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NightWatch 20101024


For the Night of 24 October 2010

South Korea-US: South Korea and the United States have canceled the planned joint naval exercise in the Yellow Sea scheduled for late October, South Korean state-run broadcaster KBS reported on 24 October, citing a senior South Korean official.

The decision was made in order to avoid irritating neighboring countries and to improve conditions for the Group of 20 summit in Seoul on 11 and 12 November, Yonhap reported, citing another unnamed government source. The US aircraft carrier USS George Washington is unlikely to participate in any other joint exercises with South Korea in 2010, and the countries will also delay the large-scale landing drills planned for late October.

NightWatch Comment: The cancellation appears to be a gratuitous conciliatory gesture to China to ensure its participation in the economic summit, where it is expected to be generally uncooperative, by some analysts.

NightWatch's concern is that this is the second major security issue in Asia in which the US appears to have deferred to China's sensibilities, rather than assert the prerogatives of a great power. This comment is based exclusively on open source information which always is incomplete.

This cancellation would appear to negate all the brave language US spokesman have used to assert allied solidarity in confronting North Korea' aggression in sinking the South Korean corvette, Cheonan, in March. In the perception of the international community, the US backed down every time China protested the scheduling of joint exercises aimed at North Korea.

After seven months, North Korea still has gotten away with sinking an Allied patrol ship.

The second issue was the Chinese reaction to Japan's arrest of a Chinese fishing boat and crew in the Senkakus after the Chinese boat rammed a Japanese patrol boat. Only the Secretary of State stood with the Japanese against China. The rest of the US administration did not and has not.

Pro-US leaders in Asia are well advised to remember 2010 as a pivotal year for reassessing the dominant power in Asia.

India-Jammu and Kashmir State: Update. The Indian Army claimed to foil an infiltration plot by killing three militants near the Line of Control between Indian Kashmir and Pakistan on 23 October. A gunfight broke out in the Uri sector in Baramulla District about 115 km (70 miles) northwest of Srinagar in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Troops cordoned off the area and a search operation is underway, according to India defense officials.

Comment: Uri sector of Baramulla District is a well-established infiltration corridor, but there are few other options in the mountainous terrain. Pre-winter infiltration has begun.

Afghanistan: Four militants crashed a car bomb into the gate of the United Nations compound in Herat, in far western Afghanistan, Saturday. The attack was the most serious attack against a UN facility since the October 2009 attack on a Kabul guesthouse that killed several employees.

Two Afghan policemen were injured Saturday, but no UN employees, according to the UN. After crashing the car into the gate, the attackers attempted to detonate suicide vests hidden under the burqas the women's covering the men were wearing. A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the attack.

Comment: Taliban targets this year include any vulnerable foreign or domestic group whose work benefits the central government, in the view of the Taliban. A suicidal attack of this nature in Herat, however, is closer to criminal behavior than anti-government work.

This attack does not mean Herat is less secure than previously thought. Criminal behavior of this type could be performed by any group in any city of Afghanistan, and has been. Perhaps more importantly, Herat is within Iran's buffer zone in western Afghanistan, and the combined protection of NATO forces and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and its proxies. It remains one of the safest cities in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan-Iran: Iran has been providing Afghan President Karzai's chief of staff, Umar Daudzai, with a steady supply of cash payments for the Afghan president to use to pay Afghan lawmakers, tribal elders and Taliban commanders, The New York Times reported 24 October, according to unnamed Afghan and Western officials.

The officials said Iran is providing the cash to Daudzai and Karzai to promote Tehran's interests within the Afghan president's administration. A spokesman for Iranian Ambassador to Afghanistan Feda Hussein Maliki, who officials said had provided the cash payments to Daudzai, denied the allegations, calling them lies by the West and foreign media organizations.

NightWatch Comment: It would be naïve for American Readers to think that Iran is not buying influence both in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Iran does it on multiple levels, as does the United States and every nation that borders Iraq, Afghanistan or Iran and has an interest in what happens in those countries.

For now, the US is the highest bidder, so Afghan officials work mostly, but not exclusively, with the Americans. After the bidding war is over, geography will dictate relationships. Iran is next to Afghanistan and has been around much longer than the United States.

It is useful to remember that Afghanistan has been a cross roads of ancient cultures that predate the discovery of the Americas by about 2,000 years. Iran also will be Afghanistan's neighbor long after the American interlude is a memory.

Karzai is wise to accept Iranian support. Moreover, anything the Iranians pay for that reduces the burden of US taxpayer support looks like good business. That is what the Reagan Administration judged in the Iran-Contra affair.

The news is that the New York Times obtained admissions on the record about the fact of Iranian payments. An astute analyst would ask why would anyone disclose such information unless that person was not a beneficiary of the slush funds. And then one might ask how accurate are the details about the slush funds, considering the sources probably have a negative bias.

Note to new analysts: In international relations and in government, influence and information are commodities that are for sale. Nothing is free, especially intelligence, good or useless. Intelligence information in all of the so-called "INTs" fundamentally is a capitalist, free market product, fortunately. However, as with any purchased product, it always comes with bias attached.

When intelligence or influence are offered for free, they immediately are suspect, as driven by ulterior motives. The price of intelligence helps guarantee its reliability.  The fact of an alliance or other relationship does not alter the requirement for money in exchange for cooperation.  Demands for payment do not discredit allies, friends or proxies. They are just business.

End of NightWatch for 24 October.

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