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NightWatch 20100223


For the Night of 23 February 2010

North Korea-South Korea-China: For the record. Kim Yong il, the Premier of North Korea and reputed head of the Workers' Party International Department, arrived in Beijing from Pyongyang, The Associated Press reported 23 February. Officials of the Chinese Communist Party's International Department welcomed him at Beijing Capital International Airport.

Wi So'ng-rak, South Korea's top negotiator to six-nation talks on ending North Korea's nuclear program, left for China on 23 February for talks with Chinese officials on ways to bring Pyongyang back to the negotiations, according to a report in Yonhap.

The travel suggests movement towards resuming talks. Kim Yong il also might be making arrangements for a rumored visit to Beijing by Kim Chong-il.

North Korea-South Africa: South Africa told a U.N. Security Council committee it intercepted a North Korean weapons shipment bound for Central Africa, Reuters reported today. The seizure took place last November, when South African authorities received information that a ship headed for Congo Republic was carrying containers with suspicious cargo, according to a letter to the Security Council's North Korea sanctions committee. South Africa intercepted the vessel and seized the containers, which held tank parts. Documentation for the containers described the cargo as "spare parts of bulldozer."

This shipment was seized two to three weeks before Thailand's seizure of an aircraft carrying 40 tons of military supplies from North Korea apparently to Iran. The fourth quarter last years was a bad one for North Korean arms exports. Two seizures in two months is unusual.

Afghanistan: Special note. Lessons from the PBS show, Frontline, titled Behind Taliban Lines.

The first-hand video by Najibullah Quraishi is worth viewing on the PBS home page where it was posted today. Quraishi accepted an invitation by a Hizbe Islami Gulbuddin (HIG) commander to live with a HIG anti-government fighting unit in Baghlan Province. Until the arrival of two men from Pakistan on his tenth day, he had unrestricted permission to video record the fighters.

During his ten days with the fighters, they attacked once. Their primary task was to detonate two homemade bombs on an improved road and destroy "enemy" vehicles.

A few points are worth noting.

Identification of the force. First, this video is the first open source medium to identify the affiliation of the fighters in Baghlan Province, a northern province south of Konduz that has experienced a rise in fighting in the past two years. They are not Taliban, but they are Pashtuns. They called themselves the Central Group, in the sense of the leadership or coordinating group, though no significant coordination with other groups took place in the ten days.

Leadership. The video confirmed that the Central Group is led by a local man and at least some of its members were locals. They were protected or given refuge by villagers who formed for the camera at least a part time militia that claim to support the Central Group.

Walk to work. It also showed that the men walk to their attack sites, sometimes six to ten kilometers. Vehicles in this video were for courier duties or for travel to meetings, to get guns and so on. The HIG are bureaucratic and decentralized.

Communications. The video illustrated the importance of cell phones for coordination and communicating targeting information. One informant who relayed targeting information was a child who apparently spies on US vehicle movements and reports them to a central figure who relayed the information to the cell commander. Cell phones are an enabling technology that makes banditry and thuggery look like jihad.

A living system. The Central Group lives in a living system and survives on subsystems that process information, matter and energy, as do all living systems. The video captured the systemic nature of an Afghan fighting unit perfectly. It is a parasite on village life, but the villagers do not seem to mind because the parasites preach jihad.

Homemade Bombmaking. The scenes on bomb construction were classic. Six men were involved in making two homemade bombs from old ordnance. One filled the shell and tamped the powder around the fuse. Another poured powder using his hand. A third taped the device closed. A fourth used his teeth to strip the wire to attach the remote control device. Another man made the remote control device - he was one of two with more or less expert knowledge. A different man encoded the detonator - the second man with expert knowledge.

Morale. The fighting cell was instructed and encouraged by a man who acted as the chaplain. The attempt to detonate homemade bombs was close to a comedy routine. It failed but the men reported great success to their overall commander. The Central Group members were brave, however, just to attempt the roadside bombing with almost no cover. Some might call this foolish.

Force Size and Periodicity of Attacks. The overall commander claimed to control 3-4,000 fighters, a significant force, but the video never captured more than 30 - 40 men and usually no more than 15. These data tend to confirm the rule of thumb of old hands that any Afghan numbers must be divided by 100 to get a reasonable estimate. A periodicity of ten days between attacks is sustainable by a force of 40 men.

Tactical Combat Radius. While US and other NATO forces patrol every day, most of the time between attacks the Central Group relocated within a rather limited region, possibly only ten kilometers across; did some teaching and backed up various imams in local dispute settlement.

The limited combat radius of the Central Group was confirmed when Quraishi recorded the attack on the local police headquarters some days after he left the Central Group. That attack suggested the periodicity of attacks by this group was probably closer to 15 days. The Central Group is territorial and its territory is rather limited, probably by the size of the villages that support and hide it.

It is roughly comparable to a market area in which the fighting group goes to the fringe of the area to do business.

Targeting. The video of the "overrun" police station confirmed that the Afghan police practice is to remain in the station house until summoned. They respond to crime; they do not have doctrine that prescribes preventing crime by patrolling. That makes the 8 policemen sitting ducks for an attack by 30 -40 members of the Central Group. All eight were killed in an attack after Quraishi departed.

Central Group is tactically inept, but can manage to overrun an outnumbered police contingent trained in all the wrong things and poorly armed and led. Even villagers knew where they were and actually disrupted the bombing for a time by walking in the way.

Comments: The Central Group essentially looked parasites who justified their burden on the village by using the word jihad. In fact there was not much evidence of jihad and more than a little indolence. That is not to deny the Group's bravery, armed so lightly and so poorly trained.

It is interesting to note they performed very poorly against higher technology targets. Against more or less symmetrical targets - local Afghan policemen -- in a direct fire attack with better guns and overwhelming force, they did better, as they should. In southern and eastern Afghanistan, the pattern would be much different.

They said they were attacking the main northern supply route, but the road they tried to mine was not that road, but some access road to a forward post. They regularly exaggerated the importance of their targets and their results. Theirs were low risk operations, a point actually made by the man on the other end of the cell phone when the roadside bombing attack failed.

The Afghan police officer in charge told Quraishi at one point that there was no problem in his area. Quraishi's coverage of that exchange implied that the police knew little about the real situation. That is probably an egregious distortion. Local police usually have arrangements with any local anti-government element and know as much about the region as the anti-government men do. Even the local villagers and children knew about the HIG unit. Afghan police are corrupt, not stupid.

The police officer had the good sense to appreciate the significance of his remarks being recorded. In contrast, the Central Group had to be admonished by two men from Pakistan before kicking Quraishi out.

In all, the video provided an excellent insight into the nature of the fighting below the District level.

Konduz Province Update. Some Afghan Taliban are fighting against their commander and his associates who recently defected to the government, the Afghan Islamic Press reported today. District Governor Abdolwahed Omarkhel, of Char Dara District, said the Taliban have begun attacking Sayed Morad and his men. Morad and 25 armed men joined the government 22 February. Omarkhel said, and the Taliban began fighting against them the next day.

Last week NightWatch presented a lecture on the evolution of fighting in Char Dara District, Konduz Province since 2007. The German Army, which is responsible for Konduz Province, estimated there were 300 Taliban in Char Dara in five groups of 60 or so.

The NW examination of the fighting pattern and periodicity of attacks in January led to the conclusion that there were three groups of 30 men. Today's report supports the NW estimate of group size. Second, it indicates only two groups remain.

Afghanistan-NATO: Defense Secretary Robert Gates said yesterday that NATO countries have under-funded their defense budgets since the Cold War, which is having a direct impact on shared security goals, Reuters reported. Gates said the NATO mission in Afghanistan is suffering because too few helicopters, cargo aircraft, aerial refueling tankers and surveillance aircraft are in the field. He also accused politicians and the public in European countries of trending toward being "averse to military force and the risks that go with it."

Public shaming about not wanting to have sons die in combat is more likely to erode public support for the Afghan mission in Europe than to persuade European electorates to change their views. Gates knows that, so he must calculate nothing is lost by humiliating alliance partners.

The NATO mission is suffering from a lack of popular support in that elected leaders are making choices against the will of the electorate. In the Netherlands, the leadership paid the price. Others will follow. Most Europeans see no threat to them arising from Afghanistan that justifies providing the equipment, budget and manpower the mission requires.

Iran: Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar said Abdolmalek Rigi, leader of the armed opposition group Jundullah was arrested outside Iran and transferred to the country, IRNA reported 23 February. The minister said Rigi was an "agent of foreign countries and operated their plans and conspiracies," adding that Rigi was arrested during an operation with the cooperation of military, security and Iranian Information Ministry forces.

The Iranian claims about Rigi are probably accurate. Jundullah operated in far southeastern Iran in Sistan Baluchistan Province, but used Pakistan's Baluchistan Province as its safe haven. Pakistan probably assisted in Rigi's apparent kidnapping and rendition to Iran. This might be Iran's reply to Israel's assassination of a top Hamas leader in Dubai.

Turkey: Update. Four active-duty admirals were among dozens of senior Turkish defense figures detained for an alleged coup plot, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported. Main opposition leader Deniz Baykal of the Republican People's Party questioned why such an operation was mounted over allegations going back seven years and said the process was an obvious example of political score-settling. Nationalist opposition leader Devlet Bahceli of the Nationalist Action Party called for early elections and said the government was acting with hatred.

The Turkish military held a top-level meeting 23 February to discuss what it called a "serious" situation after dozens of senior defense figures were arrested for an alleged coup plot, AFP reported. All Turkey's top generals and admirals met to evaluate the situation, the BBC reported. Forty senior figures were arrested.

The timing of the renewed government action against the military coincides with another initiative by the judiciary to have the ruling Justice and Development Party outlawed and disbanded for violating the constitutional requirement for a secular state. The military, judiciary and parts of the professional bureaucracy are the last bastions of Ataturk's secular philosophy of government.

The government is planning a constitutional referendum to undermine the judiciary, whereas it is just rounding up suspected oppositionists among the senior military leadership. This must result in a test of strength before long.

Ukraine-NATO: President-elect Yanukovych said that Ukraine simply would not join NATO. Today

the Foreign Ministry offered to stop until 2012 discussions about speeding up Ukrainian entry into NATO, Tass reported, citing Deputy Foreign Minister Valery Chaly. At round-table discussions, Chaly said "no revolutionary steps" should be made with the advent of President-elect Viktor Yanukovych's coming to power.

This is the grand political victory that eluded then-President Putin three years ago in his efforts to stop NATO's eastward expansion into the Russian sphere of influence, as the Russians call it. Georgia was first his first success, but required the use of force. NW warned that Ukraine would be next, using guile, subversion and the election process. This is a political disaster for the NATO expansionists.

After inauguration on 25 February, Yanukovych's first trip on 1 March will be to Europe, not Russia, in recognition of Ukraine's need to look west to Europe to build economic prosperity. That part of the Orange Revolution will continue. The tight Russian linkage centers on Ukraine's security policy. Putin knows he won this round.

Secretary of State Clinton said while Russia faces challenges to its security, NATO is not among them, RIA Novosti reported. She disagreed with Russia's new military doctrine that lists NATO's eastward expansion as a threat to the country's security. Clinton said she wants "a cooperative NATO-Russia relationship" that produces concrete results and draws NATO and Russia closer together. She made the statement at an international seminar on NATO's mission for the 21st Century.

Netherlands: Update. Queen Beatrix ordered elections on 9 June pursuant to the collapse of the coalition government over Afghanistan policy, Reuters reported. She said a caretaker government will serve until the election. New ministers were appointed, including Jan Kees de Jager as finance minister, who succeeds Wouter Bos. Bos had withdrawn his Labor Party from government

Niger: Update. The junta that staged a coup in Niger last week named its leader, Major Salou Djibo, transitional president yesterday, AFP reported. Djibo, who heads the Supreme Council for Restoration of Democracy, will be the head of state and government during the transitional period, whose duration was not specified.

The junta also named Mahmadou Danda as the prime minister in a transitional government, Reuters reported, citing a statement read on Nigerien state television. Danda was information minister in the transitional government after Niger's last coup in 1999.

The junta will also appoint a government to work with Danda. They promised to create a governmental body that will draw up new electoral laws and a draft constitution that will be adopted by popular vote.

This is a study in democracy.

Public Service Notice: Flights in France are expected to be disrupted severely this week as flight controllers began a four-day strike to protest the planned fusion of French air traffic control services with those of five other countries, DPA reported. Airport authorities said they expected half of the flights originating at Orly Airport, south of Paris, as well as a quarter of scheduled flights from Charles de Gaulle. Cancellations are expected to affect only short- and medium-haul flights.

End of NightWatch for 23 February.

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