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NightWatch 20110111


For the Night of 11 January 2011

China: For the record and comment. The Chinese did everything except take out ads in major international newspapers to spotlight the first flight of the stealthy aircraft they made at Chengdu. It flew for 18 minutes on 11 January and did not crash on landing.

Digital Globe imaged in daylight the J20 and its escort aircraft parked just off the runway at Chengdu. This is significant because long experience has taught all-source analysts several rules of inferencing based on imagery. Satellite orbits are so well known that images always have spin.

Thus, if a target is imaged in daylight, the first inference always is that the owner wanted it to be detected. That is clearly the case with the J20.

That inference supports two secondary inferences. One is that the image is genuine and the owner is trying to impress or manipulate someone. The second is the item imaged is a not genuine and the owner is engaging in deliberate deception. The timing of the leaks about the J20 relative to the visit by the US Secretary of Defense make a strong circumstantial case that the leaks are part of a political stunt.

The fact of a flight implies nothing about the stealthy nature of the aircraft or its supposed fifth-generation avionics. What flew is a prototype that showcases a Chinese defense research and development priority.

The second inference from daylight imagery is the owner does not consider the item sensitive and did not care if it was imaged. That is not the case with the J20.

A third inference is the target was detected serendipitously because someone on the ground made a mistake. That also is not the case with the J20.

As for Secretary Gates, his reception by China's civilian leaders appeared warmer than the video of his session with the Chinese Defense Minister. China denies the leaked images were intended to upstage the Gates visit, but the images are not dated and timing of flight activity and of leaks is easy to control.

Afghanistan: According to an unidentified source, a section of the Afghan Taliban expressed readiness to accept a German announcement for phased withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan.

The Taliban leadership was not interested in continued bloodshed and wanted a peaceful settlement and stressed the need for a guarantee foreign troops will end foreign intervention and withdraw, the source said.

Comment: The statement is probably not genuine, but one way of testing its authenticity is to watch how fighting proceeds in Konduz Province and the other provinces of the northern regional command. NightWatch will track this and provide periodic updates.

Afghanistan-India: After returning from a two-day visit to Afghanistan, Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna said those that dissociate themselves from terrorism must be encouraged to participate in the peace initiative.

The situation in Afghanistan is dangerous because the Taliban shelter Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and other militant organizations. India has longstanding relations with Afghanistan, having committed $1.4 billion of development aid to Afghanistan.

Krishna criticized those in the West who questioned Afghan President Karzai's election and told Karzai of India's concerns about the growing involvement of Pakistan in Afghanistan's transition process. Karzai assured Krishna that he would not do anything detrimental to India's interest.

Comment: The Indians focus narrowly on their interests and have stood by and supported anti-Taliban forces since the Taliban came to power in 1996. The Pakistanis supported the Taliban and India supported the Tajiks and Uzbeks who resisted the Taliban. They continue to support the government in Kabul because pressure on the Taliban is pressure on Pakistan.

Tunisia: Update. On 11 January, anti-government protests occurred in a Tunis suburb, pitting crowds against police. Protestors looted shops and set a bank of fire. The government ordered all schools and universities closed for an indefinite period and imposed a curfew in Tunis, where general strikes have been announced for later this week.

Disorders continued for the third day in Kasserine. The government announced that 21 people have died in clashes, but opposition leaders claim more than 50 have been killed by police shooting randomly into crowds. They say 30 people died in Kasserine alone.

Comment: President Ben Ali's government has blamed the disorders on outside elements, which justifies its continuing use of police backed up by the Army to try to control the disorders. It has not yet taken the steps Algeria and Pakistan have taken to roll back prices and does not seem willing to make concessions to quiet the situation.

The Economist reported a rumor that the army chief, General Rachid Ben Ammar was dismissed for not supporting the crackdown, but acknowledged the dismissal is not confirmed. Thus far the police and limited army contingents have followed orders in confronting the crowds. The general strikes will be the next stress to the system.

End of NightWatch for 11 January.

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