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NightWatch 20141124

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For the night of 24 November 2014

Afghanistan: On Sunday, 23 November, a suicide bomber killed 50 people at a volleyball tournament in eastern Afghanistan.

Mokhis Afghan, spokesman for the provincial governor of Paktika province, bordering Pakistan, said the attack happened during an inter-district tournament attended by a large crowed in the Yahyakhail district late Sunday afternoon.

The suicide bomber was walking among hundreds of spectators who had gathered to watch the volleyball tournament final when the device was detonated, Afghan said at least 50 more were wounded in the bombing, with the casualty count expected to rise. Most of the casualties were civilians.

Two Western soldiers died on Monday, 24 November, from a roadside bomb in Kabul.

Comment: The two incidents indicate that the bombing offensive continues and cannot be stopped.

The US announcement about a return to combat duty for US forces in Afghanistan should help demoralize the Taliban. Statements by Mullah Omar implied that he judged the time nearly had arrived for the Taliban to make a bid for control of Kabul, and thus the nation, after the drawdown of Coalition forces. The US action, at a minimum, will disrupt his timetable for returning to power. It might be enough to save Kabul and to enable US forces to withdraw eventually without much loss of face.

An extremely well-informed foreign analysis judged that the driving factor in the reversal of the US position on combat is that the transfer of responsibility for security to Afghan national security forces has resulted in more Afghan casualties and far more desertions than the US anticipated.

Russia: President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov have denounced Western sanctions against Russia over its role in Ukraine as a poorly disguised program aimed at forcing regime change in Moscow.

On Thursday, 20 November, referring to popular uprisings in Ukraine and Georgia, President Putin said the world could see "what tragic consequences the wave of the so-called color revolutions has led to….We have to do all that is needed to ensure that similar things never happen in Russia," Putin said.

Addressing the Foreign and Defence Policy Council in Moscow on Saturday, Foreign Minister Lavrov said: "As for the concept behind the use of coercive measures, the West is making clear it does not want to force Russia to change policy but wants to secure regime change."

"Public figures in Western countries say there is a need to impose sanctions that will destroy the economy and cause public protests," Lavrov said.

Comment: The statements by Putin and Lavrov seem deliberately exaggerated, but they bespeak a hard core of suspicion about US intentions. Sanctions and support for activists have been tools of US political action in every so-called Arab Spring uprising.

Russian intelligence is fond of using indicators. Apparently it has briefed Putin and Lavrov of its conclusions that the indicators expose a consistent pattern of US behavior that. Is intended to provoke a government overhrow.

The theme of victimization by the West is popular in Russia. If there exists any sentiment that favors public activism against the Putin government, the latest Putin/Lavrov interpretation of the Western threat will ensure that it is suffocated by Russian internal security.

The irony is that US energy and resources dedicated to slowing the authoritarian direction of the Russian government appear to be backfiring by accelerating the suppression of open, pluralistic democracy in Russia. Such an outcome always is a sign of policy amateurism.

Kenya: Al Shaba'ab fighters from Somalia hijacked a bus in Kenya's north and killed 28 non-Muslims on board.

Two police officers said that the bus travelling to Nairobi with 60 passengers was hijacked 50km from the town of Mandera, near Kenya's border with Somalia. A reporter said the passengers were separated into groups according to their religion. Non-Muslims, the reporter said, were executed and Muslims were freed. Authorities said the attack was carried out by "about 100 gunmen who commandeered" the bus and forced the passengers out.

Al Shaba'ab claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement on Saturday, 22 November, which said the attack was revenge for raids carried out by Kenyan security forces on mosques in the coastal city of Mombasa. Kenyan police said they arrested more than 150 people in the mosque raids.

Comment: This looks like a local, possibly tribal, act of vengeance. The mosque raids explanation should be given no credence. Nevertheless, al Shaba'ab remains a significant local threat.

Nigeria: On 24 November suspected Boko Haram fighters attacked Damasak, setting fire to houses and killing an unknown number of people, witnesses and government sources said. Hours after the raid started, Islamist gunmen still roamed the area, with many locals seeking to flee into neighboring Niger, just to the north of the town.

Comment: This was the third major attack in the last week in Borno State.

On 20 November, Boko Haram launched an attack near Doron Baga, killing 48 fish traders on their way to buy fish in Chad. Though the violence occurred on Thursday, news of the attack took days to arrive due to the destruction of mobile phone towers in the area by Boko Haram in previous attacks.

Comment: The group that attacked the Baga fishermen almost certainly was not involved at Damasak. These two attacks are primarily criminal actions to help local groups of thugs to survive. Theology and ideology have almost nothing to do with these depredations.

Cameroon: The Cameroonian army killed about 100 Boko Haram militants in a military operation that targeted a training camp set up by the group in the country's Far North Region near the Nigerian border, a security source said Monday.

"The camp was reported by locals, who tired of the group's abuses in Cameroon." the source told the press. According to the source, the operation on Sunday resulted in the destruction of the camp, which had been set up by Boko Haram about 10km from the Nigerian border.

Another Cameroonian security source said his country might not publicly announce the destruction of the training camp.

"Cameroon has always denied being a rear-base for Boko Haram. So before officially announcing the destruction of the camp, it must figure out how to explain the fact that a Boko Haram camp had existed on Cameroonian territory," the security source said.

Comment: A consistent Nigerian accusation is that Cameroonian officials are not necessarily hostile to Boko Haram because the terrorists weaken Nigeria, with whom Cameroon has multiple longstanding territorial disputes. Nevertheless, the Cameroonians appear to have a more consistent, sustained record of successful military operations against Boko Haram fighting groups than do the Nigerians.

End of NightWatch for 24 November.

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