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NightWatch 20150302

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For the night of 2 March

North Korea: The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) published a statement by a foreign ministry spokesman that denounced the Allied military exercises in South Korea for being more provocative than in the past and for increasing the risk of war.

"The exercises have an especially high possibility of causing a spark, given the grim situation and atmosphere caused by the US and the South Korean puppet forces' provocative anti-Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) confrontational frenzy."

"Now that the U.S. has become all the more pronounced in its hostile policy toward the DPRK, bereft of reason, the army and people of the DPRK will take tougher counteraction of justice (sic)."

"As already declared, they are fully ready for any form of war which the U.S. wants and may choose and are full of the firm will to counter the enemies' slightest provocation with the just, great war for national reunification."

"In case a war breaks out on the Korean peninsula at last, the U.S. and the south Korean puppet forces can never evade the consequences and responsibilities."

Comment: This statement is the mandatory accompaniment to the missile launches. The statement provides the context for the launches so that the intended targets of the message - the US and South Korea - are sure to get the message.

The missile launches were the "tougher counteraction" mentioned in the statement. The use of the future tense suggests this statement probably was supposed to precede the missile launches.

The language of the statement is aggressive, but the authority of the spokesman is low. This might be a propaganda trial balloon to obtain the reaction of senior officials to the language and the themes. If positive, a version of this statement will be edited and reissued by a higher authority.

The Allies should be on guard against provocations and, no doubt, are. The North's leaders seem to .judge that missile launches make a statement, thus there might be more. However, the North Korean military leaders also know that the wrong time to risk war is when the Allies are reinforced and training for it, as they are now doing.

Nevertheless, the North Korean leadership likes to show defiance. Prior to Kim Jong Un, North Korean leaders have been risk averse and aware of the dangers of miscalculation during a period of tension. However, Kim Jong Un seems driven to prove he is entitled to be the North Korean leader, He seems prone to take risks his father and grandfather would have avoided.

Yemen-Iran: A delegation of minsters from the Houthi-led government in Sana'a arrived in Tehran today for political talks. An Iranian deputy foreign minister told Mehr News that an economic delegation of Yemenis from the private sector were already in Iran. On Sunday, aviation authorities said that Yemenia airlines and Iran's Mahan airlines will fly up to 14 flights a week between Sana'a and Tehran. Iran, along with China and Russia, has kept its embassy in Sana'a.

Comment: Last week northern leader al-Houthi warned that there were other sources of aid than the US, the Saudis and Qatar. The Houthi regime and Iran have wasted no time in proving his point.

Several international press outlets have reported that Iranian press is boasting and celebrating the emergence of a new ally. One Iranian commentary described events in Yemen as a victory of the revolution and ridiculed the Arab monarchies. Iran is moving quickly to help stabilize and consolidate the Houthi regime.

Ukraine: Update. Ukraine's military said on Monday one Ukrainian serviceman was killed and four wounded in separatist eastern territories in the past 24 hours. A spokesman said Ukraine would continue to pull back its guns provided the ceasefire continued to hold as it has over the past weekend.

Ukrainian military sources continue to report a rebel force buildup east of Mariupol in the south, but have provided no details. The daily situation map shows only a handful of shelling incidents. Both sides appear to be honoring the ceasefire, while expecting fighting to resume.

Comment: One of the key questions is where the two sides have moved their heavy weapons. Open sources indicate that observers have confirmed gun withdrawals from the front line, but do not know their final destinations.

The Ukrainians charge that the rebels in Donetsk have withdrawn heavy weapons and equipment from areas in the north and shifted them to the Mariupol area in the south. They appear confident that if the fighting resumes, the rebels will launch an offensive to capture Mariupol, as a top priority.

Libya: On 2 March, the parliament of the government recognized by the US approved the appointment of General Hifter as commander of the Libyan National Army.

Comment: Last week Prime Minister al-Thinni nominated Hifter to be the commander. Today parliament approved Hifter's appointment.

The Libyan National Army is the name of the mélange of former Libyan army, special and air forces and tribal fighters that Hifter has cobbled together in eastern Libya.

Nigeria: Boko Haram posted a video of two of its men beheading two men for spying for the Nigerian government. One man supposedly confessed his crimes on camera before both were beheaded.

Comment: The beheading video is similar in style and composition to the beheading videos of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Boko Harm's video is a copycat, except for two characteristics. The scope is small and the victims were beheaded for spying, not because of their religion or tribe, according to the video. ISIL probably has killed many so-called spies, but has not posted those executions to the Internet. Execution of spies takes the edge off the terror effect. Boko Haram is still learning.

Nigeria-Chad: Chadian troops have driven Boko Haram militants out of the northeast Nigerian town of Dikwa, losing one soldier in the battle, an army spokesman said on Monday. "We have total control of the town," said Colonel Azem Bermandoua. He added that many Boko Haram fighters had also been killed in the clashes on Monday.

In a separate incident, Niger reported that its army killed six Boko Haram fighters on Saturday near the village of Bosso. Two vehicles were destroyed by Chad's air force, the army said

Comment: The governments' forces appear to be making progress. The mention of the Chadian combat aircraft in support of the Nigerien army is noteworthy. Chad and Niger have not needed to co-operate much, militarily, prior to the emergence of the Islamist terrorist threat. The French military control and coordination team near Bosso probably contributed to the successful coordination.

Boko Haram fighters raided a village on Lake Chad in Niger over the weekend, proving it remains a threat. It also manages to get children to detonate themselves in suicide bombings. It is still a danger, but it has not recently captured and occupied villages in the name of building the caliphate.

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End of NightWatch for 2 March.

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