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NightWatch 20140717

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For the night of 17 July 2014

China-North Korea:  Eleven July was the 53rd anniversary of the Chinese-North Korea Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance Treaty. Annually, this is an occasion for commemorative events and exchanges to celebrate the 11 July 1961 Treaty. A search of the Web found no mention of celebrations, exchanges of delegations or exchanges of greetings this year.

Comment: Experts reported that the only prior time this event was not celebrated in recent memory was July 1994 because Kim Il-sung died three days before the anniversary. Following Chinese President Xi's trip to Seoul on 3 July, this is a strong sign that Chinese relations with North Korea are deeply strained.

Afghanistan: Taliban fighters ambushed a group of bodyguards of President Karzai who were going to Urgun District in Paktika Province in eastern Afghanistan. They wounded four bodyguards and reportedly captured four others. The police said the convoy lost its way and was off route when it was attacked.

Comment: Urgun District is the location of the bombing that killed 90 people earlier this week. Karzai evidently intended to give comfort and pay respects. The attack is significant for several reasons. First, is the lapse in presidential security. The Taliban knew where to attack. Second, they knew the target was presidential bodyguards. Finally, the bodyguards apparently had no rescue force on standby in the event of an incident.

This looks like a rehearsal trip to smoke out an ambush in advance of a presidential visit. It worked far too well and presidential security is far too lax.

Politics. Today, the Afghan election commission announced it has begun the audit of the 8 million votes cast in the presidential run-off election. The spokesman estimated it will take the audit teams up to three weeks to complete.

Iraq: On Thursday a suicide bombing killed three people in the center of Baghdad. A second bomb killed six people outside Baghdad. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant claimed responsibility for the attacks.

The bomb in central Baghdad exploded near the Shi'ite mosque of Abdullah bin Rawah in the main wholesale market of Shorja. ISIL claimed that a man it called Abu Bakr al-Australi (the Australian) detonated explosives in a vest he was wearing near the mosque.

Comment: The central Baghdad attack is a bad portent because it indicates that there are ISIL bombers and supporters in Baghdad that can evade Iraqi security to execute attacks.

The Iraqi Army's spokesman said that "Al-Dulu'iyah area is now under the control of the security forces," adding that 292 "terrorists" were killed in battles with government forces in the area. Iraq also insisted that it still controls Tikrit.

Politics. The new speaker of parliament made Kurdistan his first political visit outside Baghdad. Two likely topics for talks were preventing Kurdish secession and identifying a Kurdish candidate for President of Iraq.

Israel: The prime minister's office announced the start of a ground incursion into the Gaza Strip. The statement said the mission is to destroy tunnels used by terrorists to enter Israel and harm the infrastructure of Hamas and other terrorist organizations.

Brigadier General Moti Almoz, the IDF spokesman said, "The operation has reached its ground phase. Large numbers of forces began a focused effort to destroy tunnels in Gaza." He said, "We are in a new stage. At the same time, the air force is continuing with air strikes against Hamas and Islamic Jihad around Gaza."

According to the news services, infantry, armored corps, engineering corps, artillery, and intelligence units are taking over various areas in Gaza, and are all working with one another and the air force. They are operating in northern, central, and southern Gaza, where Hamas has dug an extensive terrorist tunnel network.

The government said it called another 18,000 reservists to active duty, bringing the total to 65,000.

Comment: Official statements have been careful to limit public expectations by highlighting limited objectives and the difficulty and duration of the operation. It appears that the initial focus will be the infiltration tunnel networks in three locations. Activities in southern Gaza will be important to watch, for signs of Egyptian security cooperation in Sinai.

Egyptian President al-Sisi held talks with Palestinian President Abbas about a ceasefire, but thus far Egypt blames the Palestinians for the latest crisis.

Russia-Ukraine: In a statement broadcast by state news channel Rossiya 24, the deputy head of the press service and information directorate of the Russian Ministry of Defense, Aleksey Komarov, said, "For the purposes of an objective investigation of the air crash of the Boeing 777, which crashed on Ukrainian territory, it is necessary to conduct a thorough investigation with the use of representatives from all the interested international organizations.

"According to the information available to the Ministry of Defense of Russia, there is a detachment of the armed forces of Ukraine armed with Buk-M1 (SA-11/SA-17) type air defense systems in the area of the crash. Thus, divisions of the 156th Air Defense Missile Regiment of the armed forces of Ukraine with 27 Buk-M1 launch installations are deployed near a northwestern suburb of Donetsk."

Comment: The propaganda tactic of identifying a possible shooter is effective. The Russians did not shoot down the Malaysian airliner. Ukraine's army has Buk M1 systems and the separatists captured some.

Most of the evidence in the open source domain points to Russia's eastern Ukrainian separatist proxies as responsible for the downing of the Malaysian airliner.

NightWatch did an informal survey to determine how many countries have violent internal instability problems that involve the use of conventional military forces. We counted 21. That means there are more countries with active insurgency and uprising problems that at any time since World War II. That means there are many uncontrolled spaces in which airliners might be at risk. Malaysian Prime Minister Razak said the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) approved the flight path.

Mali: An al-Qaida-affiliated group claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing that killed a French soldier near Gao in northern Mali this week. A propaganda statement said the attack was a response to French claims to have annihilated the terrorists.

Comment: French Defense Minister Le Drian was to have visited Gao today, the 17th. French President Hollande is in Ivory Coast.

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End of NightWatch for 17 July.

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