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NightWatch 20111016


For the night of 16 October 2011

China-Sri Lanka: Last week, Chinese Major General Qian Lihua, Chief of the Foreign Affairs Office of the Ministry of National Defense, visited Sri Lanka to meet Army Commander Lieutenant General Jagath Jayasuriy and to pledge China's commitment to military cooperation, according to a Sri Lanka Army statement on 14 October. Qian promised more opportunities for training exchanges in Chinese academies -- pending official requests through the Chinese Defense Ministry -- as well as Chinese assistance in providing advanced technology to improve infrastructure at the Sri Lanka Military Academy (SLMA) at Diyatalawa.

Comment: This visit represents servicing a client. Sri Lanka apparently has not been filling its training quota in Chinese academies. Sri Lanka is not interested in becoming a dependency of China any more than of India, but neither is it willing to offend either Asian powerhouse.

Afghanistan: The first suicide bombing in in the Panjshir valley of Panjshir Province occurred on 15 October, near a Coalition facility.

Four militants were stopped outside the Provincial Reconstruction Team headquarters that houses US and Afghan troops and civilians, according to Afghan and NATO officials. Militants detonated their explosives, killing two civilians and wounding two guards, the deputy provincial governor said. The compound was not breached and there were no foreign casualties, a NATO spokesman said.

Comment: The NATO command tried to put the best face on this attack by minimizing the quantity of such attacks. The fact is Panjshir Province has been free of Taliban activity since 2001. Panjshiris despise Pashtuns. The Taliban never succeeded in subduing the Panjshiris, even when they ruled from Kabul. However, this attack indicates the anti-government entities have sufficient support that they could execute a bombing attack even in Panjshir, after ten years of trying.

The expansion of suicide tactics to Panjshir is unprecedented. There is now no province of Afghanistan that is free of Taliban and other anti-government subversion and violence. It is an important benchmark of the deterioration of the security situation. It means that the combined forces of Afghanistan, NATO and the US could not keep a single province of Afghanistan safe from anti-government violence, even one with a supportive local population.

Special comment: The Panjshir attack puts in focus four recent comments. First is General McChrystal's remarks that the US entered Afghanistan without knowing enough. In fact, the US has been engaged in Afghanistan almost since the end of World War II, but not with military forces. That explains how, for example, the Dupree's became two of the foremost experts on Afghanistan in the English-speaking world. If the General and his staff didn't know enough it was his and his staff's fault because the expertise was available and was presented, or at least offered, to every US commanding general starting in 2001.

McChrystal told the media that the US had a superficial understanding of the situation and the history and had a frighteningly simplistic view of Afghanistan when the war began. That might have been the true of the general, his colleagues and the special operations command, but it was never true of defense intelligence.

The second comment was from a German general who helped in the formation of the International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF), which NATO later took over. General Harald Kujat said Germany was never informed that its forces would be engaged in combat. As a result they deployed to Afghanistan improperly equipped and funded. They were told by the Americans, he told a German media outlet, that they would control a peaceful region in northern Afghanistan, centered on Konduz Province, and would be engaged in stabilization, not combat.

NightWatch readers will recognize Konduz Province as the most volatile of all the northern provinces because it contains a large Pashtun population. For six years the Germans have been in combat near continuously in Konduz with poor equipment, leadership and success.

A third commentary was sour grapes from British generals who said the security problem remains much more serious than they were led to expect and the gains of the NATO forces have been exaggerated.

The fourth commentary is from a pair of US academics. These two studied British tactics in Afghanistan in the late 1800s and found that the British had already tried and applied what are now the main precepts of American counterinsurgency doctrine, such as having tea with village elders to discuss problems. The British senior officers wrote in detail about their experiences and those writings remain available. The British learned those tactics produced short term good will, but long term failure.

Finally, the Russians also have a large body of military literature about lessons learned in Afghanistan dating to before the 1920s. Various Russian generals and field grade officers have lamented on occasion that the Americans never consulted them, but have made the same mistakes the Russians made in Afghanistan.

Iraq: The Associated Press reported on 15 October that the United States is dropping plans to keep troops in Iraq past the end-of-2011. A senior administration official said all American troops will leave Iraq except 160 soldiers at the U.S. Embassy. A senior US military official, while confirming the departure, said future limited U.S. military training missions could be allowed in Iraq if requested.

Comment: Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told US officials he cannot pass through parliament measures to provide immunity to American trainers. A US official spokesman denied that a final decision had been made.

Yemen: Yemeni authorities failed to convince the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to approve several proposed Gulf initiative amendments that would keep Yemeni President Saleh in power until presidential polls are held.

Dissident General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar's troops protected hundreds of thousands of protesters as they called for Saleh's trial. Russia and China invited Yemeni opposition leaders to visit this week. Yemeni political sources said. At a separate demonstration, pro-regime demonstrators chanted "We will sacrifice ourselves for you, Saleh."

Comment: Saleh's position has not changed since his return to Sanaa. He will step down after elections. He does not oppose early elections and will not run for office.

Kenya-Somalia: Several media outlets have reported that significant Kenyan military forces have deployed into southern Somalia, one day after top Kenyan defense officials said the country has the right to defend itself from militant kidnappings inside Kenya.

Residents in southern Somalia reported to the media that columns of Kenyan troops had moved in and that military aircraft were flying overhead. A local resident said Kenyan troops arrived in tanks and military trucks, and that troops were coordinating with Somali government soldiers.

Kenya's government spokesman, Alfred Mutua, said Kenyan troops "are pursuing al Shabaab across the border." He didn't give any other details.

Comment: Short of cash, al Shabaab folks near Kenya have increased kidnappings for ransom in the past month, the land equivalent of piracy. The kidnapping of a French woman explains the French naval and military involvement in operations last week. The French have two frigates and to reconnaissance and air control aircraft committed to anti-piracy, now anti-al Shabaab operations.

Al Shabaab kidnappers have preyed recently on prime tourism spots in Kenya, for obvious reasons. That seems to be a factor in the new Kenyan resolve to establish a military buffer zone in Somalia. Kenya is completely unable to sustain its forces inside Somalia without massive outside - US -- logistics support. Logistics and transportation, not manpower, are the shortcomings of most US allies, from South Korea to NATO to African states. Kenyan forces would not have moved without US support. Just as NATO could not have sustained air combat operations in Libya without massive US logistics and other support.

Special comment: Within one weekend the US and two US allies - Uganda and Kenya - have established new operations in Africa. These operations have been announced days after the US Defense Secretary announced that African operations would have to be cut in a new round of Defense cutbacks. The statement was odd because no headline-grabbing US operations have been reported almost since the formation of US Africa Command. Uncannily, now there are at least two.

Europe: Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic are in no hurry to join the Eurozone in the midst of its crisis, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas said on 14 October, after a meeting in Prague. Necas added that the monetary union is becoming a union of transfers and debt, so the three countries will wait to see where the Eurozone will go next. Necas said the Czech Republic will not set a Eurozone entry date during its term ending in 2014

Comment: As attractive as Eurozone membership might seem to bankers and finance ministries, the unevenness in the valuation of the economies continues to make membership highly risky in times of uncertainty and low confidence in the banking system.

Germany-US: It is not right for Washington to oppose a global tax on financial transactions, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on 14 October in a dispute over the financial crisis with US President Obama, DPA reported. Nations outside of the Eurozone should not urge Europe to fix the debt crisis while rejecting any transaction tax, Merkel said. The chancellor also said there will be no dramatic decisions made at the 23 October EU summit, describing the Eurozone crisis as something that cannot be solved by "some clap of thunder."

Comment: The message is that US advice is not welcome based on the performance of the US economy. The proposed German tax on financial transactions has been proposed but rejected in the US as a way to curb excessive profits by financial institutions as well as pay down the debt.

End of NightWatch for 14 October.

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