control of an internal security forces unit deployed in Luhansk, after a protracted battle. More than 300 men attacked the National Guard unit which ultimately surrendered.

A Kyiv regime statement confirmed that its forces have been using helicopters and fighter jets in its attacks in Luhansk. "All in all, for fulfilling the combat support of the Ukrainian border guards the army aviators fired more than 150 missiles, carried out three jet sorties and five helicopter sorties," the statement said.

Near Kramatorsk. On 3 June, Ukrainian National Guardsmen started an artillery attack on Krasny Liman, near Kramatorsk. An official source said that information about fatalities and injuries among civilians is being "clarified."

Comment: Ukrainian forces are having a difficult time moving deep into separatist territory from the north. Slavyansk and Kramatorsk are key towns on the road that leads south to Donetsk.

One noteworthy point is that Kyiv-based media seldom mention operations by Ukrainian armed forces. Most of the fighting reports identify National Guard units, whose membership includes ultra-nationalist groups. National Guard units are subordinate to the Interior Ministry -- the police -- not the Defense Ministry.

The air force and army aviation are the only regular forces that receive regular mention. Thus, the status and activities of the regular army are unclear. After several debacles by army units last month, the Kyiv leaders might judge that the newly formed National Guard units are more trustworthy, albeit less capable.

Nigeria: A Nigerian newspaper reported today that 10 army generals and five other senior officers were put on trial in courts-martial and found guilty of giving ammunition and secret information on army movement and strategy to Boko Haram.

A Nigerian Army spokesman denied the report.

Comment: The Associated Press carried this story, but it is based on a single Nigerian newspaper and is not confirmed. Nevertheless, it is plausible and would help explain Boko Haram's nearly inexhaustible supplies of weapons and ammunition, none of which are made in Nigeria. It also means that Boko Haram sympathizers have held and might still hold positions of high authority in the Nigerian armed forces.

One account said that in the north soldiers sneak off to fight with Boko Haram and then return to their army base. That suggests Boko Haram is a for-profit operation because Nigerian soldiers are notoriously underpaid and will do just about anything to augment their pay.

End of NightWatch for 3 June.

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