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NightWatch 20130925

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For the night of 25 September 2013

South Korea- North Korea: The South Korean Unification Ministry announced that North Korea has asked for a delay in the meeting of the sub-committee on communications and travel of the Kaesong industrial complex committee. The North gave no reason for the delay.

Comment: This is one of several sub-committee assigned to handle special issues connected to resuming operations at Kaesong. It is assigned to handle issues that include internet access, use of mobile phones, travel and customs issues for South Korean workers and all forms of telecommunications.

The delay in the meeting is the first disruption of agreed activities related to operations at Kaesong, following the suspension of separated family reunions and of talks on restarting tourism to Mount Kumgang. That makes it the first indication that the chill in North-South engagement will affect operations at Kaesong, despite the North's formal agreement to the contrary. This is a bad portent for the Kaesong industrial complex.

The atmosphere for talks and engagement with the South has deteriorated as suddenly as it appeared and with even less explanation by North Korea. The report of a test of a large rocket engine in late August confirms that the recent charm offensive was a non-substantive, stylistic change by North Korea. Strategic programs, including rocket research and nuclear developments, continue.

Pakistan: Pakistani press reported today, "Authoritative sources have told the government clearly there is no space left for holding talks with the militants after the attacks carried out by militants against senior army officials and against religious minorities. "

"This is because instead of giving a positive response to the talks offer, the militants have considered it as their success and as Pakistan's weakness. The prime minister and the federal interior minister have been told to once again contact those politicians, who were present in the All Parties Conference, in order to hold consultations with them on this new situation. The offer of talks should be officially withdrawn and permission should be given for carrying out operation against the terrorists."

Comment: A thoughtful BBC appreciation argued that the government of Nawaz Sharif is failing already because of unrelieved economic problems, corruption, law and order issues and the rejection of talks by the Pakistani Taliban.

That sweeping judgment might be premature, but as to negotiating peace with the Pakistani Taliban, it is on the mark. The Pakistani Taliban response to government overtures has been a surge in attacks, bombings and murders. They include the bomb attack that killed a Pakistani major general Niazi in Dir district on 15 September and the Christian church bombing in Peshawar on 22 September.

The Nawaz Sharif government has been slow to recognize and accept this policy failure and has sought an excuse to justify a change in policy. The brief report above is crafted to represent a request from field authorities at the province level and below to which the federal government can consent.

With respect to the Pakistani Taliban, Nawaz Sharif campaigned to end the terrorism by trying negotiations. He tried and the response was more energetic attacks. The item above accurately reflects the view that offers of talks signify weakness and invite greater aggression. That has been the cycle in Pakistan for many years.

A war weary Pakistani population requires occasional reminders that the Pakistani Taliban want no part of peace talks because they interpret them as a sign they are winning the struggle to install an emirate in Islamabad. Last week Chief of Army Staff General Kayani said, "it is understandable to give peace a chance through a political process, but no one should have any misgivings that we would let terrorists coerce us into accepting their terms."

The Pakistan Army will avenge the death of General Niazi with or without Sharif's permission.

Syria: Update. A UN team of chemical weapons experts arrived in Damascus on 25 September ahead of investigations into the use of the weapons.

Comment: Last week President Asad said in an interview that he had invited the UN team to return to Syria.

Opposition politics. In a joint statement, 13 rebel groups operating inside Syria, including the al-Qaida- connected al-Nusra Front and more moderate groups, repudiated the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition. They said it no longer represents their interests. They announced the formation of a new alliance whose aim is to establish and Islamic state in Syria. The al-Nusra Front leads the new grouping.

Comment: In the context of last week's attacks against supposedly more moderate fighting groups, the statement reinforces the judgment that the more extreme Islamist militants are attempting to achieve control of the opposition/rebel movement on the ground and politically.

One clear theme in web postings from opposition fighting groups is that they strongly resent the expatriate Syrian politicians who claim to lead the opposition, or more accurately the many oppositions. The fighters do not and will not follow the direction of outsiders and can get arms and ammunition without them. They have become more anti-Western.

Egypt: Update. Egyptian security forces on Wednesday closed the office of the newspaper of the Muslim Brotherhood's political party and confiscated furniture and documents, journalists from the Freedom and Justice daily said. In a statement Wednesday, the journalists appealed to Egypt's press syndicate to take action against the closure in Cairo's Manial district, where the office is now sealed.

Comment: This measure has incensed foreign journalists, but is pursuant to the court order to ban the Brotherhood and all its associated and financed activities. In US courts, often a motion to stay execution of a court order often is granted, pending review by a higher court.

That is not the case in Egypt, where the authorities execute the order on a presumption that it will not be overturned. That means news services will report more such closures as the authorities move to shut down and seize the assets of the Brotherhood and all its affiliates and associates.

Kenya: Comment: International media have covered the details of the attack on the upscale shopping mall in Nairobi. This note corrects one observation and provides some comments not made by others. Al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack today as revenge for Kenyan military operations in Somalia.

One commentator, in paraphrase, stated that the mall attack represents the new face of al Shabaab, following setbacks in southern Somalia by African peacekeeping forces backed by the West.

That is a misleading statement because al Shabaab started out as a terrorist group. It evolved with Somali tribal assistance into a fighting force capable of waging an insurgency and holding captured ground. Under pressure from international forces it has devolved back into a terrorist group, but operating in a different territory and using some different tactics.

It is less of a threat to regional stability than before, because it no longer is capable of threatening Mogadishu, which it did last year. In Somalia it has been defeated as a field force.

Defeat as a regional threat does not mean defeat as a terror threat. It always retained capabilities to operate as a terrorist force, which is immensely less complicated and easier than supplying men and materiel to field fighting forces. Thus, while the insurgent force is defeated, the terrorist force remains highly dangerous.

The insurgent force came close to capturing a national capital, killing hundreds or thousands. The terrorist force captured a shopping mall and killed at least 67 people. The shock from large numbers of deaths in a war zone almost always is less vivid than the shock from a smaller number of deaths in a shopping mall. That is the nature of terror.

The al Shabaab attack is interesting because the insurgent al Shabaab fighters had little or no experience of big cities and modern shopping plazas. Al-Qaida terrorists attacked the US Embassy in Nairobi in 1998, using truck bombs that killed more than 200 people. Nevertheless that operation was not as brazen or horrific as the shopping mall attack. Modern shopping malls did not exist in any territory captured by al Shabaab, who would have destroyed them in any event.

Whoever planned the Nairobi attack understood modern shopping malls. That includes knowledge of mall security, exits, shopper traffic flows, shopping practices and times, and possibly even how to rent store space in the mall. That implies the attackers had inside help or had members from outside Kenya who were familiar with modern shopping malls.

In both cases, members of the attack teams did careful and intelligent scouting and planning over a considerable period of time. The mall was not a target of convenience. The length of preparation time usually correlates to the size of the evidentiary trail that the attackers left behind. More to follow.

US: For the record. On 25 September the Department of State renewed its global terror warning. The text of the introductory paragraphs follows.

"The Department of State has issued this Worldwide Caution to update information on the continuing threat of terrorist actions and violence against U.S. citizens and interests throughout the world. U.S. citizens are reminded to maintain a high level of vigilance and to take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness. This replaces the Worldwide Caution dated February 19, 2013, to provide updated information on security threats and terrorist activities worldwide."

"The Department of State remains concerned about the continued threat of terrorist attacks, demonstrations, and other violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests overseas. Current information suggests that al-Qa'ida, its affiliated organizations, and other terrorist groups continue to plan terrorist attacks against U.S. interests in multiple regions, including Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. These attacks may employ a wide variety of tactics including suicide operations, assassinations, kidnappings, hijackings, and bombings."

"Extremists may elect to use conventional or non-conventional weapons, and target both official and private interests. Examples of such targets include high-profile sporting events, residential areas, business offices, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, schools, public areas, shopping malls, and other tourist destinations both in the United States and abroad where U.S. citizens gather in large numbers, including during holidays."

"In early August 2013, the Department of State instructed certain U.S. embassies and consulates to remain closed or to suspend operations August 4 through August 10 because of security information received. The U.S. government took these precautionary steps out of an abundance of caution and care for our employees and others who may have planned to visit our installations."

"U.S. citizens are reminded of the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure. Extremists have targeted and attempted attacks on subway and rail systems, aviation, and maritime services. In the past, these types of attacks have occurred in cities such as Moscow, London, Madrid, Glasgow, and New York City."

End of NightWatch for 25 September.

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