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NightWatch 20100210

NightWatch

For the Night of 10 February 2010

North Korea-China: Xinhua news agency reported that Chinese President Hu Jintao invited North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to visit Beijing, Yonhap reported 9 February. Hu sent the invitation in a letter that Chinese emissary Wang Jiarui delivered to Kim's agents.

Meanwhile, following Wang's visit, North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator Kim Kye Gwan and deputy negotiator Ri Gun arrived in China, according to The Associated Press. The North Koreans shared Wang's return flight from Pyongyang to Beijing.

The Korean Peninsula nuclear situation has eased recently, providing an opportunity for resuming six-party talks and denuclearizing the peninsula, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said Tuesday.

Comment: The North Korean charade is clever and well developed. It presents the illusion of progress towards denuclearization with no real prospect. North Korean distrust of the United States is a generational truth. It is inconceivable that any North Korean leader would make the country defenseless against the Americans. It would be irresponsible of any North Korean leader to give up the country's nuclear weapons - its only prospect of deterring an American attack, in the leadership's view.

It is important to maintain open lines of communication with North Korea so long as no one in the US thinks talks are a path to ending the North's nuclear weapons program. The North appears to be willing to negotiate away its outdated and inefficient, vestigial nuclear energy reactor at Yongbyon. Mind, the Yongbyon reactor never generated much electricity. It was fed electricity from outside Yongbyon to keep the reactor operational.

As at Yongbyon and Sinpo, the North's leaders would be only too pleased to have the South Koreans and the US taxpayers pay for electricity in North Korea. After several decades of reprocessing plutonium, the reactor program at Yongbyon has little relevance to the nuclear weapons program. In other words, the North apparently has as many plutonium based warheads as it is capable of handling.

The talks create the illusion of progress without substance. More than a decade ago, the North's negotiators saw through the Clintonesque strategy that the process is substantive. Ambassador Chris Hill exposed that the process of holding talks is just a process.

Pakistan: security. Pakistani government officials and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (Pakistani Taliban or TTP) confirmed the death of Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud, Dawn News reported 9 February. Today, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that Qari Hussain Mehsud, a co-leader with Hakimullah Mehsud might also have been killed in the US remotely piloted aircraft attack on 14 January.

According to Dawn News, Maulvi Noor Jamal was appointed the new TTP chief. Maulvi Noor Jamal, also known as Maulana Tufan, was named acting chief of the Taliban by a shura held in Orakzai agency. Tufan refers to a violent wind and rain storm. The nom de guerre apparently describes Noor Jamal's temperament.

Comment: The Mehsud clan appears to have a ready supply of violent men willing to lead the Pakistani Taliban. Leadership is personality driven, according to all reports, and based on personal knowledge as a rule. Thus a shura or council is necessary to try to unite the movement to support a new leader. For example, according to Pakistani news sources, Qari Hussain Mehsud refused to cooperate with Hakimullah Mehsud unless they shared the leadership.

It is quintessentially modern western to think that the loss of a leader is a major setback. The loss of a leader is important primarily because it fractures the movement. Allegiances are personal and do not transfer automatically just because a shura elects a new leader or set of leaders.

The fractiousness of the Mehsud Pashtuns means that it takes time to rebuild the movement after each leader is killed. That is the good news. The not so good news is that decapitation of the leadership, once again, is proving to be not a permanent solution to the anti-government movement in Pakistan. What this means is that no student of pre-modern warfare should ever postulate that, by itself, decapitation is a permanent solution.

The US drones and missiles have killed dozens, perhaps scores, of so-called leaders, but the movement remains a threat to Pakistan's internal stability. One might be tempted to think that perceptive people could see a lesson here.

The other not so good news is that each successive leader is more virulent than his predecessors, has fewer lines of communication to Pakistani intelligence and is under more pressure to prove his leadership qualities. Permanent solutions to internal instability always are systemic, not idiosyncratic. Killing leaders supports an illusion of progress, but not the reality because they keep on showing up. Afghanistan: Today's international news services reported the start of probing operation by the US Marines near Marjah in Helmand Province. With their usual gift for exaggeration, most services have swallowed the information swill that the Taliban have dug in and intend to fight for Marjah.

Nothing in the past eight years of combat supports the notion that the Taliban are suicidal fools. The media narrative is fiction. A few cursory searches of the Internet would find statements by the Afghan Taliban leadership stating that the Taliban will not take on the might of the US armed forces.

Further research would show that only about 1,000 Coalition and Afghan soldiers are in the spearhead of this offensive. That does not qualify this as the decisive action of the campaign, which the NATO command, to its credit, has not said.

The media have been taken in by a clever tactic of announcing the target of this offensive, which is far from the largest of the conflict. It is crafted to clear Marjah District center, where the Taliban succeeded in establishing themselves by 2007, in the absence of a strong government presence.

NightWatch monthly specials that year warned that Marjah was one of the districts in Helmand Province under stress.

The cleverness in the public announcements is that there are no innocent civilians in Marjah now. Anyone non-fighters in Marjah now may be considered Taliban sympathizers and supporters and need not impede the application of air power or the use of artillery. Any person encountered in the target zone must be presumed to be hostile as a first order inference.

Marjah is a killing zone. That is why the Taliban will not be there in strength. The fight to recapture Marjah District for the government only begins with the offensive. The outcome is obvious because the Taliban have no anti-aircraft weapons and no ability to stand against armor. They refuse to defend territory.

Holding Marjah District for the government so that the Taliban can never return is the centerpiece of the struggle and McChrystal's new tactics.

The fate of the US soldier. According to Pakistani media on 4 February, the Taliban have condemned the US soldier to death unless the US agrees to a swap of captives.

A Taliban commander stated that the US soldier, whom his fighters kidnapped from Afghanistan's Paktika province near the border with Pakistan's troubled South Waziristan in June 2009, admitted his involvement in several raids in Afghanistan. "Since he has confessed to all charges against him, our Islamic court had announced death sentence for him."

No news services have reported the execution of the US soldier … yet.

IEDs. Update. The Taliban claim they have invented a new bomb that defeats US detection vehicles and technology. A BBC report from the UK forces supporting Operation Together" in Marjah lends credence to the Taliban claim, after the detection vehicle was disabled by a bomb it was supposed to detect yesterday.

The Taliban posted to the Net the following statement, "After assessing the enemy's new technology, the mine makers and explosives experts of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan modified the types and construction of their bombs. They now have adopted such a technology which the enemy detection equipment cannot detect."

"A bomb making expert of the Islamic Emirate told the Al-Emarah website: "The mojahedin have now made a special remote-controlled bomb called Omar which is more powerful then the other mines. The main characteristic of this bomb is that it is more difficult to detect. The mojahedin have tested this new remote-controlled bomb and the results have been positive. We have used this bomb in various parts of the country against the enemy mine-detector vehicles and the results were successful."

"He said their technique was very simple and cost little and that they can make a powerful bomb. An average mine costs only 85 dollars which is not that much, but in turn it inflicts millions of dollars worth of damage on the enemy in addition to the loss of life."

Comment: No other source has reported on the use of a new bomb.

A key point is that the Afghan Taliban are innovative. They learn, as do all living systems. That makes them much more sinister than an adaptive organism, which is one that just learns to cope.

The Taliban aim to win, not to co-exist. Co-existence in the form of power sharing is a political tactic in a campaign to achieve ultimate political victory. Innovation is what they apply to the battlefield, as they can. It is important to get the definitional language correct, if one hopes to discover or devise an effective response. The key teaching point is that Taliban learn and get better.

Iran-Iraq: Update. Iranian and Iraqi technical experts plan to meet in Iran's western city of Qasr-e-Shirin in Kermanshah Province on 20 February for talks on border issues between Iran and Iraq, Fars News Agency reported 10 February, citing Iranian Ambassador to Iraq Hassan Kazemi Qomi. A few days after the joint meeting, another joint meeting will be held to discuss conditions on the Iran-Iraq water borders, Qomi said.

Somalia: Hundreds of Somali insurgents loyal to the Islamist militant group al-Shabaab have returned to Mogadishu with artillery and trucks, witnesses told the BBC. Residents reportedly have been fleeing the capital for days because of a widespread belief that the rebels and government forces are about to engage in a serious test of military capabilities.

At last report the government was preparing an offensive and al Shabaab forces were fleeing. Today's account reverses the polarity. At this point nothing has changed.

End of NightWatch for 10 February.

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