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NightWatch 20110323


For the Night of 23 March 2011

Afghanistan: Almost 5,000 Taliban insurgents laid down their weapons or are moving toward doing so, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan General Petraeus said on 23 March. About 700 former Taliban have officially completed the steps to reintegrate into society, Petraeus said. He said another 2,000 insurgents are taking steps toward reintegration and others have laid down their weapons entirely.

Comment: The statistic is interesting because only a fraction of the anti-government fighters have reconciled to the government, based on the daily number of clashes and engagements. Most have been in northern districts where logistics support from Pakistan is barely sustainable. Petraeus also did specify the time frame for his data.

NightWatch data in November 2010 and January 2011 show the number of ralliers increased, but the number of clashes increased at a much greater rate. Several developments can explain the data. First, the anti-government forces appear to be replacing losses at a rate much faster than the rate of rallies. That can only happen if the populace supports the recruitment effort and that means the fight in Afghanistan is a Pashtun tribal uprising, not an insurgency. Second, the ralliers do not remain reconciled, but rejoin the fighting after a period of rest. The spring anti-government offensive should provide insight into the rate of recidivism. Third, the numbers are spread over such a long period as to be meaningless in evaluating the success or failure of the Coalition efforts. And there are others.

Without more context, the statement about ralliers looks like cheer leading.

So how many anti-government fighters are there, considering that more 5,000 have rallied over some indeterminate period and thousands have been killed and detained annually, but the level of fighting continues to increase? Conservatively, NightWatch estimates, based on the fighting data, there are more than 35,000 part time fighters. For key events, they can swell their number to more than 50,000.

Bahrain: An anti-monarchy movement, the 14 February Revolutionary Youth Coalition has published the following schedule of activities in the next two days.

Thursday, 24 March 2011:

On Thursday, 24 March 2011 - the night before Friday - from 2000 to 2015: Taking to the streets in the villages, instead of standing on rooftops, and exclaiming "God is Great" out loud.

On Thursday, 24 March 2011 - the night before Friday - from 2100 to 2115: Beating drums, blowing horns, and hoisting the slogan: "May Hamad Fall."

On Thursday, 24 March 2011 - the night before Friday - from 2200 to 2215: Taking to the streets in the villages, instead of standing on the rooftops, and exclaiming "God is Great" out loud.

Friday, 25 March 2011:

On Friday 25 March 2011 - noon: We call all areas and villages to arrange their ranks and take the initiative to organize huge demonstrations in all the areas, so as to assert the revolution's fundamentals until this corrupt regime is overthrown, to pave the way to liberate the Martyrs (Pearl) Square and the liberation Harbor from the hands of the Saudi and Al Khalifah regime occupation forces, God willing, leading to liberate Bahrain from these invading forces, and overthrow the Al Khalifah regime that wreaked havoc, corruption, injustice, and murder in Bahrain.

On Friday, 25 March 2011 - noon: Assertion about massive and strong participation in a demonstration to pay tribute to the first person who fell as martyr, "the revolution's martyr," Mrs. Bahiyyah al-Aradi, in the capital Manama, especially by the people who live close to the Bahraini capital.

Comment: The anti-monarchists have appropriated the Muslim faith declaration as their slogan of protest. Clever. A strong backlash against the "Saudi occupation" is building. Events of the next two days will show its strength.

The intervention of the Peninsula Shield Force might guarantee the survival of the house of al-Khalifa, but the al Khalifa's might be under de facto house arrest. Expect more trouble in the next two days.

Yemen: The British Foreign Ministry announced on 23 March that due to the security situation in Yemen, the high risk of increased tension in Sana'a and the likely protests on 25 March part of the staff at the British Embassy in Sana'a will be withdrawn temporarily, leaving a small core staff in place.

More district and government officials defected from Saleh to join the youth protestors.

Comment: President Saleh said he accepted the five demands presented by the opposition, which call for political reform and a transition to a new president by the end of the year. The difficulty is this arrangement is not responsive to what the youth are demanding.

Syria: Security forces, some reports said the Republican Guard, attacked anti-government demonstrators in a mosque in the town of Dar'a, killing 15 people. Dar'a is in southwestern Syria, 100 km southwest of Damascus on the Jordanian border. President Asad sacked the governor of the governate, apparently for overreacting to the protests.

Comment: Low level protests have taken place in various cities of Syria since 26 January. Protests gathered strength after 15 March, almost in parallel with the Libyan uprising. Since 18 March, protests have occurred in multiple cities, but only in Dar'a did security forces kill three protestors. Since then anti-government crowds have continued every day in Dar'a and in a few other towns, culminating in today's crackdown.

Protests in outlying governates keep the movement alive, but must converge on Damascus before they have any impact on the Asad government. That convergence can happen quickly, but has not yet.

Israel-Gaza Strip: An explosive device detonated in central Jerusalem, injuring at least 40 people. At least three Palestinian terrorist groups claimed responsibility. All described the bombing as retaliation for Israeli attacks into the Gaza Strip, which were in retaliation for Palestinian rocket attacks.

Comment: A resumption of rocket attacks against Israel coincided with the start of Operation Odyssey Dawn against Libya.

Palestinian groups have fired the occasional rocket or mortar round every few days this year to show they were alive. On 19 March they fired 50 mortar rounds into southern Israel, purportedly to avenge two Palestinians killed in an Israeli air attack. One analyst speculated the unusually large mortar attack was to prevent Palestinian youths from demonstrating against the incompetent Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, by provoking the Israelis.

Whatever the case, Gaza Strip prime minister Ismail Haniyeh reportedly has been in contact with Gaza Strip leaders and Israelis to prevent a return to violence.

Egypt: The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has made a constitutional decree stating that parliamentary elections will be held in six months. The decree, which has the goal of organizing the government for the transitional period, also includes the articles that were approved in the 19 March referendum.

The interim government also made a criminal offense strikes by unions whose enterprises provide essential services.

Comment: It is very difficult to distinguish the post-revolutionary government from the Mubarak government, based on actions and reflexive, authoritarian reactions.

Libya: Pro-Qadhafi forces resumed their attacks on rebel-held Misrata on the 23d. A doctor said the tanks were shelling the area and closing in on the hospital in Misrata. The tanks and artillery are quiet during the day, but the snipers have continued. A rebel spokesman said 16 people were killed in attacks in Misrata and the western rebel-held town of Zintan.

Comment: The situation appears to be reaching the limits of what air power can do to prevent civilian casualties. By mixing with the populace, Qadhafi forces can control towns and avoid destruction from the air for a time. 

The Qadhafi forces eventually will run out of gas, food and ammunition because anything moving on the roads is a target. Strategically, Qadhafi cannot govern, but he and his family can hold out in Tripoli until the money runs out.

The Rebels.

A member of Libya's opposition National Transitional Council said the council wants the international community to train and arm rebel forces. According to Ali Zeidan, the rebels could topple the Qadhafi regime within 10 days if the Western coalition continues the U.N.-sanctioned airstrikes.

Zeidan said that there are enough men in the rebels' ranks to stage a march on Tripoli. Once Libyan territory is liberated, the council would set up a constituent assembly that would draft a new constitution and establish a democratic and secular state. In addition, the council wants to create a secular democracy that would respect the oil contracts awarded under Qadhafi.

Rebel spokeswoman Iman Bughaigis said the Libyan rebel council has created a governing body in a new effort to organize the movement. She said the move reflects the rebel realization that they need better organization. She said the council originally thought it would only take a week or two to depose Qadhafi, but now realizes that it needs a structure and a government to liberate the eastern territories.

The National Transitional Council based in Benghazi named U.S.-based academic Ali Tarhouni as the chief of its financial and commercial committee. A spokesman for the council said that Tarhouni understands the "Western mentality," and will be a de facto finance minister for the council.

Comment: What is emerging is a Cyrenaica autonomous region, based on Benghazi, linked to but separate from Tripolitania, where Qadhafi remains in control. Cyrenaica appears to be getting organized at last. Coalition air power is absolutely essential to the survival of an autonomous Cyrenaica.

The tribes have not risen against Qadhafi in the south or the west. They could make a difference but are likely to stay on the sidelines until there is an obvious winner.

The Coalition.

NATO countries have not come to an agreement to take over command of military operations in Libya from the United States. NATO ambassadors held a third day of meetings in Brussels, but were unable to come to any decision. The dispute concerns the difference between enforcing a U.N.-mandated no-fly zone over Libya and military operations to protect civilians as well as the breadth of the mission.

French Foreign Minister Juppe said that the countries forming the international coalition intervening in Libya as well as African Union and Arab League representatives will meet in London on Tuesday, 29 March, to ensure the operation's political oversight, and that President Sarkozy would soon take initiatives "to talk about peace, the return to peace."

During a session of questions to the government in the French National Assembly, broadcast live on publicly-owned France 3 TV, the minister also emphasized that the intervention was a "United Nations operation" or in any case "under a United Nations mandate". He also said that that the intervention in Libya would be "of a short duration."

Comment: Unless Qadhafi gets frightened and leaves, as has been suggested in some press accounts, the situation is heading for talks. The Coalition members have no interest in a long fight.

On the other hand, unlike Afghanistan, this has been the kind of fight that the Coalition armed forces have trained for. Like the anti-piracy patrols off Somalia do for the coalition navies, Odyssey Dawn helps justify air force budgets in hard times when there is no obvious enemy.

End of NightWatch for 23 March.

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