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NightWatch 20150105

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NightWatch

For the night of 5 January 2015

Saudi Arabia: Three Saudi Arabian border guards including a brigadier general were killed on the border with Iraq in northwestern Saudi Arabia.

An Interior Ministry spokesman told the press, "Four terrorists were spotted trying to infiltrate the Saudi border through Suweif (Suwayf) post bordering Iraq. When the patrol intercepted them, the terrorists opened fire and the patrol responded accordingly. As a result, one of the terrorists was killed while another terrorist detonated an explosive belt when the patrol tried to convince him to surrender himself."

"The patrol traced the two other individuals who attempted to escape. The security men surrounded the two individuals at Arar Valley. The patrol called on them to surrender, but one of them blew himself up while the other was killed by security men. After combing the site, the patrol seized weapons - an automatic gun, pistol, hand grenades and explosive belts - in addition to banknotes."

"As a result of the fire exchange and the explosive belt detonation, Brigadier General Awdah Mouawad Al-Balawi, Corporal Tariq Mohammed Halawi and Private Yahya Ahmed Najmi were killed. Colonel Salem Taasan Al-Anzi and Private Yahya Ahmed Muqari were injured and rushed to the hospital for treatment. Their health condition is stable."

Comment: The Interior Ministry declined to identify a group that was responsible for the incident until after it completed its investigation. Several news services, however, reported that this was ISIL's first attack against Saudi Arabia. That is not accurate. ISIL has published on the Web images of other attacks on Saudi border posts.

This was an infiltration attempt, which makes it more sinister than an attack. That's because it indicates the infiltrators expected to reach a reception and support contact, probably near Arar. The Saudis may be relied on to crack down hard in this area,

The location of the incident is worth noting. The road from Arar runs northeast through the Suweif border crossing and up to Karbala, a holy city for Iraqi Shiites. This incident is a reminder that ISIL elements are in positions to threaten Shiites. While the ISIL fighters are far from their main bases, they appear able to move freely on the Iraq side of the border.

Syria: Kurdish fighters have seized the security and government district of Kobani from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Kurds and their allies now control 80 percent of the border town.

"The People's Protection Units (YPG) fighting the jihadists for nearly four months have full control of the security district."

Comment: The latest gains have come within the past week or so. A week ago the Kurds were stuck at about 70 percent of the town. Syrian and Iraqi Kurdish leaders credit Allied air support for assisting their advance. Nevertheless, the pace of progress is glacial. ISIL has not given up Kobani, but it has no effective defense against air attacks.

Libya: Update. A Libyan news service reported that on 3 January 2015, the internationally-recognized Libyan parliament, the House of Representatives, issued a decree returning to military service Major General Khalifah Haftar, who in May 2014 launched Operation Dignity against Islamist groups. The report did not specify Haftar's rank or position.

Haftar was among 129 officers returned to active military duty, the report said, including the pro-Haftar Air Force Commander Saqr al-Jurushi.

"This decree puts an end to the farce and attempts by terrorists to characterize our war against terrorism in the personality of Maj. Gen. Khalifah Haftar, in their insistence on using the phrase 'forces belonging to the retired general,'" a member of the House said.

(Note on the spelling: When General Hifter lived in the US, he signed his driver's license and tax returns HIFTER. However there are other spellings, including HAFTAR, used in the media. In its comments, NightWatch uses the spelling in English that the General himself used: HIFTER.)

Comment: The government of Prime Minister al-Thinni had been suspicious, if not hostile, to General Hifter's Operation Dignity because Hifter supports secular government in Libya. Since August when the government was forced to relocate to Tripoli, it has described Hifter's military forces as the Libyan armed forces.

The 3 January decree is the clearest recent expression of the al-Thinni-Hifter alliance against the Islamists, who run their own government in Tripoli.

Nigeria: On Saturday, Boko Haram seized Baga and the multinational military base there, officials and eyewitnesses reported.

A Senator from Borno State in the northeast said troops abandoned the base after it was attacked. Local residents who fled to Chad said many people were killed and the town was burned.

Separate Boko Haram attacks occurred in at least two other areas where the terrorists kidnapped young men and girls.

Comment: Nigerian press sources said Baga was the last town in the far north held by Nigerian government forces. It hosted the base of the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF), made up of troops from Nigeria, Niger and Chad. That force was created to in 1998 to stop cross-border crime in the Lake Chad region, but last March received authorization to combat militants and stop arms trafficking.

The Nigerian senator summed up the situation, "… there is definitely something wrong that makes our military abandon their posts each time there is an attack from Boko Haram." 

Mali: On 5 January seven people, including at least two soldiers, were killed by pro-al Qaida fighters, who attacked an army camp in central Mali near the Mauritania border.

Security sources confirmed the attack occurred in the town of Nampala, which has the largest military installation in the region. The attackers briefly captured Nampala and raised their flags over the military base. Malian soldiers who were not able to escape had their throats cut, a source said. Government forces returned to the town and base after the militants withdrew.

Near Gao, in eastern Mali, at least six United Nations peacekeepers were wounded when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb on the 4th. The vehicle transporting troops of the Niger contingent, part of the U.N. mission in Mali, known as MINUSMA, was traveling on the river road near Asongo, south of Gao.

Comment: The Islamist militants are trying to make a comeback. Attacks on the river road south of Gao towards Niger have occurred regularly. Islamist militant groups were known to have fled into this region two years ago.

The attack at Nampala is one of very few attacks reported on the Mauritanian side of Mali. Mauritania was sympathetic to the Islamists and was thought to provide safe haven for some groups after the French forces defeated them. The Nampala attack is believed to be the first attack south of Timbuktu in the past two years. The performance of the Malian soldiers is a bad portent for internal security because the Malians soldiers panicked and ran.

End of NightWatch for 5 January.

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