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NightWatch 20110510


For the Night of 10 May 2011

China - North Korea: Update. Construction companies from the two countries will begin work on an island in the Yalu River on their shared border in late May, with a groundbreaking ceremony scheduled for 28 May, South Korean Yonhap news agency reported. Bilateral agreements indicate the island will be used as a base for logistics, tourism and manufacturing linked to China's industrial complex to be built in Dandong in the northeastern province of Liaoning.

Comment: North Korea's economy slowly is being harnessed to the Chinese economic engine, to make it pay for itself. That should ensure better management and better prospects for profitability than anything the North Koreans have done to improve the livelihood of their people in 60 years. Chinese entrepreneurs seem to know how to turn a profit in a global economy, a skill the North Korean elite can't seem to master. More on the implications of this later.

Pakistan: Clarification: This note responds to several Feedback responses about Pakistan Army officers who have received US training in the past few years, since 2001. That is because training programs were restored after October 2001 when the US decided to waive sanctions against Pakistan for its nuclear proliferation in return for access to Afghanistan via Pakistani ports and air bases. The waiver continues as do the Pakistani nuclear weapons proliferation violations under US law.

The generation of Pakistani officers lost to the US was the generation that reached command positions between 1990 and October 2001. This is the group of men promoted to senior ranks after the US banned all military support to Pakistan because of its nuclear weapons program. Their mentors were Generals Jehangir Karamat and Pervez Musharraf who dominated all military promotions for nearly 20 years and shifted Pakistan's strategic orientation towards China.

Both generals kept the US at arms length - Karamat was an Anglophile while on active duty and Musharraf admired the Turks. During their tenures, both generals were engaged deeply in civilian politics and supported military-backed, extra-legal changes of elected civilian government. Karamat backed the overthrow and ouster of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Musharraf overthrew the elected government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and eventually became President.

The officers who came to senior command positions during the development of Pakistani nuclear weapons and ballistic missile delivery systems were approved and promoted by Karamat or Musharraf. Pakistan's strategic command was created during this period and its leaders were Chinese-trained and its forces were Chinese and North Korean-equipped.

Since October 2001, the US has funded many Pakistani military students at US facilities and schools as well as sent mobile training teams to Pakistan. Nevertheless, according to the US Department of Defense, the "hey-day" of US training of Pakistani officers was the1980s.

Successful graduation from US or UK military schools is not a primary factor in advancement to general officer rank in the Pakistan Army, as it was before 1990. There is no reservoir of good will towards the US in the Pakistan Army officer corps or the enlisted ranks, as there was 30 years ago. There are individual and anecdotal exceptions, but the Pakistan Army has more than 550,000 officers and soldiers who are sworn to defend the Islamic republic of Pakistan. That makes them very different from American officers and soldiers.

Afghanistan: Hundreds of insurgents executed a large-scale attack on 10 May against government installations in Nurestan Province. According to provincial police chief General Shams-ul Rahman Zahid, about 400 insurgents were involved in the attack, which targeted checkpoints around a base housing police units about 11 miles south of the provincial capital of Parun.

Zahid said he did not call for NATO or ISAF reinforcements because the police were holding their own against the attackers.

Comment: The attack is the second large scale operation by anti-government forces since the start of the Badr offensive on 1 May. The first operation was last weekend's attack against Kandahar, in the south.

ISAF/NATO charts show Nurestan as a stable province, colored green - i.e., stable -- on official PowerPoint graphics. That means it is one of the provinces the Coalition command considers ready for Afghan security forces to take responsibility for its security. Today's attacks signify that the green status of the province was a function of Taliban lack of attention, more than of positive security maintained by some mix of Afghan and western forces

The results of the fighting are not yet available. If the Afghan security forces can hold the provincial capital, that would be good news for the Kabul government. If they cannot, that would represent business as usual and no progress by either side. The Taliban have never been able to repulse a coalition counter attack, especially with air support. They still cannot, unless the Coalition tires of responding. That is the Taliban strategic challenge in the Badr offensive.

Public statements by some US officials that the Taliban have never attacked in groups of several hundred fighters are factually inaccurate. Since 2006, the Taliban regularly have tested the strength of coalition forces in large scale attacks to help determine whether it was safe for the Taliban Shura to return to Afghanistan.

Attacks by large groups always are related to that strategic purpose -- to try to carve out a safe base for Mullah Omar and his lackeys inside Afghanistan. They always have failed, primarily because of Coalition air power and resolve.

Yemen: Yemeni aircraft bombed rural areas north of the capital on 10 May where tribes demanded the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. A resident said four tribesmen were injured in the bombing, which lasted a few hours.

Comment: Saleh apparently has decided to follow the lead of Syrian President Bashar al Asad in handling the opposition. Discussion of compromise and resignation does not dominate the news from Yemen.

Syria: An advisor to and spokesperson for President al Asad announced, in paraphrase, that the government has beaten the activist opposition. Security operations continue, but the Asad regime is now confident it has suppressed the opposition.

Syrian security forces continued to search for protest leaders in the coastal city of Baniyas on 10 May, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Al-Watan newspaper reported. The human rights group said the army controlled all neighborhoods of Baniyas and that arrests were still being made in the city and the nearby villages of Bayda and al-Marqab.

Syrian authorities released 300 people who had been arrested the previous week in Baniyas. Another 200, including leaders of protests, remain in custody. Water, telecommunications and electricity have been restored, but tanks remain in major streets in Baniyas.

Comment: The government has applied a level of force that averted any compromise or power-sharing arrangement with the demonstrators. It has responded positively to their early reform demands, but rejected their demands for a change of government system and crushed the movement as criminal.  The protestors over reached and are paying the price.

The guns remained loyal and responsive to the regime, ensuring it will survive. Demonstrations are likely after Friday prayers, but they will not signify.

The regime's magnanimity in releasing 300 detainees in Baniyas is a strong sign of its confidence. The women of Baniyas asked for their husbands to be released to support their families. Asad complied.

Libya: Comment: During the past two days, news services have reported that rebels in Misratah have driven pro-Qadhafi forces from that town and have advanced a few kilometers in the direction of Tripoli. This appears to be the first good news for rebel forces in weeks.

The rebels claim they coordinated their ground moves with NATO air and naval attacks. If accurate, that means NATO military advisors or liaison officers are helping the rebels in Misratah in coordinating with NATO assets. The rebels in the west appear to be more disciplined and much more capable than those in cynrenaica. Nevertheless, there are no signs in public media that the Qadhafi family is ready to stop fighting.

End of NightWatch for 10 May.

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