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NightWatch 20140925

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NightWatch

For the night of 24 September 2014

North Korea: North Korean authorities have introduced domestic commercial air service. Three flight routes began operation in mid-July. The price of a one-way domestic flight is less than $100. That is about 250 times the monthly salary of a North Korean worker.

Comment: Even at bargain basement prices, in Western terms, the price of a domestic airline ticket is, for now, beyond the reach of almost all North Koreans. The state provides for the basic needs of its citizens for free, including food, schooling, medical care (such as it is) and other essentials. The economy is not money based, so take-home pay for a worker is almost entirely disposable income, in theory at least, and is low because of the entitlements and subsidies.

That makes air travel affordable only for rich Party officials and for foreigners. The North Korean media describe the air service as a gift of Kim Jong Un. In a sense it is because it advances his program of earning hard currency from tourism. Defectors say the air service was established because the rail service has deteriorated so badly, owing mostly to electric power shortages, outages and brown outs, that the rails are no longer reliable.

North Korea's attractions for non-Koreans include its status as the world's last functioning Stalinist state plus breathtaking scenery and sights. Even the anti-US Museums are worth visiting with an open mind.

If offered the chance to go to North Korea, go, but take lots of US cash or take foreign credit cards. The Trading with the Enemies Act prohibits US banking transactions. Be prepared to follow orders from strangers in authority without question. Be prepared for small dinner portions, artfully arranged on a plate. Nevertheless, if given the chance to visit North Korea, take it.

As for the air service and the program to attract foreign tourists, they are bullets aimed at the heart of a Stalinist state.

India: India's unmanned Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) spacecraft entered Mars orbit on Wednesday, 24 September 2014, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) reported. The MOM orbiter, also known as Mangalyaan or "Mars craft" in Hindi, is the first spacecraft sent by an Asian nation to Mars.

"History has been created today. We have dared to reach out into the unknown and have achieved the near-impossible," Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, during a visit to ISRO's mission command center in Bangalore.

Indian news services said that one of the most celebrated achievements of the MOM mission has been its very low cost. Inserting the Mangalyaan spacecraft in orbit around Mars cost just $74 million. That compares to the US NASA's MAVEN mars mission which cost $671 million.

Mangalyaan, launched Nov. 5, 2013 from the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh, traveled 414 million miles to Mars before performing its successful orbital insertion maneuvers at around 10.30 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday, 23 September 2014, according to ISRO. The spacecraft carries five science instruments for studying the surface of Mars and detecting methane in its atmosphere. The probe is expected to function for about six months before running out of fuel and crashing into Mars, the Indian space agency said.

India is the fourth country to launch a spacecraft to Mars successfully. The others are the US, Russia and the European Space Agency. In this achievement, India has bragging rights over China, until the Chinese launch their own Mars space mission.

Comment: The Indians have boasted about the cut-rate costs of their space adventures. Some of those derive from the southern launch orientation of Sri Harikota. The Indian payload also is lighter and much less capable than the NASA Mars missions. Still, India is a developing country whose leaders appreciate the benefits of an active space program in their strategic environment.

Iraq: Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) trapped about 200 Iraqi soldiers in another Iraqi Army camp, near Ramadi. A soldier said, "There are troops behind us, but they can't reach us because the whole area is planted with roadside bombs and land mines."

                                                                    

Comment: ISIL appears to be isolating and destroying Iraqi camps that it bypassed during its "blitz" offensive. Now it is consolidating its hold in western Iraq and completing unfinished business in reducing government outposts. It also is securing its line of communication from western Iraq to Baghdad.

Syria: In the aftermath of US bombing, ISIL fighters accelerated their offensive to capture Kobani, a Syrian Kurdish city on the border with Turkey. An Islamic State source said the ISIL force, supported by US-made artillery, took several villages west of Kobani.

A Turkish official said the advance had been rapid three days ago, but was slowed by the U.S.-led air strikes. The deputy leader of Kurdish forces defending Kobani said more ISIL fighters and tanks arrived in the area since the Coalition began air strikes. "Kobani is in danger," he said.

                                                                     

Comment: Satellites and drones provide invaluable bomb damage information, but eyewitnesses on the ground, communicating via social network media, help round out the bomb damage picture by providing timely comments about the human effects and impact of the air strikes.

In the past days, social networks have reported that the citizens of Raqqa are afraid and have gone underground. Commercial activity stopped. Other reports state that ISIL has hidden its tanks and heavy weapons. This feedback from social networks is absolutely invaluable in gauging the morale and the human ripple effects of the Coalition attacks.

US senior decision-makers benefit from a daily update of traditional bomb damage reporting, fused with on -the-scene eyewitness reporting from social networks and cell phones.

Yemen: Supporters of the Houthi rebel movement apparently have taken control of much of Sana'a, the capital. They claim they have birthed another Yemeni revolution.

                                                                    

President Hadi, who was installed at the end of the last revolution as the pro-US "candidate" in a one-man vote, is outraged by the push for a new government, claiming the group is aiming to "overthrow the Yemeni model."

Comment: The Houthis appear satisfied with showing off their power and with forcing changes in government, including restoration of subsidies. The obvious next step would be to demand the resignation of the President.

A revolution is not taking place because the system of tribes and sects remains as it has been. Somehow, the Houthis obtained outside and inside support that enabled them to change the security equation. They are dominant for now, but show few indications they want to govern all of Yemen. Instead they appear more interested in political inclusion to ensure improved conditions for their people in northern Yemen.

Cameroon: The Defense Ministry reported that more than 300 Boko Haram fighters have surrendered in the north in the past three weeks. Spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Didier Badjeck said that the militants have given up their arms and asked for asylum in Cameroon. Their fate has not been decided.

Comment: Boko Haram terrorists appear confused, demoralized and in disarray because of the news that their leader was dead and/or had been replaced by an imposter. Their movement appears now to be a religious fraud, to cover brutal organized crime.

Nigeria: The Nigerian Army said that 135 Boko Haram members surrendered with their weapons in Biu, Borno State, on Tuesday, and that 133 others surrendered elsewhere in northeastern Nigeria.

                                                                  

General Chris Olukolade of the Nigerian Army said that Mohammed Bashir, who was killed in the latest offensive against Boko Haram, was a lookalike for Abubakar Shekau, who was the leader of Boko Haram. Bashir "had been acting or posing in videos as the deceased Abubakar Shekau," he added.

Comment: The best, recent information indicates that Shekau died some time ago, but Bashir took his place, almost certainly with the help of Shekau's top lieutenants. Bashir deceived even the leaders of ISIL, who provided encouragement and guidance.

Accurate or not, the Nigeria information about Boko Haram's fraudulent leadership appears responsible for the surrenders. Boko Haram appears to have been exposed as a phony organization that duped young Nigerians into committing savage atrocities and criminal acts.

An outside factor might be the start of Coalition air attacks against ISIL. Boko Haram looked to ISIL for guidance. Some groups might judge that their trust was misplaced and might fear they could become the next targets of air attacks. That is speculation at this time.

Boko Haram fighting cells executed attacks in many part of Nigeria far outside the northeast. These included Abuja, the federal capital. If the terrorists are as demoralized as this week's reports indicate, surrenders should become more widespread and attacks should decrease. The next major task should be the recovery of the kidnapped Nigerian girls. This is tonight's good news.

Sierra Leone: The government has intensified army patrols and restricted cross-border movements along the borders with Guinea and Liberia as part of the government's efforts to contain the Ebola disease, according to Colonel Michael Samura, spokesperson for Sierra Leone's army.

Some health experts are concerned that Sierra Leoneans residing in neighboring Liberia and Guinea who may have been exposed to the disease could return home and unwittingly infect other citizens - thereby worsening the country's infection rate.

Comment: The epidemic has reached the point that disease control is now a national security issue. A key question is how Sierra Leone's soldiers will handle people at the borders whom they suspect of Ebola infection. If they shoot them, border clashes become inevitable.

End of NightWatch for 24 September.

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