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NightWatch 20110517


For the Night of 17 May 2011

North Korea-US: The United States plans to send its envoy for North Korean human rights, Robert King, to Pyongyang to assess the need for food aid and evaluate methods to ensure the aid shipments reach the hungry, a South Korean Foreign Ministry official said on 17 May. The official said King could visit as early as the week of 22 May.

Comment: Readers will recall that the three tiers of engagement in the Chinese plan are bilateral North-South relations; bilateral North Korean-US relations and Six Party Talks. Following the President Carter and Franklin Graham visits to the North, the US officially is testing the atmosphere for talks.

US leaders should know that during the famine of the mid 1990's, North Korean economic planners managed the shrinkage of the national economy -- which was deeper and longer than the US during the Great Depression -- with relative equality. That means the rations for the Army declined at about the same rate as those for the communist Party and the rest of the population.

Clearly national defenders and party members have a prior claim to rations than people outside those categories, theoretically. In practice, however, the integration of the population with a military and party membership of some 4 million, showed that more than half the population of 23 million relies on the government for staple food supplies because of family connections.

The way the family connections seem to work is that if a soldier gets food, so does his family - mother, father and multiple siblings (soldiers cannot have a family of their own for at least eight years.) The same is true of party members. In this system, diversion of food aid is not necessarily a bad thing. 

Diversion of food to the North Korean army is diversion to the families of soldiers, most of the time. During the past 40 years, the North Korean planning doctrine has been based on the precept that the Army of the people should suffer along with the people. In North Korea, guns and butter have long since merged. 

The key challenge in food distribution is to ensure that high quality food aid is not repackaged and sold abroad, such as to buyers in Southeast Asia, for hard currency or double the quantity of lower quality food, for the benefit of the Kim family.

South Korea-US: South Korea's military may send US forces to the border island of Baengnyeong (PY-Do) to "heighten restraint against North Korea," a South Korean military official said.

Seoul previously considered sending U.S. combat troops to Baengnyeong and Yeonpyeong (YP-Do) islands after Pyongyang shelled Yeonpyeong in November 2010, the military source said. The U.S. military opposed the plan but the South Korean military now wants to send US communication troops to Baengnyeoung. .

Comment: The purpose of such a move would be deterrence. Such a deployment would convey to the North Koreans the US had decided that any future attack against an offshore island would constitute an attack against the US, with all that such an attack implies about the likely US counter attack.

Pakistan-China: Pakistani Prime Minister Gilani began a four-day visit to China on 17 May. During the visit Gilani will meet Premier Wen Jiabao, President Hu Jintao and several economic officials, according to the Chinese.

Beijing supports Pakistan in its fight against militancy, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said. Gilani told the press that Pakistan considers China its best friend.

"We appreciate that in all difficult circumstances, China stood with Pakistan. Therefore we call China a true friend and a time-tested and all-weather friend," Gilani told Xinhua news agency in an interview.

"We are proud to have China as our best and most trusted friend, and China will always find Pakistan standing beside it at all times."

Comment; What Gilani said is factual. China cannot provide some of the high tech weapons the US can provide, but it has built ports and infrastructure and Chinese weapons are the backbone of all the high-tech armed services - the air, naval and missile forces. All of these actions have supported Chinese interests in developing a set of secure corridors for raw materials to reach China without transiting the Straits of Malacca and Singapore. The Pakistanis fail to understand that their interests are secondary.

What Gilani and the Pakistan military leadership also fail to grasp is that China disrespects an unstable Pakistani government that cannot handle domestic Islamist terrorists and other violent internal problems. China requires a stable, dependable and powerful nuclear-armed Pakistan to threaten India in a potential future conflict, on Chinese orders. It has little use for or respect for the feckless civilian government in Islamabad. It also is very aware of the duplicity of Pakistani intelligence services that work with China but also train Uighur terrorists.

China holds the dominant position in Pakistan, as it has for 40 years, but its interests in suppressing Islamist terrorists are closer to those of the US than to the Pakistan Army and intelligence agencies, except to the extent that Pakistan-based terrorists constrain India.

The timing of Gilani's remarks indicates they were pointed at US Senator John Kerry, whom Gilani met the day before his interview in China.

Pakistan-US: The United States agreed to reduce the number of its troops within Pakistan in accordance with a request from Pakistan General Headquarters (GHQ), a U.S. military spokesman in Islamabad said.

According to a top Pakistani military official, GHQ decided there is no need for unnecessary US troops and as many as 160 U.S. soldiers have left Pakistan following the killing of al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. Other Pakistani officials said over 200 U.S. troops still remain in the country. USAF personnel at various Pakistani airbases also will leave by the end of May.

Comment: This drawdown is trivial, petty and insignificant, which means it is a token set of retaliatory actions intended to deflect Pakistani press criticism of the incompetence of the Pakistan defense forces.

Venezuela-Iran: Die Welt published a story that claims that Iran is building intermediate- range ballistic missile launch pads on the Paraguaná Peninsula, and engineers from a construction firm - Khatam al-Anbia - owned by Iran's Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) visited Paraguaná in February. Amir al-Hadschisadeh, the head of the IRGC Air Force, participated in the visit, according to the report. Die Welt cited information from "Western security insiders."

The missile bases supposedly will include measures to prevent air attacks on Venezuela as well as commando and control stations as well as bunkers, barracks and watch tower construction. Twenty-meter deep missile silos are planned.

The Venezuelan military project is being financed from Iranian oil revenues. The Iranians paid in cash for the preliminary phase of the project and, the total cost is expected to amount to "dozens of millions" of dollars, according to Die Welt.

The Paraguaná Peninsula is on the coast of Venezuela and is roughly 120 kilometers from America's main South American partner, Columbia.

According to Die Welt, the clandestine agreement between Venezuela and Iran would mean the Chavez government would fire missiles at Iran's enemies should the Islamic Republic face military strikes.

Comment: The Die Welt article appears to be a mix of the unlikely with the implausible, tempered by a dash of fact. The dash of fact is that President Chavez has pursued acquisition of a ballistic missile capability for about a decade. The Russians apparently turned him down, but the Iranians seem to have been more receptive.

Chavez has cultivated a close relationship with Iran, to the extent one is possible between the two. During the past six years, various sources have alleged that Venezuela has abetted infiltration of IRGC operatives in Central America.

One element of news in the Die Welt story is the identification of the Paraguana Peninsula as the site of a missile base. This is a bit of land 40 miles long in its largest dimension, with 200 miles of sea coast, some 100 miles west of Caracas along the coast. It looks like a geographic polyp in a Google Earth image, barely above sea level.

It has little fresh water, sparse population and is often cut off from the Venezuelan coast by high tides. It does have two oil refineries and a web site promoting tourism at pristine beaches.

If the Die Welt story is accurate, the construction of launch sites for IRBMs could represent a Venezuelan missile crisis.

To recap, it is well established that Chavez wants a ballistic missile offensive capability. Iran, especially as a proxy for a cash-strapped North Korea, is a likely supplier or facilitator.

However, the location is unlikely because of the lack of protection against storms and the proximity of oil refineries and tourism sites. On its face, the report is implausible because Iran lacks sufficient IRBMs for its own defense. Iran did not build its own ballistic missile facilities - North Korea did. If imagery shows ground preparation on the Peninsula, North Koreans almost certainly are involved, using Iran as a front.

Finally, if Chavez is getting ballistic missiles, which should surprise no one, he is more likely to use them for his purposes of regional dominance than for any objectives that benefit or concern Iran. If the North Koreans are involved, Chavez' intentions for using ballistic missiles are irrelevant so long as he pays his bills on time. 

Al Qaida: In a recent meeting, presumably in Pakistan, al Qaida's council elected Saifal Adel (Abu Saif), one of the early members of al-Qaida, as chief of the party Command of Control for the time being, sources told the Pakistani news service, The News. However, Muhammad Mustafa Yamni is likely to be made al-Qaida chief after a grand consultation. Yamni is currently residing in an African country.

Saifal Adel is an Egyptian and has served at key posts in Egypt terrorist groups. He worked with Ayman al-Zawahiri in the al-Jihad group of Egypt. Zawahiri was bin Laden's number two. The News reported that Zawahiri would continue holding his posts of al-Qaida patron, and the chief of the al-Qaida Militant Command. Zawahiri also will monitor the international contacts, a task that had been done by Saifal Adel.

The News' sources reported that Adnan al-Kashri had been placed in charge of general information affairs. Muhammad Nasir al-Washi (Abu Nasir) is now in charge of al-Qaida Africa affairs and Muhammad Adam Khan Afghani was appointed to direct Afghanistan-Waziristan affairs. Fahad al-Qava had been appointed as the Urgent Operational Commander.

Comment: The day after bin Laden's death, an Asia Times on Line analyst reported that the Saudi (bin Laden) faction and the Egyptian (Zawahiri) faction had had a falling out over leadership and policy direction. The full details of the policy split are not known, but what is known is that Zawahiri publicly supported the Pakistan Taliban in their moves to try to overthrow the government of Pakistan, under Musharraf and under the elected civilians. This included the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

Bin Laden never associated himself with that policy. Bin Laden seems to have favored sensational attacks against Western targets over consolidating a base in Pakistan by taking over the government.

The Egyptians marginalized bin Laden. The lack of security and staff at Abbottabad - a single body guard - indicates bin Laden was a figurehead and a symbol, more than a hands-on commander. The computer disks and thumb drives, in this theory, call to mind Hitler with his war maps in the bunker in Berlin.

According to the Asia Times report, the Egyptian faction delivered the identity and movements of bin Laden's trusted courier to US intelligence and the courier was aware that he was being tracked so that he could lead US intelligence to the Abbottabad house. The courier was a key actor in an al Qaida intelligence operation to eliminate the Saudi faction and permit the Egyptians to take control.

The operation appears to have worked. The leadership selections, reported by The News, support the hypothesis of betrayal by the Egyptians. No Saudis are in senior leadership positions. Until the promotion of Abu Saif and other non-Saudis to leadership positions, the Asia Times report was just one hypothesis.

Based on statements by Zawahiri, al Qaida may be expected to help the Pakistani Taliban to try to seize control in Pakistan. For them, Pakistan is the objective, not Afghanistan.

End of NightWatch for 17 May.

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