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NightWatch 20100427


For the Night of 27 April 2010

North Korea: The JoongAng Daily reported 27 April that, according to a high-ranking source, North Korea's military recently decided to do away with the so-called "Five-to-Seven" military plans dating from the 1980s to adopt a new plan, In the new plan, North Korea would try to occupy Seoul early, the source explained, adding that Seoul believes North Korea made the change to better deal with the upgraded weapons systems of the U.S. and South Korean forces.

South Korean commanders will meet next month to discuss the change and their response to it.

Comment: Among intelligence warning specialists, this is called the Sadat Gambit. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat started the 1973 War with Israel to win the peace, not the war. The result of that is that Egypt is second only to Israel as a recipient of US military assistance of all kinds.

Old hands who worked the North Korean warning of war problem will recall that a bid to take Seoul only, while serious, always was factored into warning estimates and was considered a lesser and included intermediate stage of a war for control of the peninsula. If the North stopped or could be stopped at Seoul, the North would lose the war.

For the US, a North Korean halt at Seoul would allow time for a massive and country-breaking three-dimensional, non-stop counterattack against the North. The South Koreans never accepted this reasoning and always required a strong forward defense of Seoul in the short distance between it and the Demilitarized Zone. The UN Command long ago made provision for defending Seoul from this kind of attack, but that does not mean that improvements are unnecessary.

Note to non-warning analysts: The problem with the Sadat Gambit is that the attacker does not control the end game. It is a form of limited war in which the attacker can never be sure the other side will not counterattack, envelope the attacking forces and press the counterattack to its fullest. It is a high risk use of military force to achieve a political breakthrough after the shooting stops.

Sadat gambled correctly that international intervention would bring about a ceasefire which he leveraged to rebuild Egypt and make peace with Israel. His calculation would have been disastrous had Israel retained the capability and the will to counterattack.

On the Golan Front, Syria almost lost everything. After making initial gains, the Syrian Army failed to capture the Golan Heights owing to a heroic defense by the Golani Brigade and the Paracommandos. Once reinforcements arrived, the IDF defeated the Syrian Army and had a down-hill, unobstructed drive all the way to Damascus.

Pakistan repeatedly has used a more limited and less risky form of the same gambit to grab Indian territory just across the border while waiting for international intervention to stop the fighting. In two general wars with India, the Pakistanis executed such operations to create negotiating leverage while avoiding head-on fighting and certain destruction by the much larger and more capable Indian Army.

On the other hand, Indian strategists have deliberated the feasibility of limited war as away to avoid an escalation to an exchange of nuclear weapons with Pakistan that must occur in every future general war. The limited war plans always founder on the near certainty that Pakistan simply will not accept Indian terms for limited war and will shoot nuclear missiles at Indian cities.

As for North Korea, North Korean artillery, rockets and missiles already hold Seoul hostage, but that threat only works before the shooting starts. It is not clear that North Korean forces have the logistics, transport and sustainment capability to capture and hold a large city without first destroying it and all the approaches to it.

Consider, if the North attacks and the South holds, the South can use the same roads to head north in hot pursuit that the North used to head south. A North Korean victory in a limited war scenario after decades of malnutrition is far from likely.

The obvious riposte to this equally obvious propaganda ploy is for the UN Command to announce that once it appears that the North is making war preparations, the UN Command will attack on tactical warning and that the North's surrender will be unconditional.

On balance, without additional evidence, it is difficult to accept the Joongang Daily report at face value as a "new" North Korean strategy. North Korean leaders have proven time and again that they do not lightly risk the national patrimony. They fritter away resources on the fringes at low risk, but this strategy involves risking everything on a UN response that is far from certain without complex and redundant back channel communications between the warring sides.

China-Japan: Update. The Chinese ambassador to Japan, Cheng Yonghua, criticized Japan for following Chinese navy ships engaged in a military exercise after a Chinese helicopter approached Japanese destroyers, Kyodo reported 27 April. Cheng said Japanese ships following Chinese naval vessels was a betrayal of mutual trust, and China's naval drills are conducted in accordance with international rules.

Kyrgyzstan: An official of the interim government said ousted President Bakiyev has been charged with organizing a mass killing and abuse of power, The Associated Press reported 27 April. The purpose of the charges is to justify revoking Bakiyev's immunity as president and to support an official demand for his extradition from Belarus.

Afghanistan: Comment: Taliban and other anti-government organizations have increased attacks in and near Kandahar this month. Cumulatively, these look like a localized offensive in Kandahar that is aimed at making a forthcoming Coalition offensive as costly as possible.

The Taliban are not adaptive, they learn and there is an enormous difference. The ongoing Taliban offensive in Kandahar turns the US pre-offensive publicity against itself by persuading the Kandaharis that their safety depends on demonstrating against rejecting and resisting the US-led offensive. In other words, the perception management strategy that prompted most Taliban to leave Helmand Province before the Coalition attack appears to be having precisely the reverse effect in Kandahar. The Taliban learn and innovate, not adapt.

Somalia: Update. Today, al Shabaab denied it was heading toward the pirate zone of Harardhere, Shabeelle reported 27 April. Al Shabaab's spokesman said the group was close to Harardhere, but there were no plans to go to Harardhere District. He denied having "any kind of relations" with the pirates, stating that al Shabaab planned to capture the entire Galguduud region, currently controlled by rival Islamist group Ahlu Sunnah Waljamaah.

Venezuela: There is no evidence of an Iranian military presence in Venezuela, said the Commander of U.S. Southern Command, Reuters reported 27 April. The commanding general said there is a growing Iranian diplomatic and commercial engagement in Venezuela, however. He said he did not see his comments as a contradiction to an earlier Pentagon report. Fraser also said Venezuela poses no military threat to the United States.

Comment: It always is parlous to try to divine the political purposes behind American military public statements. They are supposed to be subject to approval by a higher headquarters and thus may be considered among the most politically charged of any official statements.

Today's is no exception because there is abundant evidence that Chavez has invited the IRGC to send advisors to Venezuela. The IRGC is a military organization by any definition.

Secondly, Venezuela is on the path to becoming a threat to US interests in the region, if not to the US itself. For example, were Venezuela to purchase advanced air defense missiles from Russia, which is interested in selling them, Venezuelan missiles would pose a general threat to all US air traffic, though not a specific threat. The purpose of the South Com statement is unclear.

Note to new analysts: NEVER use the language in any product, "there is no evidence." First of all, no one can know whether such a statement is true because of the limits of human experience. A single person possessing what she thinks is evidence confounds such a generalization.

Second, a single report that establishes a proposition more than before that report came to light constitutes evidence, according to George Mason University Law School Professor Dave Shum. See Shum's Evidence and Inference for the Intelligence Analyst. One report that makes one analyst change his mind about a proposition, such as the presence of Iranian military personnel in Venezuela, completely discredits the speaker of the now refuted generalization. See Descartes' famous quote about generalizations.

Statements that there is "no credible evidence" or that there is "no proof" are entirely more defensible than an assertion that "no evidence exists." Learn the difference between evidence and proof and the value of intelligence as evidence; protect your boss; and contact KGSNightWatch if you need help on these fundamentals of professional intelligence analysis.

End of NightWatch for 27 April.

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