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NightWatch 20091124


For the Night of 24 November 2009

China: A Brilliant and attentive Reader highlighted the Chinese navy's current trans-Pacific voyage to Ecuador, Peru and Chile and French Polynesia, which began on 18 October. The 36-day trip is old fashioned naval diplomacy. Chinese naval ships have made two prior visits to ports in South America, in 1997 and 2002.

In summary, the Chinese are following in the wake of the USN's Great White Fleet, Chinese-style. The 2002 voyage circumnavigated the planet. The Chinese use fewer ships - one or two -- and take less time on these show-the-flag voyages, at most a little over a month. But the political point is the same - the port calls demonstrate that China has interests in the states visited and is prepared to protect them. Peru, for example, has more resident overseas Chinese than any other South American country. It has been visited all three times.

Philippines: For the record. The government in Manila declared a state of emergency in two southern provinces a day after at least 24 people were killed in election-related violence, Reuters reported 24 November. President Arroyo declared an indefinite emergency in the provinces of Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat and in Cotabato City to prevent and suppress the occurrence of other incidents of lawless violence.

The government fired the Maguindanao provincial police chief and sent hundreds of extra troops to the region. This was the worst election-related violence in the country. Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said investigations would be completed within a couple of days and arrests made. He added that information includes specific names not just of those who ordered the violence, but also those who committed it.

The news services have not indicated whether this is the usual Christian-Muslim dispute. Apparently the massacre involved rival Christian political factions, but that is not yet clear. Regardless, in some countries, democracy never seems to become part of the national political culture without distortion, despite decades of experience with voting.

India-US: Comment. It is important for the US to maintain balance in its dealings in Asia. It is arguably more important for the US to make a statement of principle about free markets, entrepreneurial capitalism and freely elected representative government. Prime Minister Singh's dinner tonight is the first state dinner of the Obama administration. The two leaders have met at least twice, talked and apparently got along.

For old hands, this dinner is an extraordinary event against the dim light and bitterness during the Cold War when the two greatest and largest democracies on Earth were hostile. It is good news.

The visit showcases the US tilt towards democracy, in the NightWatch interpretation, recognizing the extensive economic and political baggage that comes with such a tilt. Even with the baggage of arms sales and other economic linkages, it is more satisfying than siding with communist statism masquerading as democracy or militarism doing the same thing. Plus, the Indians seem to appreciate the limits of the US "tilt" and have limits of their own.

India-Pakistan: India's Chief of Army Staff, General Deepak Kapoor, told ZeeNews that about 2,500 Pakistani militants are prepared to cross the country's border into India before snow closes the passes for the winter. Kapoor said India believes there are 42 militant training camps in Pakistan, and said Indian security forces are prepared to deal with any attempt to infiltrate the country.

Comment. Kapoor's statement might accurately reflect a threat assessment from an Indian intelligence agency, but more likely reflects the number of militants in camps, including those preparing to infiltrate. The dissident infrastructure in Indian Kashmir does not seem capable of supporting more than 1,000 militant fighters are any one time, which is the upper limit of Kashmiri insurgent strength, according to public releases by Indian authorities earlier in the year.

The almost humorous dimension of the statement is that it coincides with the Prime Minister's visit to the US during which he was to press the need for Pakistan to control the Kashmir border as well as the Afghan border. In the event the Prime Minister required more support, his Chief of Army Staff obliged. Good show, what.

Pakistan: For the record. A senior security force commander, Major General Tariq Khan, Inspector General of the Frontier Corps, said that South Waziristan agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas will be divided into two separate agencies - one each for the Mehsud and Wazir tribes - bringing the number of FATA agencies to eight, Aaj TV reported Nov. 24.

Pakistan-NATO: NATO's recent withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan from near the Pakistani border is harming the U.S. approach that had sought to have militants face both NATO and Pakistani troops, The Times reported today, citing Pakistan Army commanders.

Militants are returning to Pakistan to fight in South Waziristan, unidentified sources said. Pakistan's concerns were raised with U.S. National Security Adviser General (ret.) Jones during his November visit to Islamabad.

International Security Assistance Force troops reported withdrawal from six outposts bordering Pakistan's Waziristan -- four in Nurestan and two in Paktika Province, Afghanistan. Actually, Afghanistan's Paktika Province is adjacent to South Waziristan. The Pakistan government also is concerned an increase in U.S. troops in southern Afghanistan without a clear strategy could destabilize Baluchistan, with an increase in refugees.

Comment. Pakistani authorities have consistently decried the removal of NATO forces from key border posts during Pakistan's South Waziristan operations that began on 18 October. It is difficult to evaluate the Pakistani complaint because the reports on fighting in eastern Afghanistan and in South Waziristan of Pakistan provide no proof that fighters have moved across the border in any direction or in any numbers during the past month.

That finding is one of the more important. The Afghan Taliban apparently are not so connected to the Pakistani Taliban that they provide support to the Pashtun Wazirs who are under Pakistan Army pressure in South Waziristan. Despite Pakistani fears and claims, no public source information indicates the Afghan Taliban have rallied to support the Pakistani Taliban. The Afghans do not consider them comrades in a common fight and do not really like them for many reasons, including they divert financial support from Middle Eastern donors away from the anti-NATO fight in Afghanistan.

The foregoing observations put the lie to the notion of a monolithic Islamic threat that unifies the Afghanistan - Pakistan fighting. There is no AF-Pak problem, but separate and occasionally connected Afghanistan and a Pakistan problem. One solution does not fit both.

During the Pakistan Army operations, the Afghan Taliban have stayed out of the way and have not been attacked in any Pakistan province. A suspicious person might suspect a deal had been reached between the Pakistan Army and the Afghan Taliban leadership shura in Quetta, Baluchistan Province.

The obvious lack of unity among the opposition groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan is tonight's good news and very good news for our and Pakistani tactical commanders.

Russia-Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO): The Afghan Taliban could try to establish a foothold in Central Asia, Reuters reported today, citing regional security officials.

Mikhail Melikhov, a senior official at the Collective Security Treaty Organization, told a conference in Kyrgyzstan that the situation in northern Afghanistan has made it easier for militants to infiltrate Central Asian states. Marat Imankulov, assistant director of the Commonwealth of Independent States antiterrorism center, said Taliban leaders are interested in the "Afghanization" of areas like Kyrgyzstan, the news agency reported.

The significance of these statements does not lie in the accuracy of their alarmist threat forecast. Rather, it lies in the commitment of Central Asian governments, with Russian backing, that the so-called Taliban will be prevented from spreading into Central Asian states as some form of unified, regional movement.

All the states have internal Islamist opposition groups, but they tend to be localized and isolated, with the notable exception of the Uzbek movements. The statements indicate the governments are committed to ensuring opposition movements develop at most limited outside linkages and that whatever happens in Afghanistan has no spillover effects in Central Asia, including American-style success. Uzbekistan will need outside help, which the Russians are providing thus far.

Iran: An attentive and brilliant Reader wondered about the Iranian air defense exercises that have received so much press coverage.

As background, readers should recall that Iran launched a five-day, nationwide air-defense exercise on 22 November, apparently flexing its military might in reaction to Western pressure over its nuclear program, and threatening retaliation against Israel were it to attack Iran.

Brigadier General Ahmad Mighani, in charge of Iranian air defense, said the exercise was being conducted with both conventional armed forces and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, across a swath of northern, southern and western Iran. Announcing the exercise on Saturday, Brigadier Mighani said it was targeted at preventing attacks on Iran's nuclear infrastructure.

Comment. The usual press commentators tied the exercise to Iran's rejection of the latest proposal for settling the nuclear-energy deal. That deal called for Iran to ship the bulk of its low-enriched uranium to Russia for enrichment as fuel for nuclear power plants and then returned to Iran.

A better analysis that helps explains the timing of the exercise is that it is a response to the US-Israeli air defense exercise a month ago which was announced as defending against an Iranian attack on Israel. It takes time to prepare a nation wide exercise. The press corps strains in its effort to tie a complicated and significant military activity to yesterday's news events.

Even small exercises in a single military region take time to prepare, are scheduled within an annual training budgetary cycle and are difficult to manipulate to back political events not forecast a year in advance when the training budget is prepared.

Still the Iranian propaganda outlets will cite such an exercise as a politically motivated show of force. That is what they do for a living but does not make it so. Timing as to the start of an exercise can be adjusted and manipulated, but only after the assembly of men and weapons are completed. It's an important lesson that usually escapes novice reporters.

The STRATFOR analysis of this exercise is pretty much on the mark as to its military significance, which is slight. For example, it is not clear that Iran can operate an automatic integrated air defense system in the three areas announced. Without such a system, the Iranians must rely on low tech to defeat hi-tech systems attacking their nuclear sites. Possibly doable, but not effective in preventing strategic damage to nuclear sites above ground.

The media coverage suggests the exercise is being exploited to reassure the Iranian population more than to test defense capabilities against a real raid by modern weapons systems. Without the Russian S-300 air defense system in an integrated network that the Iranians are actually capable of managing, the Iranians could not protect their known nuclear sites, according to most experts. The key word is "known". Iran might retain a powerful second strike capability from facilities not known.

An Israeli attack or an Israeli-with-US-backing attack also must knock out missile systems, which adds to the complexity of the attack solution. Mind, it does not make it impossible, just more complex.

As for US involvement, the US must be involved in any Israeli attack because Israel cannot survive an Iranian counterattack without US aid and the US must prepare for attacks by Iranian agents on every continent and directly against US interests in Iraq, the Gulf States, Afghanistan and Pakistan and elsewhere. US property and interests and US persons will be targeted wherever Iran has agents and the Qods Force has presence, including Europe, West and North Africa and South and Central America.

Iran-Yemen: Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said the Yemen conflict worries the Arab and Muslim world and Tehran advises all parties to exercise self-restraint while trying to resolve the issue through dialogue, Press TV reported Nov. 24. He said the fighting harms the interests of Islam and that some powers will benefit from conflicts in the region because they are hostile toward Muslims. Mehmanparast said those parties benefiting from the Yemeni conflict are trying to create division between Muslims and divert attention away from major issues

Yemen: The Yemeni navy captured a vessel carrying weapons in its territorial waters along the Red Sea coast, Xinhua reported 24 November. Security officials said the weapons are believed to be from Somalia.

The vessel, which sailed from the Somali coastal area of Hais, was captured along with its crew of 12, Yemen's Interior Ministry said on its Web site. The ministry said a large amount of arms were confiscated but did not say what kinds of weapons were found or where the boat was going. The vessel was disguised as a fishing boat.

The temptation is to look for Iranian involvement. Somalia manufactures no weapons. The al Huthi rebels in Yemen rely on Shiite connections to support their rebellion. Only Iran has the finances and other capabilities to support proxies along the Red Sea. Eritrea and Somalia are simply transit points.

End of NightWatch for 24 November.

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