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NightWatch 20100804

NightWatch

For the Night of 4 August 2010

India: In eastern India, the Maoist insurgents have neutralized yet another large police contingent.  About 70 police personnel are missing on 4 August in the Chhattisgarh forests following a gunfight between heavily-armed Maoists and police in Dantewada area, India, The Times of India reported. Maoists reportedly attacked a search party of the state police in a heavily forested region of Gumiapal, near Kirandul.

The key point of the item is that the India state police forces seem incapable of learning. The location of the attack is the same set of forests where hundreds of police have been killed this year, almost in defiance of central government warnings and advisories. Counterinsurgency means something entirely different in India than it does at Fort Leavenworth.

The Indians continue to rely on policemen and law enforcement forces to handle people who break the law. They consider Army forces and other armed services not appropriate or trained for handling law breakers.

Afghanistan: Special note - Baghlan Province. During the past year, NightWatch assessed that the Taliban peaked in the sense that it is a Pashtun movement that has failed for a second time to break out of its cultural and ethnic identity.

NightWatch tracks and studies the clashes in the northern provinces of Afghanistan to check its assessment. Konduz Province was first because during the last three years it was the first to emerge as an apparent new front for the Taliban. This was manifest in a rise in the frequency of clashes and their effectiveness.

The German Army staffs the provincial reconstruction team for Konduz. In the past three years, the Germans with Afghan Army support have launched multiple moderate scale sweeps but have not succeeded in knocking down the Taliban.

In researching this phenomenon, NightWatch learned that the Taliban emergence in Konduz has been more of an awakening than an expansion. During the Taliban rule, Konduz was a frontline province the Taliban's effort to use military force to suppress the northern tribes.

Chahar Dara District is the center of the Taliban operation. Pashtuns make up more than 55% of its population. Of the seven districts in Konduz, several have no significant Pashtun population. They experience few if any IEDs or other clashes.

Baghlan is linked to Konduz because the main road to the north from Kabul runs through both. Baghlan's emergence as a potential Taliban expansion area has been more recent than Konduz, mainly since May 2009.

Province-wide demographics would suggest that it should be a quiet province. Tajiks form about 55% of the population, followed by Pashtuns who form 20% and Hazaras who form 15%. It is a farming and herding province.

After years of token Taliban activity, in June 2009 clashes occurred almost daily, but were concentrated in the two most populous of Baghlan's 15 districts. These are Baghlan i Jadid (119,600) and Pol e Khomri (191,600).

Although the number of clashes reported in open sources declined since June 2009, those that are reported continue to show that the Taliban are most active in these two districts. Open source information indicates at least one Taliban-initiated clash per week may be expected, in addition to roadside bombings.

The key feature of these two districts is both have substantial Pashtun populations. Half of Baghlan i Jadid's population is Pashtun. Pol e Khomri, which is much less violent than Baghlan i Jadid, is 30 % Pashtun. This means each district contains on the order of 50,000 or more Pashtuns, who are inclined to see the Taliban fighters as protectors from their northern neighbors. Several provincial officials, including a financial officer, were arrested in July for using their positions to support the Taliban.

The periodicity of the clashes indicates a permanent fighting unit - 30 to 100 men -- operates and is protected in each district. The occasional clashes in other districts indicate the groups occasionally range outside their home districts.

Starting in March 2010, Taliban began to operate in Dahana e Ghori District of Baghlan. Starting with one attack per month in the district of only 55,000 people, attacks gradually increased to one per week in May 2010. On 21 July, Taliban beheaded six Afghan policemen after overrunning their checkpost. One account said they held the district center for two days; another said the national police repulsed the attack. Whatever the case, this atrocity prompted multiple gloomy, but superficial news articles about security conditions in Baghlan and the north.

Open sources contain no information about the demographic makeup of Dahana e Ghori District so it is not possible at this time to conduct a more detailed examination. But the Taliban are following a pattern seen four years ago in the Pashtun heartland of starting small, increasing their visibility among villagers, and getting known, executing a few actions and then making a local sensation by a bold attack against a district seat that is lightly defended.

Thinly populated districts have small police forces and no army forces and, thus, always are vulnerable. An 80-man Taliban force of full and part time Pashtun fighters easily can overwhelm an 8-man district police force. But that does not alter the basic judgment that the Taliban have peaked and they are unable to hold ground against comparable Coalition forces. They retook the district.

That judgment would be good news for the Coalition forces, provided they were sufficiently numerous to take advantage of this obvious Taliban weakness by providing better local security and problem solving solutions as swiftly as the Taliban provide. As yet they cannot. This allows the Taliban the ability to return with impunity after Coalition forces have moved on.

There is nothing of national value in Dahana e Ghori District except that it is where a Taliban fighting cell chose to challenge government authority. That means the Taliban have the initiative of the small elusive force. They cannot win with such tactics and are not winning, but neither is the Coalition.

One lesson from the NightWatch studies is that demographics matter. The districts of Baghlan in which more than 20% of the population are Pashtun have become security threats. Below 20%, the Taliban seem uncomfortable in establishing a permanent fighting presence.

Contradicting Pakistani President Zardari's statement that the international community has lost Afghanistan, it is neither lost nor found. A stalemate is in effect and will last until one or the other side can no longer maintain the current level of resource commitments.

Iran: For the record. An Iranian official claimed that Iran has obtained four S-300 advanced surface-to-air missiles, The Associated Press reported 4 August. Fars News Agency said Iran obtained two missiles from Belarus and two others from an unspecified source. Belarus and Russia both denied the Iranian statement.

Israel-Lebanon: Update. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers ambushed on the Lebanon border on 3 August will return to the scene to complete the mission of clearing trees, Israel News reported 4 August.

The IDF said it is preparing to resume all routine activity near the Lebanon border. The next few days will be tense and serve as a test, an army official said, adding that the IDF's response on Aug. 3 conveyed a clear message to the Lebanese army and government.

Unidentified military sources said the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was informed that the IDF plans to operate in the area. The Israelis are baiting the Lebanese Army.

Prime Minister Netanyahu recapped recent attacks against Israel: against Ashkelon, against Eilat and in Lebanon. He promised that Israel will retaliate on all three fronts. This is a warning. Israel is determined to demonstrate that it can act effectively on multiple fronts, defeating any likely, present combination of Arab threats.

End of NightWatch for 4 August.

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