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NightWatch 20100527

NightWatch

For the Night of 27 May 2010

North Korea: A study in contrasts. Vice Foreign Minister Kim Hyong Hun, with a Foreign Ministry delegation, has left Pyongyang for Arab countries, state-run radio reported 27 May. Kim's delegation was seen off at the airport by diplomatic officials from Syria and Egypt, and a member of the Libyan economic cooperation office.

Cross-border passage of South Korean personnel and vehicles to and from the Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea is operating normally, KBS reported. The Unification Ministry in Seoul said North Korea issued permission for the entry of South Korean workers into Kaesong via a military channel at the western border.

Russian border guards are operating as normal on the border with North Korea, according to the press office of the Russian Federal Security Service border directorate for Maritime Territory, Itar-Tass reported 27 May. Everything is quiet at the border and service continues as usual, the spokesman stated.

Comment: The above actions indicate normality continues. They are indicators that no conflict is anticipated. The actions at Kaesong might be a case of delayed response to higher direction. The North is notoriously prone to miscommunication and flawed execution of orders from Pyongyang to the provinces. The diplomatic activity is unmistakable as a sign of normality.

As to the border report, normal border activities also are inconsistent with expectations of a crisis. In almost all past crises, the border is closed. No news services have reported on conditions at the border crossings with China.

Military.  North Korea's military said it will "completely nullify" an inter-Korean accord aimed at preventing accidental armed skirmishes along the disputed western sea border, The Associated Press reported. "Immediate physical strikes" will be launched against any South Korean ships that intrude into North Korean waters, the country's military said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

Comment: Thus far, North Korea has not reacted to the South's action yesterday to prevent a North Korean merchant ship from crossing the Northern Limit Line. Statements from military spokesmen are provocative and bellicose. They are incongruent with diplomatic and border activities.

As before, when Kim Chong-il is not in control or is not paying attention, policy proclamations and actions appear contradictory or inconsistent. That suggests the leadership is in disarray and cannot agree on which line to pursue.

Russia- Far East: Russia will hold large-scale naval exercises near North Korea in June, Reuters reported 27 May. The exercises, which were planned before the build up of tensions on the Korean peninsula, will take place in the Sea of Japan, Pacific fleet spokesman Roman Martov said.

The key question is with whom the Russians would side if the tension escalates to crisis.

NightWatch Puzzler. How would US forces use unpiloted aircraft for tactical support in a Korean fight in which the US would not have unchallenged control of the airspace? This is a question raised by Air Force Lt Gen David Deptula, the USAF intelligence chief, in multiple presentations. What would be the fall back resource for tactical intelligence collection?

The questions are not about North Korean air force capabilities, but about the tens of thousands of very effective shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles that have been used to shoot down off course US helicopters three times in the past 50 years. North Korea is useful in reminding folks that conventional war threats persist and make counterinsurgency look like choir practice.

Thailand: Update. The government said it would request Interpol's cooperation in arresting former Prime Minister Thaksin on terrorism charges in connection with recent protests, Agence France-Presse reported 27 May. The request for help would be sent so any country that knows of his whereabouts can notify Thailand, and the extradition procedure can begin, said Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban. The Department of Special Investigation, the Attorney General's office and the Foreign Ministry agreed to send the request to Interpol, Suthep said.

India-Pakistan-Kashmir: The British organization Chatham House commissioned a survey of Pakistani and Indian Kashmiri views. The results are curious. Neither in Pakistani nor Indian Kashmir exists a majority in favor of independence. On both sides of the border, more people are concerned about unemployment than political issues, according to the survey.

The simple conclusion of the survey is that there are no simple solutions to the Kashmir dispute. The status quo is as good as all the alternatives suggested in the survey, and better for the Hindus in the Jammu sectors of Kashmir and Jammu State.

Afghanistan: Taliban fighter captured Musakhel District in Khost Province after a heavy conflict overnight, according to Taliban spokesman Zabihollah Mojahed, Afghan Islamic Press reported 27 May. He said two police cars and two bulldozers were set on fire during the incident and the district remains under Taliban control.

The Musa Khel District chief confirmed that Taliban members captured Musa Khel "after many hours of heavy conflict," adding that everything in the district center was burned and destroyed. He did not have information on casualties and said Musa Khel elders were sent to ask the Taliban to leave the district.

Comment: Musa Khel District and Khost Province are in the Taliban core region. The significance of this fight is that the Taliban still are having to commit resources and are fighting for districts they contested repeatedly in the past five years.

They cannot stand against an Allied counter attack and will abandon Musa Khel before the relief force arrives. These district attacks in core provinces have been so frequent that they no longer are an embarrassment to the government. They are a cost of doing business. The Taliban no longer achieve much propaganda value because they cannot hold the district center.

There are no winners in these battles, provided the government remains determined to rebuild the center and hoist the national flag again. In doing so it pays the price of beating the Taliban. The Taliban fail every time the government returns.

Ukraine: President Viktor Yanukovych said 27 May that while it is unrealistic for Ukraine to consider joining NATO today because a majority of the public would not support membership in the alliance, Kiev considers NATO to be a partner, UNIAN reported. Yanukovych said Ukraine must have cooperative relations with the alliance.

US-Texas: Fox news broke the story on 26 May that Somali extremists are attempting to smuggle terrorist fighters through Mexico and into the US through Texas. An indictment unsealed this month in Texas federal court accuses a Somali man in Texas of running a large-scale smuggling enterprise which is responsible for bringing hundreds of Somalis from Brazil through South America and eventually across the Mexican border.

Many of the illegal immigrants, whom court records say were given fake IDs, are alleged to have ties to other now-defunct Somali terror organizations that have merged with active organizations such as al Shabaab, al-Barakat and Al-Ittihad Al-Islami. With the help of a Virginia man, some 200 Somali terrorists are estimated to have entered the US from Mexico via Texas.

Comment: Somalis and Americans of Somali descent join Pakistanis and Americans of Pakistani descent as inherently suspect groups because of the actions of rogues and zealots. Every society and living sytem is entitled to protect itself and to convert the presumption of innocence into a burden of proof of innocence for individual members of an ethnic group that has spawned attacks against the society or living system. This is a study in democracy.

End of NightWatch for 27 May.

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