For the night of 26 August 2014
Afghanistan: Security. Yesterday, Taliban's Voice of Jihad reported major Taliban gains in Kunduz Province in northern Afghanistan. "Mujahedin of the Islamic Emirate have control over all the areas in Imam Sahib, Chahar Darah, Khanabad, and Dasht-e Archi Districts of Kunduz Province that were cleared of the mercenary enemy and malicious militias a few days ago. Local people are supporting the mujahedin in the fight against criminals and the enemy's advance has been halted."
The Afghan government denied the Taliban claims.
Comment: Kunduz is a border province in north-central Afghanistan across the Amu Darya River from Tajikistan. It is important because of a new bridge across the Amu Darya at Sher Khan Bandar. It has seven districts, including the four the Taliban now claim to control.
About five years ago it was an expansion area for the Taliban, who obtained support from a large population of Pashtuns transplanted from the south generations earlier. The finances, bomb makers, senior leadership and other support originally came from southern Taliban agents via Pakistan's tribal agencies.
German forces were responsible for security in Kunduz Province for more than a decade. They conducted dozens of operations to rid this sparsely populated province of Taliban, but failed. Chahar Darah District was the base from which the Taliban expanded. Most of its population is Pashtun and it is protected by a river with a single bridge near Kunduz City.
The Taliban did not claim they control Kunduz City, the provincial capital. That would mean that they claimed to control the entire province, which is not the case.
The government should be able to recover Imam Sahib and Khanabad district centers, which are economically important because the main road from the bridge at Sher Khan Bandar passes south through them towards Kabul. However it probably lacks the ability to hold them against the Taliban.
More importantly, the pattern of seizing districts is significant. The capture of multiple districts in Kunduz matches Taliban operations in Helmand and other provinces in southern Afghanistan. The Taliban are testing their ability to take and hold ground against government forces about to lose most Western support.
Politics. In a news conference on 26 August, Dr. Abdullah's spokesman, Fazel Ahmad Manawi, threatened to withdraw from the voter fraud audit in the next 24 hours unless the demands of Abdullah's election team are met. The demands apparently involve the process of disqualifying votes. Manawi called the audit a "joke."
Comment: The Afghan Independent Election Commission and the UN monitors rejected Abdullah's technical demands twice before. There is no chance that the demands will be met, even if the Abdullah campaign team relents.
The significance of the threat is that it means Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani never had an agreement about the audit or about a power-sharing arrangement of dubious constitutionality.
Ghani always seems to have considered the "audit" nothing more than a recount, which he would win for a second time. Abdullah wanted a real audit with procedures for disqualifying ballots. For example, Abdullah charged that some Pashtun districts in the south polled more votes for Ghani than the population of the districts. There is no agreed procedure for handling fraud of that nature. What has been done thus far, apparently, is a recount, not an audit.
If Abdullah acts on his threat, it will mean there will be no presidential inauguration on 2 September. It also means there will be no Afghan president at the NATO summit on the 4th. Karzai said he will not attend.
Civil disorder and protests seem unavoidable in the next week.
Israel: The Israel Defense Forces reported that Palestinians fired 115 rockets on 25 August. They killed one Israeli civilian, bringing to 69 the number of Israelis killed. The number of Palestinians killed is about 2,200 Palestinians.
Egypt announced that the "Palestinian militant groups" and Israel agreed on another ceasefire that will be open ended. Under the terms, Israel will ease the blockade so that humanitarian supplies and some construction materials can enter the Gaza Strip. Israel also will enlarge the sea area for Palestinians to fish. The ceasefire went into effect at noon local time on the 26th.
Palestinian leaders proclaimed victory. Gunmen celebrated by firing guns in the air.
Comment: For the first time in seven weeks, the Palestinians compromised, indicating that the Hamas leadership has witnessed enough destruction and bloodshed for now. Hamas achieved none of its negotiating goals, which included lifting the land and sea blockade, opening the border into Egypt and construction of an airport and a seaport. The concessions they claimed today as victory trophies were already implemented by Israel during earlier ceasefires, but were disrupted by Palestinian rocket fire and Israeli counter-attacks.
As for the ceasefire, it appears to match what the Israelis decided last week. Israel will keep it as long as Hamas does. It will retaliate against Gaza for mortar and rocket fire and recycle the ceasefire until the next breach by the Palestinians, if one occurs.
What remains unclear is whether the Palestinians have the command and control and discipline to keep a ceasefire. That has yet to be demonstrated. The ceasefire does not necessarily mean that fighting will end, but it will be more orderly.
Ukraine: Multilateral talks on stabilizing Ukraine were held in Minsk, Belarus, today. After about six hours of negotiations involving the Presidents of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine plus top European Union officials, the deadlock between the parties persisted. At that point, Presidents Putin and Poroshenko began a one-on-one meeting.
After the bilateral discussion, Putin said the men agreed to consult on controlling the border and to resume discussions about natural gas. He said they also agreed on the need to provide humanitarian aid to Donetsk and Luhansk. Putin declined to discuss a ceasefire in the southeast because he said Russia is not a party to the fighting.
Comment: For those who believe process is substance, the talks were a great success. For the fighters on both sides, the talks were irrelevant. Both sides continued their offensives.
Libya: The US asserted that fighter aircraft from Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) executed airstrikes against Islamist militiamen from Misrata who captured Tripoli airport over the weekend from more moderate Zintani militiamen. Fighters from Zintan in the northwest had held the airport for more than a year. The air strikes apparently were intended to support the Zintan militia and to help prevent the Islamists from taking control of Tripoli.
Details of the airstrikes have not been published in open sources. Egypt denied its air force participated. The UAE has been silent, except for denouncing the Islamic militants in Libya.
One news outlet said the US was informed of the attack and attempted to discourage it. Some news services reported that the attack was coordinated with retired general Hifter's secular forces near Benghazi. The Zintan militia is allied or aligned with Hifter.
In a joint statement, the United States joined with Britain, France, Germany and Italy in expressing its concerns, saying ""outside interference in Libya exacerbates current divisions and undermines Libya's democratic transition."
The diplomats did not specify what democratic transition is happening in Libya and where it is taking place.
Comment: Organizations in the US defense department almost always know when an ally attacks using US-supplied and supported fighter aircraft. The diplomats were not informed, which probably accounts for the operational security of the attack. Libya is a notion, more than a nation.
Nigeria: Update. Boko Haram seized the town of Ashigashya, which straddles the Nigerian-Cameroonian border, after the Nigerian soldiers fled. Boko Haram fighters killed three people in the Nigerian portion of the town.
The Nigerian soldiers said they ran out of ammunition. The Nigerian government said they were on a maneuver of charging through borders (sic.). Cameroonian gendarmes reportedly are preventing Boko Haram from also seizing the Cameroonian portion of the town.
End of NightWatch for 26 August.
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