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NightWatch 20101117


For the Night of 17 November 2010

North Korea: For the record. Authorities have begun a purge of corrupt senior officials, reportedly on the orders of the heir apparent, Kim Jung-un, according to defector sources. The crimes under investigation are allowing people to flee the country and smuggling.

Comment: This is one of the ways a new team makes room for its own people. In the first years of his tenure, Kim Chong-il supported near-non-stop purges of party and military officials who were opposed to the dynastic succession idea in a communist state. He survived a mutiny several assassination attempts and a mutiny by an army corps in 1994 and 1995. The ensuing repression was harsh and long lasting. The new heir-apparent's advisors are taking no chances with opposition.

Japan-Djibouti: Update. Construction of a Japanese base in Djibouti to combat piracy off the eastern coast of Africa is making progress. Construction began in July and should be completed in March 2011. The base will include housing units, hangars, an office building and an aircraft apron that can hold three aircraft.

Comment: The base will be Japan's first outside the country. Its purpose is to ease the costs and facilitate the maintenance of Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force ships on anti-piracy patrol off Somalia.

Afghanistan: More than 1,000 militants from Afghanistan's southern and southeastern provinces are ready to join the Afghan government, according to Peace and Reconciliation Commission chairman Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, Tolo TV reported 17 November. Mojaddedi said the process began when 200 militants from Herat province to Helmand province agreed to join, and that the process is continuing.

Peace and Reconciliation Commission officials said more than 10,000 have joined the government overall, including 2,000 in the western provinces. The report also indicated that a number of militants and disaffected people who disarmed have said promises made to them by the government have not been fulfilled.

Comment: The reports are upbeat and side-switching is a time-honored survival practice in Afghanistan. Most Taliban victories in the 1996 drive to takeover the government resulted from key groups and whole battalions switching sides.

Side-switches, however, are always impermanent. When promises fail and benefits do not arrive, groups switch back. The Pashtuns expected the arrival of the Americans and the overthrow of the Taliban regime in Kabul would usher in an era of prosperity. They switched sides, conditionally, and many have switched back since 2005.

The report today does not indicate the time period in which the 10,000 militants joined the government nor how many remain on the government side. The numbers reported in daily press accounts are small - 10 to 20 -- but would add up over a decade, assuming no backsliding.

The problem with the number 10,000 is that it probably exceeds the number of active full time militants, based on the periodicity and intensity of combat. If 10,000 have switched to the government side in a reasonable time period, the number of Taliban and anti-government fighters still in the field must be several multiples ten thousand because the number and frequency of Taliban attacks continue to increase.

The number of Taliban fighters is important because the same Taliban do not fight every day. If the Taliban have 20,000 fighters, then the Coalition strength, even with the surge, does not create a favorable force ratio for defeating the Taliban, nor even for providing security for development projects.

Madagascar: Today a group of disgruntled army colonels declared they had overthrown the government. As events progressed through the day, the attempted coup devolved into a mutiny. The mutineers apparently include some of the same men who seized power last year and handed it to the president they now seek to topple.

The government remains in power. Most of the armed forces are loyal to it. No military forces are visible in the streets of the capital. The would-be coup plotters are occupying a few buildings in one base in the capital. The government continues to function and life appears to be normal in Antananarivo. The national referendum on a new constitution appears to have proceeded as scheduled, over the opposition of most political parties. This has no significance for US interests, except as a study in democracy.

Guinea: Interim junta leader President General Konate on 17 November signed a decree declaring a state of emergency throughout the national territory. The state of emergency was declared in the wake of post-electoral violence which left at least seven people dead after veteran opposition leader Alpha Conde was declared winner of the 7 November presidential runoff election.

News of Conde's election set of riots by his opponents. Civilians have been ordered off the streets, and only the military will have unrestricted movement, according to military authorities. A spokesman for interim President General Sekouba Konate said no public gatherings or rallies are allowed and that while Guineans may travel to work and to the market, they must travel alone. The army has been deployed to enforce the decree, which will be in effect until the Supreme Court announces final results from the 7 November election. Initial results were released on 15 November and final results must be released by the 23rd. This has no significance for US interests, except as a study in democracy.

End of NightWatch for 17 November.

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