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NightWatch 20110605


For the Night of 5 June 2011

North Korea-South Korea: South Korea warned  that any future attacks by North Korea would be met by a very strong response, saying that Pyongyang is becoming increasingly bold in its provocations.

South Korea must react to any future attacks by the North with stiffer responses than in the past, Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin said at a regional security conference in Singapore. "Proactive deterrence means that if there is a provocation, we will respond very strongly," Kim said. "I don't think we can be reserved because they are being bolder and bolder."

North Korea vowed Friday to launch "retaliatory military actions" against South Korea, after it learned that South Korean soldiers used photos of Pyongyang's ruling family for target practice.

"From now on," the North "will launch practical and overall retaliatory military actions to wipe out the group of traitors at a stroke," said a statement from an unidentified spokesman for the general staff of the North's Korean People's Army.

Comment; Some South Koreans - it is not clear that Army units were involved - put photos of Kim Il-sung, Kim Chong-il and Kim Jung-un on weapons targets and someone put them on the internet, with bullets in them. Despite their monstrous mismanagement of the country and the people, the Kim family has near god-like status in North Korea.

When US Department of Energy officers were resident at Yongbyon during the defueling of the reactor in the mid-1990s, a US officer folded a newspaper whose front page featured a photo of Kim Chong-il, so that the fold creased Kim's photo. The North Korean nuclear engineer with whom he was working accused him of treason and tried to kill him.

The US official did not know that folding Kim's picture constitutes defacing an image of the leader.  That is a capital offense in North Korea, as is drawing a mustache on Kim's ubiquitous photos, which North Korean youth are fond of doing.

Using Kim dynasty photos for target practice is almost certain to generate some kind of violent response from the North, at an appropriate time. 

India-Pakistan: During a speech presented in Singapore over the weekend, India's Secretary of State for Defense said that India would have difficulty not responding with major military force in the event of another attack in India by Pakistan-based terrorists.

"If a provocation is to happen again, it would be hard to justify to our people self-restraint, and I hope that it will not be repeated and that we will have a constructive dialogue with Pakistan in containing these terrorist elements which are causing strife not only in India but also within Pakistan," Minister of State Pallam Raju said.

Comment: Pallam Raju's remarks were in reaction to testimony in a trial in Chicago by David Headley, who was a scout for the November 2008 Pakistan-based attack on Mumbai. Pallam Raju's implications are that another sensational attack traced to Pakistan will lead to war, just as it almost did twice in 2002, after the LeT terrorist group's attack against the Indian Parliament in December 2001.

Afghanistan: Special comment. The continuing NightWatch analysis of fighting data reported in open sources indicates something significant occurred in the Afghan Taliban movement in May. In mid-May Taliban attacks began to decline, after a very robust first two weeks of the spring offensive.  Between 18 and 22 May, some provinces reported no significant Taliban activity.

A sharp decline in all categories of security incidents was most noticeable in Konduz  and other northern provinces into which the Taliban had strained to establish a foothold in 2009-2010. For several days around 20 May, fighting dropped off even in the 12 southern provinces that form the heartland of the Pashtun tribal uprising.

The sharp decline seems most closely associated with rumors that Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, had died or was missing. On 23 May the Taliban public spokesman assured the followers that Omar was alive and well without explaining his apparent absence in the prior week, which Pakistani sources had reported.

Following the public reassurance about Omar, fighting surged for a few days, but not to the level of last winter's offensive. Monthly fighting last winter far exceeded activity levels during the spring offensive that began in May.

A point worth noting is the speed by which information can reach the farthest outposts of the Taliban fighters. Cell phone and satellite technology enable near realm time communications from Quetta or Karachi to the banks of the Oxus River. If something has happened to the leadership, Taliban all over Afghanistan know it in less than a day.

Further, recent news reports about a Taliban surge in Kandahar City are not supported by unclassified reporting through the end of May. If the Taliban have taken control of Kandahar, as alleged, it is not showing up in the reporting.  

The spring offensive appears to have lost much of its energy after the rumors about Mullah Omar's death. The reassurances have not been sufficient to re-energize it. That makes this the first time any lull has occurred in spring fighting since the Taliban's resurgence in 2006. More later.

Yemen: On Friday, fighters from the al Ahmar clan fired rockets at the Presidential palace in Sanaa, wounding President Saleh and several top officials. After initial official denials of significant injuries, on 4 June Saleh was flown to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for medical treatment. Before leaving, Saleh transferred presidential power temporarily to Vice President Hadi, who is now acting president and supreme commander of the armed forces.

President Saleh underwent two surgical procedures in a Riyadh hospital on 5 June, one of which removed shrapnel from his chest, an unnamed Saudi official said. . The other procedure was a neurosurgical operation on his neck, according to the official.   Saleh is scheduled to convalesce in Yemen for two weeks, after which he will return for a cosmetic surgery, the official added.

Meanwhile, Saudi King Abdallah mediated a week-long ceasefire in Sanaa, though fighting has continued in Taiz. For the first time in months, no fighting was reported in Sanaa on Saturday and Sunday.

Acting President Hadi has directed Yemeni forces to honor the cease fire. Hadi also directed forces to remove all  new security and military checkpoints in the areas of Al-Hasabah and Hadah. He charged Brigadier General Ghalib al-Qamash and Brigadier General Muhammad al-Qasimi with the task of communicating with Shaykh Sadiq al-Ahmar and his brothers, in order to notify them of the government's demand to cease fire and vacate the government facilities that their supporters seized in the past two weeks during the clashes between the two parties.

"Shaykh Sadiq al-Ahmar, chieftain of Hashid Tribe, announced his commitment to the truce upon the vice president's demand." All-Ahmar agreed to the cease fire, on the condition that the military and security units and the pro-Saleh armed groups commit to withdrawing from the area. He also highlighted his keenness to restore security and public order.

Comment: The acting president and the Hashid Tribe chief conducted tentative but successful public diplomacy, resulting in a ceasefire. That offers some prospect that a power sharing arrangement is still possible.

The opposition celebrated President Saleh's departure for Saudi Arabia as a success of the uprising. That might be premature, but the facts of the weekend show that Saleh's forces can no longer protect the seat of government. That signifies the end game for his regime has arrived.

Syria: For the record. Army troops attacked another town in northwestern Syria, killing 45 in Jisr al Shughour on Saturday and Sunday. On Friday, troops killed 70 people, most in Hama in western Syria, a perennial hotbed of unrest.

Comment: The continuing crackdown during a period of concession means the government is using security forces and troops to engineer the "appropriate" popular response to its concession initiatives.

Israel: Naksa Day was 5 June. Israeli military personnel opened fire on a crowd of pro-Palestinian protesters who tried to break into the Golan Heights from Syria, killing 23 people and wounding 350 others, according to unconfirmed reports.

Israel accused Syria of orchestrating the violence -- which marked the anniversary of the Arab defeat in the 1967 war -- to deflect attention from its bloody crackdown on its own uprising.

Comment: The Palestinians in Lebanon postponed the large march they had planned, or the casualty count would have been much higher.

End of NightWatch for 5 June.

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