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NightWatch 20110729


For the Night of 29 July 2011

Cambodia: Update. The Cambodian government has withdrawn 2,500 troops from the area near the Preah Vihear temple in order "to reduce tension," with Thailand. There has been no recent fighting, but the withdrawal implies that the Cambodians expect more cordial relations following the Thai elections in which Thaksin's sister is the new Thai prime minister. The withdrawal is a Cambodian good will gift to the new government in Bangkok.

India: For the record. Indian Defence Ministry officials signed a $2.4 billion deal with French companies Thales and Dassault Aviation on 29 July to upgrade their fleet of 51 Mirage 2000 fighters, company officials said. The Indian Air Force inducted Mirages in the mid-1980s. The aircraft will serve 20-25 more years.

Comment: In the inventory of more than 700 fighters and attack aircraft, the Mirage 2000s were the only multi-role fighter capable of effective offensive operations at high altitudes during the 1999 Kargil War against Pakistan. The Air Force intends to retain that capability, upgraded and modernized.

Afghanistan: During an unannounced visit to Kandahar in southern Afghanistan, Admiral Mullen, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave a pep talk to the allied forces in which he mocked the significance of the recent assassinations of key Afghan officials in the south, including President Karzai's half-brother, Wali Karzai. He said some believe this is all the Taliban can do, thereby quoting but not owning a highly controversial statement.

Special comment: The US military, for understandable reasons of morale, continues to put a positive spin on security developments, but Readers need to know that the facts continue to run in the other direction. The US military is engaging in a perception management operation apparently for English and American speakers. The message is the job is getting done and it's time to leave.

It is time to leave because the US civilian political leadership has made that decision and is holding the military leadership to their agreement in 2008 that they could make significant gains in 18 months. The time has passed; the gains are local and impermanent, according to every tactical-level interview; and the Taliban know it. Resident reporters have described the situation in Kabul as a fragile structure waiting to collapse.

Assassination of stalwarts of the Karzai regime cannot be minimized. If Wali Karzai, Jan Mohammed and Hamidi can be assassinated, so can President Karzai.

This is a warning: the Taliban and other anti-government fighting groups are engaged in their own decapitation campaign … without drones, but up close and personal in Kabul and Kandahar. They appear to be capable of killing anyone they decide to target.

Yemen: President Saleh is ready to transfer power through an early election, Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi said on 29 July. He described the deal negotiated by the United States and the Gulf Cooperation Council as not practical and said if elections do not take place before the president resigns, a constitutional vacuum will exist.

The government is trying to negotiate with the opposition a reasonable date for an election under regional and international supervision, al-Qirbi said. Al Qaida benefits most from anarchy in Yemen, which could lead to a takeover of Abyan province, he added. Failure to reach an agreement could lead to a civil war.

Comment: Saleh's position remains unchanged. Nevertheless, his commitment to elections and a constitutionally prescribed manner of transferring power is noteworthy, despite his manner of rule.

Turkey: Turkey is experiencing stress because the Chief of the General Staff, the Commander of the Land forces, the Air Force Commander and the Navy Commander resigned on 29 July to protest the anti-military actions of Prime Minister Erdogan's government.

General Isik Kosaner, the Chief of the General Staff, said he resigned from his post in protest of the jailing of military officers in a variety of court cases. Kosaner reportedly said it is impossible for him to continue in his post because he is unable to fulfill his responsibility to protect the rights of his personnel.

The senior officers who resigned with Kosaner are Land Forces Commander General Erdal Ceylanoglu; Air Force Commander General Hasan Aksay; and Navy Commander Admiral Esref Ugur Yigit.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul signed a decree appointing Gendarmerie Commander General Necdet Ozel as Chief of Land Forces. A reporter said Ozel would later be appointed the Chief of the General Staff of the Turkish armed forces in the place of General Kosaner.

Comment: The overarching issue is civilian control of the Turkish armed forces. Control of promotions and promotion policy is central to any military leadership structure. The resignations were as a reproach and a challenge to the Erdogan government for meddling in the military promotion system.

Kosaner's position and that of the other service chiefs is that officers under arrest but no brought to trial should be promoted on schedule because they have committed no crime. There are some 400 officers in this condition as the result of the AKP government's discover in 2007 of a coup plot in 2003 that never took place. This is the Ergenekon or Sledgehammer coup plot by the military to overthrow the pro-Islamist AKP government a year after its election.

Since coming to power in 2002, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has worked to break the political power of the armed forces and to erode its ethos as the guardian of the secular traditions of Ataturk. It has used a rising standard of living, relative prosperity and application for membership in the European Union, increased influence in Europe and the Middle East and promotion of more devout Islamic practices in public to marginalize the armed forces.

Outside the cities, the mass of Turks have proven in two elections that they support pro-Islamist and fundamentalist policies. The AKP has won both elections easily.

It also has used the Ergenekon investigation to keep the military leadership on the defensive and in the barracks under threat of arrest and prosecution for supporting a coup, now eight years ago. Respect for the military has declined significantly as a result.

Today's resignations are without precedent and appear aimed at arousing sentiment against the strongly Islamist tendencies of the government. Grand gestures such as resignations almost always are sophomoric and fail to make a difference because no one is inexpendable and replacements, such as General Ozel, are always waiting for their chance to lead.

The exceptions are when mass military leadership resignations are precursors to popular uprisings or to a military takeover of the government. There are no signs and no chances of a popular uprising in support of the armed forces. The time for a coup would seem to have passed, but analysts said that about Pakistan in 1999 right before General Musharraf overthrew the Nawaz Sharif government.

Syria: Syrian troops fired gunshots in Latakia and tear gas in other places on 29 July during large demonstrations after Friday prayers. Activists said troops beat protesters in Banias and fired at protesters in Daraa.

Comment: Today's protest demonstrations appear somewhat smaller. Syrian security forces shot and killed at least 20 people, according to human rights groups.

Firing in Latakia always is worth noting because it is a center of the Alawite community, of which the President, most senior military officers and the political elite are members. The Latakia report did not relate the size or sectarian composition of the demonstration.

Egypt: Tens of thousands of protestors gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square on 29 July after Islamist leaders called for nationwide demonstrations, BBC Middle East reported. The demonstrators called for Sharia law and an Islamic state.

BBC reported that most of the protesters were Muslim Brotherhood supporters. Egyptian Nile News TV channel reported that Salafists (i.e., essentially, Islamic fundamentalists) control Tahrir Square, and that there was no representation of other political factions.

Earlier, twenty eight other political groups, including the Youth Coalition and 6 April Movement, announced that they would continue their sit-in in Tahrir Square that began 8 July but would not join protests today because the Islamists violated an agreement made the week of 24 July to call for common demands, form a united front and avoid controversy, such as creating an Islamic state.

According to the secularist leaders, the Salafists broke the agreement by chanting pro-Islam slogans during the mass protest after Friday prayers in Qena. Salafists and other Islamists in Alexandria also started chanting after Friday prayers, Al-Masry Al-Youm reported.

As the day ended, Islamist protestors were said to be leaving Tahrir Square in Cairo. According to several Salafist clerics, the Islamists did not intend to turn the protests into an open-ended sit-in or to spend the night in the square.

Comment: The Islamists turned the weekly demonstration into a show of their political strength. Until today, the Islamists (Salafists) always preferred to remain in the background of the uprising. Today's events prove the secular activists have been pawns who are unable to challenge the much more organized Islamists.

The message for readers is that the Islamists have the capability to become the next government of Egypt by dint of organization and democracy, unless the Egyptian military stops them.

US leaders should expect to have to choose between democratic elections that bring anti-US, anti-modern and anti-Israel Islamic fundamentalists to power in Cairo or undemocratic actions by the Egyptian armed forces to prevent that result.

Norway-Libya: For the record. Norway will fly its final combat mission as part of NATO's Libya campaign July 30, a NATO official said.

Libya: The death of General Younis. The rebel National Transitional Council's finance and oil minister, Ali Tarhouni, said on 28 July that General Abdel Fattah Younis was killed by rebel fighters who were sent to bring him to Benghazi for questioning.

A militia leader who was asked to accompany Younis to Benghazi from the front line near Marsa el Brega was arrested and confessed that his subordinates carried out the killing, Tarhouni said. The militia leader did not kill Younis, his lieutenants did, Tarhouni added. The men who killed Younis have not yet been found.

The murderers were from a group of Islamic fundamentalists that Younis persecuted when he was Qadhafi's Minister of the Interior in years past and long before the civil war. Several news sources reported the motive was vengeance. The murderers, of course, claim Younis was a traitor.

Comment: Media reports about popular reaction to Younis, who joined the Benghazi rebels early in the fight, have been glowing. He was about the only trained military strategist in the rebel leadership. He might very well have maintained contact with Qadhafi for a variety of useful, complicated reasons.

In any de facto power sharing arrangement, the two sides need points of contact for discreet communication. Ragtag, undisciplined, semi-literate, simple-minded groups never understand that requirement and are prone to destroy their side's best leaders. The rebel forces now have no trained generals to lead them.

End of NightWatch for 29 July.

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