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NightWatch 20140709

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For the night of 9 July 2014

Afghanistan: On 9 July in Kandahar City, eight militants, including suicide bombers, attacked the governor's house and a police station. The explosion and firefight resulted in 30 people killed, including the militants.

According to Afghan press, about 300 Taliban fighters conducted an offensive in northeastern Ghor Province and seized the district headquarters of Chahar Sada district. Local officials, including the provincial government confirmed the clashes.

Comment: Ghor is in the mountainous region west of Kabul, at the western end of the Hindu Kush. The local security force consisted of ten policemen, according to a Taliban statement.

The number of fighters reported is twice to three times higher than the estimate of Taliban who operate in Ghor. There are several explanations for the increase, but none of them are good for the security of Ghor Province.

This is the second district that the Taliban successfully seized. Last month, a Taliban force of similar numbers seized Sangin District in Helmand Province.

The timing of the attacks and other recent bombings supports a hypothesis that the Taliban are taking advantage of the political confusion and paralysis in Kabul. If so, expect more attacks on district centers and more sensational bombings.

Parallel government emerging. The Governor of Balkh Province in northern Afghanistan said today that Dr. Abdullah is the legitimate president of Afghanistan and declared loyalty to him. He warned President Karzai to stop meddling in the political process.

Comment: Balkh, whose capital is Mazar-i-Sharif, is one of the most disciplined and prosperous provinces. It is the fourth largest city in Afghanistan and is the commercial hub of the north because of its road and railroad links to Uzbekistan.

Governor Atta Muhammad Nur is responsible for Balkh's success and is one of the most powerful governors in Afghanistan. He also is a famous Tajik military commander/warlord who served the late Tajik hero Ahmed Shah Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance against the Taliban. Atta Muhammad led Northern Alliance operations against the Taliban in the Balkh area.

His backing of Abdullah is a direct challenge to Karzai who backed Ghani, at least during the run-off election. Atta Muhammad has the stature, resources and the following in the north to be a presidential candidate in his own right. His declaration will encourage Abdullah's supporters in forming a separate government. It raises the stakes, polarizes the tribes and makes resolution of the election dispute much more difficult. With Atta Muhammad's backing, the north could secede and survive.

Iraq: Inconclusive fighting continued, though a military spokesman said Iraqi soldiers killed 244 terrorists in multiple actions today. He admitted the government took losses in the Ramadi campaign, but provided no details.

The most sensational security development was the discovery of 53 men from a Shiite village found blindfolded, handcuffed and shot dead, south of Baghdad. Authorities are blaming fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Politics. Today Prime Minister al-Maliki accused the presidency of the Kurdistan autonomous region of aiding and abetting ISIL and the Ba'athists in trying to dismember Iraq. He said, "we cannot tolerate that Erbil became a headquarters to ISIL organization operations and its collaborators from the remnants of the Ba'ath and Al-Qaida."

Comment: Al-Maliki made the accusation in a weekly TV address that contained no supporting evidence. The strain might be getting to him. Erbil/Irbil/Arbil is the capital of the Kurdistan autonomous region.

Iraq-Egypt: President al-Sisi said today that Egypt will provide "military reinforcements" to Iraq, in the form of arms and ammunition.

Comment: The international press failed to see the irony in al-Sisi's offer. When Mursi was president, he proposed sending Egyptian soldiers/volunteers to Syria to fight against the Asad government, which meant on the side of ISIL and the al-Qaida franchise, the al Nusrah Front. The army refused and that proposal reportedly was a factor in the army's overthrow of Mursi.

Al-Sisi is genuinely concerned about the implications for Egyptian security from the spread of ultra-extreme, Islamic zealotry. He has taken action that precisely reverses Mursi's proposal and policy.

Israel: A military spokesman said that in the past 56 hours (since Monday) Israeli air forces attacked 750 targets and dropped 800 tons of bombs. He said the optempo is twice that of Israeli Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012. Palestinian militants fired at least 230 rockets from the Gaza Strip on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Netanyahu said in a statement on the 9th that Israel has expanded Operation Protective Edge in response to the continuing rocket attacks. He also said the operation could take time.

Comment: A cessation of rocket fire could end the crisis quickly. On the other hand, for now the air attacks will continue to increase. Netanyahu's comment about the duration of the operation might contain a hint that a ground phase will occur.

Ukraine: Local situation reports indicate Luhansk probably is the next target for a major push by Ukrainian forces. Ukrainian armored forces have been observed moving towards the city. Fighting occurred near the airport and air raid sirens sounded.

Comment: Unless the separatists get direct Russian assistance, Ukrainian forces should be able to surround Luhansk and slowly force it to surrender in a week. Today a separatist leader criticized the Russian government for its failure to intervene and blamed Russian economic oligarchs for changing Russian policy.

An anti-Russian news outlet reported today that a quiet low-level reinforcement of Russian forces near the separatist border has started again. This information has not been reported by other observers.

Ukraine-Russia: Ukrainian Foreign Minister Klimkin has joined the new Defense Minister Heletey in asserting that he does not consider Crimea lost to Ukraine and thinks that Kyiv will regain control of it.

In a press conference today, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov commented on the remark by saying that the Ukrainian minister is free to think what he wants, but Crimea is now Russian territory. He also said, "If I correctly heard in your question a hidden hint on the possibility of an attack on Russian territory, which the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol are, I would advise no-one to do this. We have a national security doctrine, which clearly defines actions that will be taken in this case."

Comment: Senior Ukrainian officials seem unable to resist the urge to provoke Russia. They are likely to regret that lack of self-control in time.

Nigeria: Update. The Nigerian Defense Ministry spokesman, Major General Olukade, told the press that the army found ID cards from prominent Nigerian politicians at the forest camp they captured this week. They also found sensitive documents. The army is now taking the politicians into custody for interrogation about their links to Boko Haram.

Comment: This is the first open source report about the nature of the support that Boko Haram receives from Nigerian officials. The General did not mention whether cell phones were found.

Although any progress against Boko Haram is important, the immediate linkage of the ID cards and documents to a political party raises questions about the raid and whether the cards documents were planted. It is likely that Boko Haram has inside support within the federal and state governments. It is also clear that some political entities are manipulating the anti-Boko Haram fight for partisan gain and to settle scores.

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End of NightWatch for 9 July.

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