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NightWatch 20101005


For the Night of 5 October 2010

Japan-China: For the record. The Japanese government announced today that the latest maritime confrontation with China has ended.

Comment: The significance of the statement is that tension has eased. It is worth noting that the Chinese have made no comparable statement. The easing of tension does not signify a resolution of the ownership dispute. It does mean that most bilateral exchanges are returning to normal.

Japan appears chastened by the confrontation over the Senkakus. It has begun seeking alternatives to China for key materials and is considering stationing soldiers on Japanese islands that the Chinese might be tempted to claim. It has not abandoned any of its claims.

In announcing the end of the confrontation, Japan looks more modern and more statesmanlike than China.

North Korea: South Korean National Defense Minister Kim Tae young said that North Korea is building two new rectangular buildings next to the demolished cooling tower of the Yongbyon nuclear facility but their function is yet unknown. Activities at Yongbyon include excavation.

The South Korean based his information on data from the Institute for Science and International Security, a U.S. security think tank.

Comment: The Yongbyon facility contains technology that is decades past its useful life under safe conditions. The search for new nuclear activity needs to focus on other locations to determine whether they have been reactivated. Anything built at Yongbyon is intended to be detected.

Pakistan: On 5 October another NATO oil tanker parked near the Afghan border in Pakistan's Khyber tribal region was damaged by a small bomb blast, marking the fifth day of such attacks. The tanker was parked near more than 100 other trucks waiting to cross into Afghanistan, a local official said. After the attack, oil started leaking from the damaged tanker and authorities moved the other trucks to prevent a fire, the official stated.

The NATO supply suspension through Torkham in Pakistan's Khyber District continued for a sixth day with 200 tankers and containers queued at the border, Geo News reported.

Correction: The cross-border attack on 30 September that resulted in the suspension of NATO supply convoys was not by an armed drone, but by manned NATO helicopters. That attack killed three Pakistani Frontier Corps soldiers. Today, NATO apologized for the attack.

Late update: During this Watch, gunmen burned 20 more tanker trucks near Torkham.

Iraq: The Sadr movement has given Prime Minister al-Maliki until 15 October to persuade other political blocs to nominate him as prime minister, Asharq Al-Awsat reported. The bloc of Muqtada al-Sadr allegedly told the State of Law (SoL) coalition's candidate and current prime minister that if the deadline was not met, the National Alliance would reconvene to establish a mechanism for nomination.

Comment: Sadr is no fan of al Maliki, but moved to support him in the interest of Shiite unity. Sadr's support apparently carries conditions. A second term for al Maliki is far from certain.

One reason for doubt is that Iraqi Vice President and Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) senior member Adel Abdel Mahdi reaffirmed the ISCI's opposition to the nomination of al-Maliki for the post of prime minister. This group consistently has opposed al Maliki. Its leadership claims it has not bolted the National Alliance but insists it will not support al Maliki.

The Shiites have reverted to form - fractious and unable to reach agreement. This jeopardizes Iranian interest in a stable and reliable ally in Baghdad to protect the western borders, among other interests.

A government under Allawi and the Sunnis would be less representative but vastly more pro-western than a second al Maliki government beholden to the Iranians.

Uganda-Somalia: Uganda can raise the 20,000 troops the African Union says it needs to defeat Somali rebels and return the country to calm, according to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

Uganda's African tradition and culture drive it to aid Somalia, he said, speaking to members of the European Security Committee. He added that a collection of African armies will not work; capable armies are needed. Museveni said the solution to piracy lies in fighting on land, not by sea, as EU navies have been doing for almost two years. "The problem originates from the hinterland," he said.

Comment: Assuming Museveni delivers as promised, it would constitute Uganda's revenge for the World Cup bombings on 12 July by al Shabaab. Two divisions of Ugandan soldiers could make a significant difference in the security situation around Mogadishu, provided they were well supplied.

Ecuador: Update. The Correa government will raise wages for the armed forces, according to Defense Minister Javier Ponce. Ponce said it was a coincidence that the wage increase happened just two days after an assault on President Rafael Correa over cuts in benefits for police and armed forces.

President Correa issued a decree on 5 October extending the state of alert until 8 October. Army units will continue to patrol the streets of Quito until then.

Note: Apparently the police are not included in the large state award for the armed forces for their rescue of Correa.

End of NightWatch for 5 October.

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