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NightWatch 20091110

NightWatch

For the Night of 10 November 2009

North Korea: North Korea demanded an apology from South Korea over yesterday's naval clash, calling the skirmish a "grave armed provocation" by the South that targeted a patrol boat on routine duty, Yonhap reported 10 November.

The North's Supreme Command of the Korean People's Army said in a report carried by the Korean Central News Agency that a KPA patrol boat on routine guard duty promptly went into action to confirm an unidentified object that intruded into its waters when a group of South Korean warships chased it and perpetrated "such a grave provocation as firing at it."

Other reports claim the North was policing Chinese fishing boats operating illegally in Korean waters when the South Koreans opened fire.

The South Korean version is that North's patrol ship crossed into sea areas claimed by the South. The South Korean patrol ship fired 100 rounds in two minutes, setting afire the North Korean patrol ship, killing one sailor and wounding others, according to the South Koreans, though the South Korean patrol ship took some rounds.

No unusual movement has been reported along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea, The Associated Press reported today. South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff issued a statement saying no unusual troop movement on the North Korean side of the border had been observed in the DMZ.

The South raised its readiness, which would be normal, but the North's propagandists reported that Kim Chong-il viewed an art performance. This is the kind of media treatment that is prima facie evidence that Kim is not making the visits touted in North Korean media.

It breaks credulity that Kim Chong-il attended a choral performance while his navy was in action for the first time in seven years. Not a chance and not Kim Chong-il. One or more body doubles are making these public appearances and the real Kim is deathly ill - that is the NightWatch hypothesis.

China-India: China protested Sunday's visit to Tawang Monastery in Arunachal Pradesh State, by the Dalai Lama, according to DNA India. The Chinese dared to remind India to not forget the lessons of 1962 when Chinese forces defeated the Indian Army and nearly reached the banks of the Ganges River, in eastern India.

The Chinese Communist Party's mouthpiece denounced the Dalai Lama's visit and quoted a hard-line scholar as saying that India may have forgotten the lessons of 1962, when Arunachal Pradesh was overrun by the People's Liberation Army.

The Chinese foreign ministry followed up the warning with another missive on 10 November, saying it was "strongly dissatisfied" with India's decision to let the Dalai Lama visit the "disputed" region. "The Indian side allowed the Dalai Lama to visit the disputed eastern section of the China-India border regardless of China's grave concerns, and China is strongly dissatisfied with this," spokesman Qin Gang said at a news briefing, adding that the visit "fully exposes the Dalai Lama's separatist nature... his attempt will not succeed".

Tonight's good news is the Indian government's determination to defy Chinese bullying tactics by permitting the Dalai Lama's visit to Tawang. Tawang Monastery gave refuge to the Dalai Lama when he fled the Han Chinese Communist occupation of Tibet in 1959. A Monastery Lama said, "Why are the Chinese so bothered about the Dalai Lama, a person they say has no followers in Tibet? The fact that they watch his every move and condemn everything he does shows Beijing's nervousness."

Far from having forgotten the lessons of 1962, the Indians are preparing for the grudge match … in the future. The Chinese should be less smug, but then they would not be Han.

Nepal: The Maoist former rebels isolated Katmandu from the rest of the country, The Associated Press reported 10 November. Hundreds of Maoist supporters gathered at five main land entry points to Katmandu, blocking roads and chanting slogans.

The action prevented vehicles from entering or leaving Katmandu. Maoist parliamentarian Chandra Bahadur Thapa said the blockade would end later in the day and is not meant to inconvenience citizens, but to prove the Maoists are capable of cutting off supplies to Katmandu "forever" if the government does not accept the Maoist demands.

The BBC reported the Maoists want a debate on presidential powers in parliament, but the government has refused the demand. The Maoists emerged as the largest party in Nepal's first democratic election last year. They claim that President Yadav acted unconstitutionally by overruling their decision to sack the army chief earlier this year. The president's decision led to the collapse of the Maoist-led government in May.

The issue is presidential accountability to the parliament. The Maoists forced the King of Nepal to resign, joined the parliamentary government and are determined to govern, though Nepal has a strong authoritarian tradition. The Army remains anti-Maoist.

Pakistan-China: China agreed to sell Pakistan two squadrons of J-10 fighters for up to $1.4 billion, The Financial Times reported, citing Pakistani and Western officials. A Pakistani official said more sales may follow, but denied that a deal had been made to buy up to 150 fighters.

The Pakistan Air Force expects to buy at least 250 JF-17 Thunder fighters in the next four to five years. Without Chinese arms assistance, Pakistan could not maintain the pretense of having a conventional military capability to fight India.

Even with Chinese assistance, Pakistan's conventional military forces would be defeated easily and quickly by the Indian Army. This state of vulnerability is one of the many legacies of Musharraf's neglect of the armed forces he commanded. Nevertheless, the myth of Pakistani capabilities would tie down numbers of Indian forces in a future fight between India and China by threatening a multi-front conflict.

If India intended to destroy Pakistan, it could not have a better opportunity than the present, when an entire army corps is engaged in counter-insurgency operations in South Waziristan. Indian restraint is uncharacteristic, since the general rule of military strategy in South Asia is to kick the dog when it is down.

Nevertheless, the Pakistan Army Corps commanders, encouraged by the Pakistani Taliban, consider India the existential threat to Pakistan. The truth is that Pakistan cannot defend itself without resort to nuclear weapons and would probably lose a nuclear war as well. The Paks do not know how to be grateful.

Afghanistan: An Afghan Taliban spokesman described follow-on activities in Kamdesh District, Konar Province, after NATO and Coalition forces abandoned their operating bases and retreated. The area is currently under the control of Taliban, who walk freely in the district, according to al Jazeera.

"We finished forming our administrative units and the officials have been appointed. We also established the judiciary department and the commission for the promotion of virtue and the prevention of vice section. We are working on providing people's basic needs."

The estimated scores of captured members of the Afghan police and army hope for Taliban's pardon after Taliban said that the captives regretted working for the government and pledged to treat them well.

The significance of the report is that it exposes as false the idea that the presence of Coalition forces creates instability and that their withdrawal would restore quiet normality. On the contrary, in the absence of Coalition forces, the Taliban moved in to establish their own administration.

The fight is not simply an Afghan tribal fight against outsiders and their puppets. The Taliban have a religio-political program and are determined to re-impose their extremist and unbalanced ideas about Islamic practices and observances. They simply will not leave the tribes be. That is their weakness.

Iran- Arab states: Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said that regional interference in Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan could affect the entire region, Press TV reported 10 November. He warned against providing support for "extremists and terrorists" and that oppression and military attacks against civilians "will have negative consequences."

Mottaki said Yemen's troubles center on separatism, al Qaeda support to rebels and tension between the Yemeni Shia, who make up almost half of the population, and the government. Mottaki called for Yemen to rebuild trust with the population, particularly the Shia, adding that he respects the nation's territorial integrity. Yemen has agreed to meet with Iranian officials on a date not yet decided, Mottaki said.

The al Huthi tribe, in rebellion, is Shia. With today's declaration Iran has staked its interest in the Yemeni ethnic insurgency, on the side of the al Huthi tribe. That pits Iran as the protector of Shiites against the governments of Yemen and Saudi Arabia in an ethnic squabble.

The phenomenology of insurrection begins to resemble the Spanish Civil War, a proxy for the real war to come a few years later.

Iraq: Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki denied that he will create an election bloc with the Shia of the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council and Muqtada al-Sadr's followers, The Associated Press reported 10 November. Al-Maliki invited all parties to join his party for the January vote.

Al Maliki's consolidation of Shiite political interests is cautious but relentless. Baghdad is under a pro-Iranian Shiite government.


Iraq-Saudi Arabia: Prime Minister al-Maliki criticized Saudi Arabia for its negative stance toward Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, AFP reported. Al-Maliki said that there were no positive signs from Saudi Arabia, but added that Iraq wants to maintain good relations with the Saudi government.

Al Maliki's statement would leave only Iran as a regional ally and would provide further justification for closer ties to the Ayatollahs in Tehran, as if the Shiite Arabs needed more incentives.

Lebanon: This weekend, after five months of political deadlock, the Lebanese political parties agreed on a cabinet to govern the country. Sa'ad-al-Din al-Hariri is the prime minister, replacing Fouad Sinyorah.

Most political commentators conclude that the big winner is Lebanese Hezbollah, the anti-Israel, Iranian proxy that controls southern Lebanon. It gained a large presence in the cabinet. Pro-Syrian political interests, separate from Hezbollah, also made gains in the new cabinet.

Saudi Arabia-Yemen: Update. The Kingdom has no plans to stop air strikes on Yemeni al-Huthi rebels until they have retreated back deeper into Yemen away from the Saudi border, Saudi Assistant Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Sultan said 10 November, Al Arabiya news agency reported.

The Saudi government also has contracted the European Aeronautic Defense and Space company to build a security fence between Saudi Arabia and Yemen, Asharq Al-Awsat reported. In addition, Saudi warships have been ordered to search any ship coming from the northern Yemeni Red Sea coast in an effort to combat the Shiite rebels along the border, The Associated Press reported.

Yemeni rebels said they had taken control of more territory on the border with Saudi Arabia, Reuters reported. A rebel statement announced that full control was taken over Qatabar Directorate and control of all supplies and ammunition as well as buildings and other military sites.

While it is difficult to determine winners and loser, what is clear is that Saudi Arabia is involved in fighting an insurgency. Yemen and insurgency are old friends, but the Saudis have sided with the Sunni government of Yemen against Shiite tribal rebels. They do not seem to be doing well, which raises the question who should bail them out, or try to bail them out?

Al Qaida: Mohammed bin Abdul Rahman al-Rashid, leader of al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, said Iran and Shiite militants are a greater threat to Islam and its people than are Jews and Christians, Agence France-Presse reported, quoting an audio recording carried by U.S. monitoring group SITE. Al-Rashid said the Yemeni Shiite al-Huthi militants were against Sunnis. He also said Shiite militants "are being driven by a greed to take over Muslim countries, and they are full of a wish to annihilate Sunnis."

This statement is a call to internecine warfare within Islam. Might be time for Christians and all others to step back and watch for a change.

Egypt: Too good to omit. Armed Bedouins ambushed an Egyptian patrol that had seized 200 tons of contraband cement destined for the Gaza Strip, The Associated Press reported on 5 November.

The security force received a tip about a smugglers' warehouse in the mountainous area south of the border town of Rafah in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. Local tribes connected to the contraband heard about the raid and ambushed the force. The standoff lasted more than four hours and left one officer and five troops wounded, according to security officials.

The significance of this is that Sunni Bedouin tribes depend on smuggling into the Gaza Strip for their livelihood. A large portion of the smuggled goods comes up the Nile Valley from Sudan with the active and knowing assistance of the Bedouins.

To recap, Shiite Iran sends aid to Sunni Sudan to help Sunni Hamas. Sunni Bedouin tribes, in it for the money, smuggle the goods to Hamas in Gaza but are fought by Sunni Egyptian security forces, whose efforts aid the security of the Jews of Israel. Hmm… confusing.

Colombia-Venezuela: Update. Colombia's Arauca Department governor, Eduardo Ataya, said Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has deployed approximately 2,000 troops along his department's border region, daily La Republica reported, citing local radio station RCN. Ataya said conditions at the border seemed calm, but that vehicles were taking nearly two hours to cross because of Venezuelan roadblocks installed every two to three miles.

Chavez is using his security forces to impose a local form of economic warfare on the Colombians. More interesting is recent polls that indicate more than half of Venezuelans are tired of Chavez and his schemes. Many judge he made important improvements during his first term of office, but half want him to resign when his term of office expires in 2012. A large minority want him to resign after a national referendum before 2012.

End of NightWatch for 10 November.

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