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NightWatch 20100509


For the Night of 9 May 2010

North Korea-China: On Friday, 7 May, China and North Korean media outlets released statements about Kim Chong-il's unofficial visit to China from 3 to 7 May. Both statements were long and wordy, but disclosed little of substance. North Korea repeated that its commitment to denuclearization had not changed. The sound bite played well in the West, but actually the North simply told the Chinese it will continue its nuclear weapons program unless South Korea and the US disarm.

Comment: The statements do not disclose plainly the purposes or achievements of the visit, but the fact that both states announced its occurrence signifies an important accomplishment. The statements do not convey alarm about the security situation on the peninsula, though Kim's retinue included top military leaders, who are also longstanding comrades. It also included key diplomats.

One assessment by Korean old hands found the limited North Korean press treatment, especially the selection of events to cover, suggested a re-enactment of events associated with Kim's transition to leadership nearly three decades ago. This hypothesis theorizes that the main purpose of the trip was to prepare the Chinese for a leadership succession in North Korea. No media outlet has confirmed that Kim Jung-u, the heir apparent, accompanied his father.

Published images of Kim from Japanese media showed him to be aged, with splotchy off-color hair, thin, bordering on emaciated. The robust fat-jowled Kim of the past is history. News sources were contradictory as to whether the effects of his stroke last year were still apparent.

Thailand:  Over the weekend, the truce associated with settlement talks was disrupted by violent attacks. Two policemen  were were killed and several people were wounded in Bangkok, on 8 May, following several bombings and deaths on the 7th.

Prime Minister Abhisit said he will not stop looking for a peaceful solution to the political crisis, Reuters reported 9 May. Abhisit also said he wanted a reply from the "Red Shirt" anti-government protesters within a day or two regarding his proposal to hold an early election 14 November.

Abhisit said if all parties cooperate and refrain from violence, the election will happen; if not, it will not happen. Protest leaders welcomed Abhisit's proposal and said they would respond by 15 May. Abhisit said that was not soon enough.

Comment: Abhisit is walking the extra mile to avoid more violent clashes, but in doing so he continues to cede executive authority to the Red Shirts and makes a non-violent solution to the crisis even less likely. With every concession the Red Shirts think they are winning.

Abhisit's behavior indicates he thinks he cannot trust the security forces to execute his orders to evict the Red Shirts from central Bangkok. That reinforces the assessment that he is a weak leader who will not last much longer.

Pakistan-US: The Pakistani Taliban were behind the attempted bombing in New York's Times Square, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said 9 May, Reuters and other media reported. Speaking on ABC television's "This Week," Holder said there is evidence of the Pakistani Taliban's involvement but there was nothing to suggest the Pakistani government knew of the attempt. Holder said the administration is satisfied with the amount of cooperation the Pakistani government was giving in the investigation.

Comment: There is nearly always a living system supporting what appears to be a lone actor. The investigation is slowly uncovering the twenty subsystems that are always present and essential for the extrusion of a single bomb.

Readers might wonder what would prompt the Commander of US Central Command to describe the attacker as a "lone wolf" last Friday, before the investigation really got under way. The Commander's comments were porly timed.  More importantly, the Administration in Washington just told the world who is in charge.

Karachi incident. Airport security authorities arrested a man at an airport in Karachi on 9 May after batteries and an electrical circuit were discovered in his shoes. He carried no explosives on his person, but security personnel found four live batteries and a circuit with a switch to turn it off and on in the man's possession. He was scheduled to fly to the Omani capital, Muscat, on a Thai Airways flight, BBC reported.

Comment: This was a rehearsal. Every attempted bombing includes are least one dry run, including that of the Christmas bomber. The rehearsal is not a direct replication of the attack sequence. The rehearsal for the Christmas bomber involved a flight from Yemen to a Gulf state, Dubai. That tested the sensitivity of the security systems to detect the explosive and the detonation mechanism.

Several points are important. Karachi systems are set sufficiently sensitive to detect the test show circuit. Secondly, Muscat is not the target. This is the second or third time in less than a year that a test run was directed at a Gulf state airport. The real run will be at western Europe, the UK or most likely the US.

The master planners probably will now delay the actual attack for more work on the circuitry because the test circuit was detected. However, that means an attack is still on, just delayed. They will need to test another circuit but might not use Karachi.

Pakistan-US: The US will supply Pakistan with F-16 fighter jets, Lockheed P-3C surveillance aircraft, Cobra helicopters and an Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate by June for operations against militants in Pakistan's tribal areas, Iran's state-run Press TV reported 8 May. The report said U.S. officials assured their Pakistan counterparts during a bilateral security meeting that the military supplies would be forthcoming, and pledged to increase intelligence exchanges between their two countries.

Comment: No one in South Asia will believe this equipment is for counter-insurgency, especially no one in New Delhi. The scheduled deliveries are not news. Iran is just trying to stir up trouble, but the Indians are already discouraged that the US is arming Pakistan to fight India, as they see it.

Afghanistan: The Taliban threatened 8 May to launch a fresh offensive across Afghanistan starting 10 May, as President Hamid Karzai said international forces have yet to secure large parts of the country, Agence France-Presse reported.

The Taliban said the offensive will include assassinations of government officials, roadside bombs and suicide attacks against foreigners and those who support them. Defense Minister General Abdul Rahim Wardak quickly dismissed the threat as insurgent propaganda, adding that the Taliban do not have the ability to launch such attacks.

Comment: One BBC commentator described the Taliban statement as "part of a sophisticated propaganda campaign.…" Readers should tire of such blather. The Taliban already have begun to surge attacks in Kandahar. It is not propaganda.

In this they are buoyed by the American and Afghan failure to secure Marjah. It is just too insignificant for the Afghan government to waste its assets on. Old hands knew that about Marjah before the US attack. Its capture was not a centerpiece or a turning point. Whoever said it contained 80,000 people never looked at the satellite imagery.

It was pretty much a waste of time and energy, unless as part of a larger campaign to impose and sustain positive control of Helmand Province. The salient evidence that such a larger plan does not exist is the quick change of focus to Kandahar, a geographically, socially, economically and ethnically different target.

If the maneuver forces cannot stay and cannot be back filled with competent home defense forces, the result of a large scale offensive is no different from the many smaller scale operations in past years. NATO forces can win every battle, but still lose the war and the country.

On the outside looking in, the US command looks muddled. There simply are not enough forces to create a security environment in which nation-building has a chance. The single most important lesson of past counter insurgencies is that no farmer will plant a single seed unless he is confident he will live to see that seed bear fruit. The US and Afghan government cannot provide such a guarantee at this time, but the Taliban can.

Somalia piracy: For the record. Somali pirates armed with automatic guns and rocket-propelled grenades hijacked a chemical tanker off East Africa with 22 crew members on board, The Associated Press reported 8 May, citing the European Union Naval force. Spokesman Commander John Harbour said there is little chance that military forces can storm the ship since officials do not believe the crew of 19 Indians, 2 Bangladeshis and 1 Ukrainian all made it to a safe room before the pirates boarded.

Weather seems to have improved and piracy is increasing. The news services did not identify the port of origin of the pirates. It seems like it is well nigh time to destroy the pirate ships and craft in their harbors. This is not even hard, but the EU and others do not really seem interested in solving the problem so much as shoring up naval budgets.

End of NightWatch for 9 May.

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