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NightWatch 20120122

NightWatch

For the night of 22 January 2012

North Korea: Update. The latest attribute of leadership for Kim Jong-un is that he is the nuclear genius responsible for North Korea's nuclear tests.

Comment: The governing group around Kim Jong-un is getting desperate in its effort to find some great accomplishment by which he merited the right to rule, aside from a dying old man's last wish. For example, at the time of the 2006 test, Kim Jong-un almost certainly was not consulted and not involved because Kim Chong-il was still healthy. The need to reinvent recent history signifies continuing weakness in the regime.

Afghanistan-US: Political Deputy of the Afghan Foreign Ministry, Jawid Ludin, on Saturday said the government would agree to the transfer by the US of Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo to Qatar to reunite with their families.

Comment: Such a transfer is one of the Taliban's conditions for talks. The concurrence of the Afghanistan government eliminates one potential obstacle, but the US has made no final decision on the transfer issue.

The Taliban leadership says that the purpose of talks is to recover prisoners, but is evasive about what it will offer in return. The US hope is that the start of the process of talks will lead to substantive results. The Taliban strategy is to gain concessions and drag out talks.

Afghanistan-France: On 20 January an Afghan army soldier, now described as a Taliban infiltrator, shot and killed four French soldiers who were engaged in training Afghan forces in Kapisa Province in east central Afghanistan.

French President Sarkozy said that France was "immediately" stopping "training and joint combat operations," adding that "the French Army is not in Afghanistan for Afghan soldiers to shoot at them." Sarkozy warned that if security conditions "are not...safe, France will immediately draw all the necessary consequences" and said he would raise with Karzai the option of leaving before the current deadline of "2014 at the latest.

Foreign Minister Juppe also raised the possibility of "the acceleration of a complete withdrawal," stressing that it was "not the first time that an Afghan soldier had murdered French soldiers," referring to the killing of two French soldiers on 29 December 2011

Comment: When the Taliban leadership left Afghanistan for Quetta, Pakistan in 2001, it triaged its fighters into those that would remain behind and continue to fight; those that would infiltrate and subvert the government; and the leadership group that would flee. The goal was to outwait the foreign invaders while slowly bleeding them.

The attack on the French forces and a slowly increasing number of such attacks on NATO personnel signifies the 2001 strategy remains operative and dangerous. In the push to expand the Afghan security forces, the vetting process for recruits has been and remains a significant weakness in the NATO operation. France has about 3,500 troops in Afghanistan.

Iraq: For the record. Iraqi security forces on the orders of Prime Minister al Maliki arrested or issued arrest warrants for Sunni Arab politicians and activists in Diyala Governate on 20 January. Diyala is predominantly Sunni and seeks regional autonomy, similar to that enjoyed by the Kurds. Al Maliki and the Shiite Arab leaders oppose "federalizing" Iraq. Expect more arrests.

Egypt: Egyptian authorities confirmed Saturday that a political coalition dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood had won 228 seats --about 45.7 percent of the 498 seats in the Egyptian parliament. An alliance of ultraconservative Islamists, known as Salafists, won 123 seats of about 25% of the total, making it the second largest faction.

Comment: Islamist parties have gained more than 70 per cent of seats, which gives them the authority to draft a constitution that converts Egypt into an Islamist state. The Brotherhood and the Salafists disagree on the pace of the transformation, but not the end state.

US: For the record. Declaring "war" on the United States, a militant Palestinian faction -- Ma'sadat al-Mujahidin -- claimed responsibility for a 19 January forest fire near Reno, Nevada. The group threatened more action and set a 3-month deadline for the "enemies of Islam" to "disavow" Israel's control of contested lands and its "actions against our Muslim brothers."

Comment: Palestinians have threatened attacks inside the US, but the few details suggest American activists started this fire, if it proves to be arson. The group's bravado exceeds its demonstrated capabilities.

End of NightWatch for 22 January.

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