For the night of 28 July 2014
North Korea: The Workers' Party of Korea daily newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, published articles on yesterday's commemoration of the ceasefire that ended the Korean War. The activities included a military parade and speeches by senior officers. In his speech, Vice Marshal Hwang Pyong-so, the Director of the General Political Bureau - the top military commissar - warned that North Korea will fire "a nuclear-tipped rocket toward a major US city if Washington keeps attempting to undermine North Korea's sovereignty."
The Commander of the Strategic Rocket Forces, Colonel General Kim Rak-kyom, said "it is a pipe dream to believe the US-led missile defense system will be able to intercept the North's missile."
Comment: Public statements by senior military officers normally have little significance in this communist state because they parrot the Party line. However, their publication in the Workers' Party daily newspaper gives them significance they otherwise would not have because every item in Rodong Sinmun is approved by a senior party official. The military is the channel, but the Party is sending the communication.
The communication is in two parts. First is that the North's leaders want the US to believe that North Korea has a missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to a US city. That is probably meant to be a factual statement, although it is camouflaged as a warning. However, the conditional clause about the need for the US to stop undermining sovereignty is so vague as to have no meaning. The first part of the message is the range and the warhead of a North Korean ballistic missile. The North is not on the verge of shooting at this time.
The second part of the communication is primarily a taunt, but it shows that North Korean leaders are worried about US and Allied missile defense systems. It also raises a suspicion that the North Koreans might be trying to develop penetration aids for their ballistic missile so that they can defeat anti-missile defenses.
Final note. Open source materials cannot confirm whether North Korea has the missile and the warhead it claims. It probably has both by now, but the quantities and reliability are not known. The test facilities it has built can accommodate a long range missile with large engines. It tried to launch a technology demonstrator/space launch vehicle in 2006, but it failed in flight. It has boasted repeatedly about its work on new warheads. It has had eight years since then to fix and upgrade the Taepo Dong 2 and to develop a nuclear warhead for it or a successor missile.
China: According to official media, more than 50,000 Chinese fishing boats have been outfitted with China's Beidou satellite navigation system, which gives them a direct link to the Chinese coastguard.
The press analysis is that the program is an indication of China's increasing financial support for fishermen as they sail deeper into Southeast Asian waters. Reuters indicated that Chinese also are providing fuel subsidies so that fishermen can sail farther into the South China Sea.
Comment: The Chinese fishing fleet is not just an economic asset. In times of crisis, it is a paramilitary force that comes under the direct control of the armed forces. Fishing boats have harassed US naval ships on occasion and armed fishing boats had key tasks in the Chinese naval maneuvers during the 1996 Taiwan Strait crisis.
The new systems are part of the program for upgrading military control of the fishing fleets. The boats receive weapons, ammunition, depth charges or mines and sailing orders when militarized. In peacetime, they provide a continuous flow of intelligence to the coast guard and the navy.
By themselves, the navy and the coast guard lack the ships to patrol the sea areas China claims as territorial. With the assistance of the fishing fleets under positive control, they have enough assets for the patrol mission.
Afghanistan: President Karzai said Monday that Afghanistan needs a new leader and "urged for a speedy conclusion to the ballot audit that will determine his successor." In a speech marking Eid al-Fitr, Karzai said Afghans "want to have an outcome to the election as soon as possible, so that this country can have its president soon.
Karzai also contrasted the security situation prior to and during the presidential election with that since. He praised Afghanistan for holding national elections under comprehensive security. He said once vote counting started, however, the security situation started to deteriorate.
Comment: Karzai almost appears to be inviting leaders to appeal to him to stay on as president to steady the security situation. His statement about the trend in security conditions is accurate, if self-serving.
Security. Afghan media reported that the Taliban have begun an offensive in Kandahar Province in southern Afghanistan. Bombings and gunfights in Kandahar city in the last two weeks apparently were the opening engagements. Media reports state that the Taliban has overrun the administrative center of a district on the border with Pakistan.
The media analysis is that the Kandahar offensive, which involved "hundreds of Taliban fighters," appeared to be "timed to take advantage of Eid al-Fitr, which closes the holy month of Ramadan."
Comment: The description of the attacks in Kandahar is similar to the descriptions of attacks in Helmand and Ghor Provinces, in which forces of hundreds of Taliban overwhelmed the district center.
The government has managed to take back the district centers, after it assembled reinforcements. Lacking air power and airlift, the recapture campaign has taken at least a week in each case. Meanwhile, the villagers know that the Taliban are back and the government cannot stop them.
The attack during Eid week just means the Taliban are clever enough to attack when villagers are relaxed and do not expect an attack. They have been doing that for years.
Israel: Military sources reported that Palestinians fired 51 rockets and mortar rounds into Israel, causing no casualties. At the start of Operation Protective Edge, the average was more than 130 per day. Ten Israeli soldiers died in combat on Monday, bringing the total to 53. The total number of Palestinians killed is at least 1,140.
Prime Minister Netanyahu again told Israelis to expect a prolonged campaign. Defense Minister Ya'alon said Israel will not hesitate to expand the operation so that it hurts Hamas. Army Chief Lieutenant General Benny Gantz said the war will be intensified in the coming days.
Comment: According to one credible news analysis and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Israel is methodically reducing the size of the Gaza Strip by 40% by creating a 3 km wide zone in which no buildings will be left standing, no tunnels can be built and from which no rockets can be fired. This is the meaning of Protective Edge.
Israeli evacuation warnings to Palestinians tend to confirm the above news analysis. Israelis used their usual multi-media tactics to warn residents of Gaza to move to the center of Gaza City and away from the outlying neighborhoods immediately.
As the rocket and mortar fire persists, Israel is notching up its seizure of land in Gaza and the extension of the dead zone. Today's statement by General Gantz marks the third escalation of the Protective Edge. The eastern parts of Gaza City may expect to be razed.
Special comment: Last weekend there was a chance for a reasonably durable ceasefire. It was bungled. The next chance probably will be at the end of this week.
Nigeria: Authorities are blaming Boko Haram for three bomb attacks on Sunday in the northern Nigerian city of Kano. In one attack, which came after the end of mass at the Saint Charles Catholic church, the explosion killed at least five people and injured eight others. In another attack, a woman blew herself up at a trade show after being detained by police, who were preparing to have her frisked by a female colleague. Five officers were injured in the explosion.
End of NightWatch for 28 July.
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