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NightWatch 20141019

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For the night of 19 October 2014

North Korea-South Korea: About ten North Korean soldiers approached the demarcation line near Paju, north of Seoul several times on Sunday. South Korean border guards broadcast warnings to not come farther south. The final approach prompted the South Koreans to fire warning shots and the North returned fire. No sources reported injuries.

Comment: The ten North Koreans most likely were Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) military policemen. Both sides maintain DMZ guard forces who police the DMZ, which is a strip of territory 4 kms wide and 250 km long. The incident occurred near the Military Demarcation Line that runs down the middle of the DMZ.

Neither side has provided an explanation for the North Korean behavior. DMZ guards and crews sometimes work to restore boundary markers which move, depending on weather conditions. At other times, the guards test the vigilance and the rules of engagement of the other side.

This incident showed limited forbearance by the South Koreans, but with no reduction in vigilance. The incident has not prompted either side to cancel future high-level talks.

Afghanistan: Taliban fighters in battalion-strength attacked in two separate provinces. In Logar province, in the east, at least four soldiers were killed when militants attacked security posts.

In Ghor, up to 500 Taliban attacked two villages, a senior official told the BBC. The number of casualties is not known.

Comment: The Taliban have used large forces in attacks in six provinces since summer. They cannot hold them against a strong counter-attack, but they do not need to. The government cannot maintain power forces in one location indefinitely. After conditions stabilize and the relief forces depart, the locals know they are vulnerable to a Taliban attack at any time.

Iraq: Parliament approved new defense and interior ministers, thereby completing a national unity government. A Sunni, Khalded al-Obeidi is the new defense minister. Mohammed Salem al-Ghabban, a Shia, is the new interior minister.

Comment: The delay and the political maneuvering involved in obtaining parliamentary approval for the two new ministers probably dilutes the impact the selections might have had on the security situation, had parliament approved new leaders much sooner. The government took too long to make its selections for them to make much difference in the security situation.

Syria: International media reported that fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) were withdrawing from Kobani on Friday, but the details showed they still hold one or two neighborhoods in the town. That means there has been little to no change.

On Monday, ISIL renewed its attack on Kobani, according to news reports.

Comment: One of the lessons of the Kobani fight is rooted in the bombing campaign during the last months of the Vietnam War. The lesson is that sustained, concentrated and numerous air attacks can help win a battle, if not a campaign. Small numbers of precise pin prick attacks accomplish little. Large numbers of big attacks can make a difference depending on the skill of the targeteers. The fight for Kobani will be another test of the effectiveness of air power.

Turkey: Turkey's President Erdogan said on Sunday that Turkey will not arm or agree to arms transfers to Kurdish fighters battling the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants for control of Kobani.

Erdogan said the Kurdish forces at Kobani are "equal" to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). He said, "It would be very, very wrong to expect" the Turkish government "to openly say 'yes' to our NATO ally America giving this kind of support. To expect something like this from us is impossible."

Comment: Despite intense US pressure, Turkey's official position has not changed. Erdogan continues to focus on overthrowing the Ba'athist government in Damascus. His statements and other behavior indicate he is not opposed to an ISIL victory along Syria's northern border as long as its focus in overthrowing Asad and suppressing the Kurdish threat in the process. He seems confident the Turkish army can handle ISIL, should that become necessary.

Yemen: According to reports on Friday, Houthi fighters captured the key al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) town of Rada'a and set up checkpoints there. One report said the Yemen army supported the Houthi. Militants from AQAP had been controlling the town of Radaa' for nearly two years.

Local sources said at least six Houthi fighters and two tribesmen were killed in clashes with militants near Ibb, some 150 kilometers southeast of the capital, Sana'a.

Comment: Yemen analysts report that most of the Yemen army's senior leadership is Shiite and is considered loyal to ousted President Saleh, who was a Shiite. That would help explain its hostility to Sunni militants and its support of the Houthists. In one scenario, the Houthis and the army would be instrumental in a return to power by Saleh in a new north Yemen state.

Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)-Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL): Over the weekend, al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula encouraged jihadists to support ISIL in fighting the US.

Comment: The timing of the AQAP statement suggests it is a reaction to the fighting at Rada'a. AQAP is looking for help from any source.

Nigeria-Cameroon-Chad-Boko Haram: On Friday, Boko Haram attacked towns in Hawul, Abadam and Bama local government areas in Borno State in northeastern Nigeria. Nearly 100 people were killed in separate actions.

Comment: The attacks occurred one day after Nigerian authorities announced that Boko Harm agreed to a ceasefire and to release more than 200 girls held captive. The ceasefire and the promise of captive releases are the worst casualties of the weekend.

End of NightWatch for 19 October.

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