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NightWatch 20140909

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NightWatch

For the night of 9 September 2014

North Korea: Today is Founder's Day in North Korea. The celebration was muted. There was no military parade. The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA reported the message of congratulations from Chinese President Xi Jinping. Xi's message read, in part,

"We will steadily consolidate and boost the bilateral relations of friendship and cooperation." The message said the traditional friendship between the two countries is "precious" and they should make "a positive contribution to the prosperity, development, peace and stability in the region," according to KCNA's report.

North Korean premier Pak Pong Ju also read a celebratory speech, excerpts of which have received international attention.

"Under the leadership of Kim Jong Un, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) is advancing straight along the road of independence, the Songun (military first) idea and socialism….The DPRK will make every effort to overcome all difficulties it faces, mend North-South ties, and open a new phase of independent reunification."

On the country's diplomatic strategy and relations with the outside world, Pak said the DPRK will maintain its foreign policy of independence, peace and friendship; strengthen relations with countries that respect its sovereignty and adopt a friendly posture; and contribute its share to world security and prosperity.

Comment: The Chinese President's message was perfunctory. The message behind the message is stop causing trouble on the peninsula. President Xi wrote that the 'traditional friendship" is precious, but said nothing about the current state of relations.

Some of the international commentaries seem to have interpreted North Korean Premier Pak's statement about South Korea to contain a new overture towards friendship towards the South. In light of last weekend's round of missile shots and the criticism on Sunday of the US and South Korean military exercises, this language reflects the usual North Korean presentation of itself as the agent of Korean unification. The North's leaders always judge themselves to be making every effort to mend North-South ties and blame the South for any strain in relations.

Pakistan: Today the Defense Ministry had to defend its failure to prevent a Taliban attack at a Pakistan Navy base in Karachi and for suppressing the news of the attack for three days.

During a joint session of parliament on 9 September, Defense Minister Khawaja Asif explained that there might have been insider involvement in the attack last Saturday, for which the Pakistani Taliban - the Tehreek -e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has claimed responsibiliuty. "An investigation is under way. I'll get back to the house with details on Wednesday," he told the lawmakers.

On the night of 6 September, a Pakistani Taliban team attacked the navy dockyard from the sea and managed to board the Pakistan Navy Ship (PNS) Zulfiqar. A sentry sounded an alarm, but was wounded. The attackers also shot and killed a petty officer and wounded six sailors. Commandos from the Army's Special Services Group exchanged gunfire with the terrorists for two hours, killing two and arresting four.

After interrogating the suspects, a navy statement said that intelligence agencies had carried out raids to arrest suspected collaborators and accomplices and had recovered "a large quantity of arms and ammunition".

According to Pakistani press, PNS Zulfiqar is the first of the F-22P Chinese-designed frigates jointly built by Pakistan and China about four years ago. About 20 more ships and submarines of the Pakistan Navy were docked at the time of the attack.

Comment: The Defense Ministry has tried to spin the outcome of the attack as a counter-insurgency success. However, parliament is not accepting that.

Pakistan Navy facilities get attacked once a year from land, always with the help of sympathetic guards, sailors or officers. This is the first attack from sea. It confirms that security at sea is as sloppy as security ashore. Plus, there is no shipboard security at dockside.

Syria: International media reported that a suicide bomber killed the leader of one of Syria's most powerful rebel groups along with dozens of other commanders.

Hassan Abboud, the leader of the Ahrar al-Sham brigade, was among up to 45 people killed on Tuesday at a meeting in an underground bunker near an ammunition dump outside Ram Hamdan, according to the reports. At the time of the attack Abboud and his cohorts were meeting with the leaders of other fighting groups that are affiliated with the Islamic Front to discuss strategy for fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

The map shows Ram Hamdan in red in Idlib Governate in western Syria, where the attack took place. For reference, it also shows, in green, Ar Raqqah in Ar Raqqah Governate, which is the capital of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which has shortened its title to the Islamic State. Ar Raqqah is the center of gravity of ISIL, not Mosul in Iraq.

Al Jazeera reported that Ahrar al-Sham (Islamic Movement of the Free Men of the Levant) claims to have up to 20,000 fighters and leads the Islamic Front, which was formed to combat ISIL. Ahrar supports an Islamic state governed under Sharia, but is not as extreme as ISIL. It is hostile to Western-backed, so-called moderate groups.

Comment: No group has claimed the attack, but it appears to be the work of an ISIL operative and is typical of ISIL savagery against fellow Sunnis. It was an inside job. Ahrar is an ally of the al-Nusra Front, the al-Qaida franchise in Syria. ISIL continues its campaign to destroy al-Nusra.

The senior leaders will be replaced. Decapitation seldom means the death of an organization. However, it often results in a degradation of effectiveness for a time. New or younger leadership tends to be less sophisticated and much more ruthless.

This attack shows that ISIL knows it still has rivals in Syria and has pretty good intelligence on their leaderships' activities. The attack also shows that ISIL has not consolidated its position in Syria and faces formidable enemies who will be out for vengeance.

Finally, the attack provides indirect aid to the Ba'athist government of al-Asad in Damascus by weakening some of the more effective anti-government forces.

Ukraine-Russia: Russian and Ukrainian presidential web sites confirmed that Russian President Putin and Ukrainian President Poroshenko spoke by telephone today. The general topics included the importance of ensuring a stable ceasefire by both sides and Russian readiness to facilitate a peaceful settlement to the crisis.

The two presidents also discussed economic cooperation and issues arising from Ukraine's association with the EU.

Comment: For two countries supposedly almost at war, the two presidents speak often and invariably the topics include their economic relationship, which is continuing regardless of western sanctions.

Cameroon: Late update. The Cameroonian government reported yesterday that its soldiers killed "over 100" Boko Haram fighters during an attempted incursion on Saturday.

The Cameroonian army has dealt "a severe setback" to Boko Haram, government spokesman Issa Tchiroma Bakary said in a statement read out on state radio on Monday. According to the government statement, Boko Haram fighters fired two shells on the town of Fotokol in Cameroon's northern tip, on the border with Nigeria, at around 1:00 pm on Saturday. "There were no casualties reported on the Cameroonian side after the attack."

"Our defense forces responded vigorously with mortar fire aimed at the positions held by units of the Boko Haram terrorist group that was behind the attack. The Cameroonian response resulted in over 100 deaths among the aggressors." The statement said that the Cameroonians forced the terrorists back to Nigeria, to a town that Boko Haram seized over a week ago.

Comment: The red dots on the map locate the two most recent Boko Haram attacks. Boko Haram has attacked Fotokol earlier this year. It appears to be located on one of Boko Haram's transit routes to safe havens near Lake Chad. The Cameroonians continue to outperform the Nigerians.

End of NightWatch for 9 September.

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