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NightWatch 20100620


For the Night of 21 June 2010

Afghanistan: Comment: NightWatch's reading of the just released UN report is different from the mainstream media coverage. Two paragraphs of the 17 page update deal with security and they received most of the news coverage. Violence was up in early 2010 and the UN attributed it correctly to the increase in US operation in Helmand and supporting NATO operations in Kandahar. The late winter surge in fighting was Coalition-initiated and contrary to the seasonal winter lull. In May, Taliban announced their spring/summer offensive, which is a seasonal effect.

The New York Times story pretty much repeated the two paragraphs on security, but in a way that suggested there was more to the story. There is not: lots of violence and lots of IEDs. The US command has made that point.

One news account said that only five of 80 key districts are "sympathetic" to the central government, according to the US command. None are described as loyal, which is probably a semi-permanent condition. Without a baseline for loyal districts dating from the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, it is impossible to credit the assertion as significant. It is not wrong, it just lacks context.

What is missing is commentary on the geographic distribution of attacks. NightWatch has continued to monitor and document the daily fighting as reported in open sources. There is no significant change. The Taliban have not broken out of the Pashtun communities and the government has made no inroads in building support among Pashtuns. Geographically and ethnically, there are no winners and no losers.

In an essentially pre-modern economy, Kabul is where legitimate business is conducted with the outside world. This is a role it has performed for several centuries, through strong and weak central governments. Provincial and district leaders, who need to deal formally with the outside world, must deal with Kabul, the primary, single point of legal contact. Dealing with Kabul is not the same as supporting or sympathizing with it. The idea of supporters and sympathizers is Western and not really relevant to Afghanistan. Loyalty is not a zero sum game in Asia.

Internal instability, however, always is centripetal. Since the Pashtuns are not fighting to secede, they must capture Kabul if they hope to return to government for all Afghanistan. Otherwise they fail, remaining a chronic, but not terminal, security problem. At this point, they are unable to capture Kabul or to hold territory against NATO. The scale of violence has increased but control of the land has not changed much, based on open source reporting.

The big stories in the report are the peace jirga and corruption. No new ground in either.

Israel-Lebanon: For the record. The Israeli navy is on high alert for two ships that may sail from Lebanon in an attempt to break the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, The Jerusalem Post reported 20 June, citing an Israeli military source. The source said Israel is monitoring the status of the ships, which are reportedly carrying women and medical supplies and have not yet departed from Lebanon.

Defense officials said the navy will operate under the assumption that militants or provocateurs are aboard the ships, and will take extra precautions if it needs to stop them. If the ships sail from Lebanon, another incident at sea is unavoidable.

Israel-Gaza Strip: Israel announced new procedures 20 June to ease the blockade of the Gaza Strip, Reuters reported, citing a statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office.

Israel will publish a new list of banned items such as weapons and materials that can be used to construct them, but all other goods will be allowed to enter Gaza. Netanyahu announced the plan with Quartet Middle East envoy Tony Blair.

Under the plan, Israel will allow construction material to enter Gaza for projects, including schools, sanitation, water and health facilities approved by the Palestinian Authority and supervised by international organizations. Israel will reserve the right to ban "dual use" construction materials that could be used to build weapons, and will increase operations at border crossings to allow more goods into Gaza. The statement also said Israel will consider opening more crossings if calm persists on the Israel-Gaza border.

Typically, and boringly predictably, HAMAS rejected the Israeli action, promising that more rocket attacks against Israel are inevitable. Hmmm…The increased flow of goods will arrive in the Gaza Strip, despite the political strutting by HAMAS.

The interesting propaganda reversal is that Israel's decision to allow more goods to enter the Gaza Strip is being requited with threats of more rocket attacks. This is an insane situation that makes the Palestinians in Gaza look foolish. Despite remarks by US officials last week, this situation is quite sustainable.

End of NightWatch for 20 June.

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