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NightWatch 20150201

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NightWatch

For the night of 1 February 2015

North Korea: Over the weekend, the North Korean media published several articles about US relations. On 1 February the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported remarks by a Foreign Ministry spokesman who said the US is responsible for the lack of talks with North Korea because it rejected the North's offer in early January. Pertinent excerpts follow.

"As is well known to the world, entering the New Year, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) made bold and flexible proposals to defuse the danger of war, ease tension and create a peaceful climate on the Korean peninsula and is making every possible sincere effort to put them into practice."

"It clarified its stand that it is ready to take matching steps for putting a moratorium on nuclear test, a concern of the U.S., in case the latter temporarily halts joint military exercises in south Korea and its vicinity."

"It, at the same time, clarified that it is ready to sit at a negotiating table with the U.S. any time."

"It also invited Kim Song (US Ambassador and Special Representative for North Korea) to visit Pyongyang, as he expressed his willingness to meet with his counterpart from the DPRK during his visit to Asia this time…."

"However, the US, in disregard of this, is working hard to shift the blame onto the DPRK, misleading public opinion by creating the impression that dialogue and contacts are not realized due to the latter's insincere attitude. While talking about dialogue, Kim Song insisted that the DPRK should first take its sincere attitude toward denuclearization if a dialogue is to start."

(Note: The North's translation is clumsy. Kim Song said if the North is sincere about starting talks, it should take the first step by denuclearizing. The North considers this a demand for disarmament.)

"This means, in essence, refusing dialogue as it is aimed to disarm the dialogue partner, first of all. Even the U.S. president openly said that it would bring down the social system in the DPRK."

"It is preposterous and the height of American-style shamelessness and hypocrisy to claim that the US keeps the door of dialogue with the DPRK open. The DPRK feels no need to sit at a negotiating table with the party totally denying the ideology and social system chosen by the Korean people and desperately working to bring down them. "(Bold and italics added by NightWatch.)

Comment: The spokesman's remarks were in reply to a statement by Ambassador Kim Song on his arrival in South Korea that the US is always ready for dialogue. The larger issue driving several media reports over the weekend is the US President's statement on 22 January that regime's like North Korea's are destined to collapse.

Apparently it took the North a week to translate and verify the US President's statement. North Korean media reported it as proof that the US intends to collapse the North Korean system. Kim Jong Un and his men did not take it well.

Nevertheless, the statement does not explicitly reject talks. Rather, it implies that North Korea might be open to talks under the right conditions, which means a big enough inducement.

This is a standard diplomatic ploy of a weak despotism. It grants privileges to supplicants, but North Korea never admits it "needs" anything from anyone, especially the US. The fact that the North did not reject talks says more about its need for US assistance and desire for dialogue than the actual words of the statement. It wants talks, but does not want to be perceived as weak, as the next item illustrates.

Simulated attack on a US aircraft carrier. On 30 January, KCNA items in English and Korean described how Kim Jong Un gave guidance to a joint service exercise on attacking a simulated US aircraft carrier task group. KCNA never publishes the date of Kim's visits to any location as a matter of highest security, but this appears to have been a recent Kim appearance, probably last week. The excerpts below purport to describe the attack and Kim's guidance.

"The drill was conducted with the main emphasis on rounding off the art of war to carry out a surprise attack from air and from under water on an aircraft carrier of the US imperialists that had crawled into the waters of operation in the southern half (of the Republic) attempting to carry out military strikes on strategic targets of our country and on acclimatizing the flying combat corps and the submarine units to the methods of combat and to commanding and cooperation."

(Note: The run-on sentence above says the purpose of the exercise was to refine tactics and to familiarize the air force and the submarines with coordinated operations.)

"While remarking that the strike drill of military services on an aircraft carrier strike group of the US imperialist forces of aggression should be intensified, respected and beloved Supreme Commander Comrade Kim Jong Un said that we can bury at sea even an aircraft carrier at will, if we are fully aware of the enemy's weak points and constantly research and round off the art of war to carry out severe strikes on the backbone of the enemies with the partisan-style art of war, and then he gave a programmatic teaching on enhancing the operational capabilities of the units of military services…."

"The enemies boast of their latest military science and technology but one cannot give precedence to scientific and technological estimation only when making comparison between the military capabilities of the warring parties, and the fight with the enemies is not only the confrontation between arms and equipment and physical strength but the confrontation of mental power and ideology of people, he said, emphasizing our just and great war for national reunification based on the warm love and absolute trust in our own things is sure to triumph."

Comment: In the more than 40 years that NightWatch has followed North Korean propaganda, this is the first time that we have read a North Korean description of an exercise involving a coordinated joint service attack against a US aircraft carrier task group. The article is strange.

An introductory paragraph extols the virtues of the North Korean navy by citing one of the oldest fabrications in North Korean propaganda history. It repeats the claim that the North Korean navy sank the heavy cruiser, USS Baltimore, and cites that fictitious event as a model for emulation. The USS Baltimore did not participate in the Korean War. It was decommissioned at Bremerton between 1946 and 1951.

A naval incident did occur on 2 July 1950, the so-called Battle of Chumonchin Chan. It involved 2 UN cruisers and one frigate against four North Korean torpedo boats. The UN sustained no losses, but sank three of the four torpedo boats before they could fire their torpedoes. The fourth fled.

North Korea has placed a submarine on display in the basement of the Fatherland Liberation War Museum in Pyongyang for its role in sinking the USS Baltimore. NightWatch has seen it along with dozens of UN Sherman tanks, half-track trucks, artillery pieces and jeeps that appeared in drivable condition, plus a one-quarter scale exact replica of the USS Pueblo.

As for the description of the purported attack on the US carrier task group, it has an air and a submarine phase. The air force is supposed to ambush the carrier after it has launched an attack. The surprise attack drives the carrier away from the coast - according to the North Korean description - and into a killing zone of waiting North Korean submarines.

This is to boost the morale of the home folks and extol Kim's generalship. Supposedly it also is a statement of defiance. North Korea propaganda and military indoctrination invariably repeat the canard that superior will and ideology will triumph over arms and equipment. North Korean soldiers do not believe that.

North Korea lacks the assets to defeat an aircraft carrier task group in wartime conditions. For one thing, US operations in the Middle East for the past 20 years have shown the long reach of carrier strike forces. Plus, over the years, it has become clear that North Korea has no ability to detect US aircraft carrier deployments unless the US announces them, which then cues North Korean human agents. The only other ways the North might receive intelligence on US ship deployments is from Russia or China.

Finally, North Korean media would never publish details of real attack plans or even details of any real exercises, assuming this one actually took place. This article is another USS Baltimore story. It is a fantasy of the propaganda machinery and almost embarrassing.

Afghanistan: An insider attacker killed three US contractors who were working with the Afghan air force at Kabul international airport.

Comment: This is the first insider killing reported this year. Increasingly, the anti-government forces are bringing the battle slowly but steadily to Kabul. Violent instability is centripetal. That means the Taliban and their allies must take the capital to win. They know it.

Saudi Arabia: King Salman made a number of cabinet changes on Friday. The details are in the mainstream news media. He installed men from his own sub-clan or alliance to replace King Abdallah's appointees. Although Salman talked of continuity, he began making the changes 12 hours after King Abdallah's death.

Comment: It would be premature to predict that the personnel changes portend large shifts in policy, but that is a serious concern. A few knowledgeable analysts have written that the Salman's Sudairi allies were displeased by Abdallah's hostility to the Muslim Brotherhood and opened indirect contacts with the Egyptian Brothers. Salman reportedly is not friendly with Egyptian President al-Sisi over his close ties with the late King. Saudi relations with Egypt should be a reliable indicator of policy changes.

The Sudairis also have been reported to oppose any concessions to women's rights and Abdallah's Yemen policy. Salman's son, Abdulaziz bin Salman, is the deputy oil minister. Some analysts wrote that he favors increased prices over increased market share, which could portend an eventual end to low oil prices, which the late King favored.

Syria: The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) published a video in which two disguised fighters admitted that ISIL withdrew from the Kurdish town of Kobani because the town had been destroyed by air power and by the Iraqi Kurds. They bragged that ISIL was not weakened and that they would come back to kill the "rats," by which they meant the Kurds.

Comment: This is the first time ISIL has admitted it has withdrawn under military pressure.

Ukraine: Over the weekend, Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian rebels exchanged tank and artillery fire in and around Debal'tseve, in eastern Ukraine. On Sunday, rebel leaders claimed to have cut off a large force of Ukrainian soldiers, who have been stationed in that town.

Deputy rebel army commander Basurin told the press that rebel forces blocked two relief and supply columns from reaching the "surrounded Ukrainian troops." The rebels allowed the Ukrainians to evacuate their wounded.

Basurin claimed that 57 Ukrainian soldiers died in the fighting during the past 24 hours. He said that in the16 days since this operation began Ukraine "lost 36 tanks, 110 infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers, 80 field guns and mortars, 58 motor vehicles' and 1,569 men killed.

Comment: This fight is part of the campaign to eliminate the Ukrainian pocket at Debal'tseve. If Basurin's claims prove accurate, this fighting could lead to the largest rebel victory to date.

The Ukrainian units in the pocket appear to be some of the government's better soldiers. They have held the town since last July after the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

A measure of the gravity of the situation is that President Poroshenko again called for urgent military aid today. He also called for an immediate ceasefire. The rebels rejected it.

Cameroon-Chad: Chadian forces killed 120 Boko Haram fighters in a battle in northern Cameroon that began when the insurgents attacked Chadian troops, the army said in a statement on Saturday. Three Chadian soldiers were killed.

Comment: The news reports did not identify the location of the fighting. Chadian forces had been conducting operations near Maroua.

Nigeria: The Defence Ministry said that Nigerian forces had repulsed another attack on Maiduguri on 1 February

The Ministry spokesman said the attack was "contained" and the rebels suffered heavy casualties.

Comment: This is the second time in a week that Boko Haram has tried to take Maiduguri. The militants do not yet appear to be discouraged. They will attack again. The fate of Maiduguri rests with the discipline, supplies and leadership of the Nigerian Army.

African Union: On 31 January, African leaders agreed to deploy 7,500 troops to fight the Boko Haram insurgency in northeastern Nigeria, an African Union spokesman. The announcement was made in Addis Ababa at the end of a two-day AU Summit.

Nigeria, Ghana, Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Benin have agreed to provide soldiers to fight the militants. Leaders will meet in Yaounde, Cameroon, this week to decide on the rules of engagement and the command structure, Ghana President John Mahama told journalists on Saturday.

Comment: This is the second time in a year that regional leaders have agreed to field a force to fight Boko Haram. Its success depends on more variables than can be listed here, but they include logistics, vehicle maintenance and air support. For all practical purposes, the force is not sustainable without large scale US, UK and/or French support.

End of NightWatch for 1 February.

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