North Korea-Southeast Asia: North Korean Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly Kim Yong-nam – roughly equivalent to a president as a ceremonial head of state — met with Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang and Communist Party head Nguyen Phu Trong in Hanoi on 6 August. Kim will meet with Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung on Aug. 7 before leaving for Laos.
Comment: The timing of this trip suggests it is a new outreach initiative to old allies. At a minimum, Kim Yong-nam will explain the goals and policies of the new Kim regime. In addition to China, North Korea has had continuous friendly relations with Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos and Cuba, through good and bad times.
Afghanistan: Taliban fighters killed two New Zealand soldiers and four Afghan intelligence officers Saturday in an ambush in Bamiyan Province in central Afghanistan.
The intelligence officers, members of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, had received a report of explosives and IEDs stockpiled in one of the districts of Bamiyan. When the NDS officers executed an operation to seize them, the Taliban ambushed them.
They also ambushed the squad of New Zealand Army troops who responded to the NDS officers’ request for help. In addition to the two dead soldiers, six New Zealand soldiers were wounded. Ten NDS officers, one policeman and one civilian also were wounded.
New Zealand’s 153-man contingent came under attack again on 5 August, but without sustaining casualties.
Comment: Through the past decade, Bamiyan Province has stood out as the most stable of the 34 Afghan provinces. Most of its people are Hazaras who are Shiites and fiercely anti-Pashtun and Taliban. Afghan security officials assert that the roads to Bamiyan, west from Kabul, are vulnerable to Taliban and bandit ambushes. That has been true for many years, but Bamiyan itself has experienced only occasional Taliban forays and IED attacks.
The New Zealanders adopted the province and made it a model of security with a small contingent because of Hazara hostility to the Pashtuns and the Taliban. Despite the Hazaras resistance against the Taliban, only the New Zealanders have been their champions, mainly because they are Shiites and are Mongoloid in appearance, and thus shunned by the Karzai government. Folklore says they are descendants of the Mongol Horde.
One double ambush does not make a trend, but it is significant because of the lapse of security support by Coalition forces. It is a major loss to the small New Zealand unit, which has been ordered by the Key government to commence more aggressive patrols. It also shows competent tactical discipline by the Taliban attack group.
Bamiyan’s history of stability makes it the ultimate bellwether of Taliban expansion and aggressiveness. Sustained, periodic attacks in this province would constitute a major breakthrough for the Taliban and a significant setback for the Coalition.
Iran-Saudi Arabia: Update. Iranian news services reported that President Ahmadi-Nejad will attend a summit of Muslim leaders in Mecca next week. Saudi King Abdallah called for the summit to discuss developments in Muslim countries and invited Ahmadi-Nejad.
Syria: On 6 August, just days after the government declared Damascus nearly rid of rebel fighters, a bomb detonated on the third floor of Syria’s state television and radio building in Damascus, leaving several people injured, according to Syrian state television.
Comment: The Syria opposition’s tactics resemble those of the Afghan mujahedin who fought the Soviet forces. As long as they remained diffuse and confederated, they never presented a center of mass or central structure that the Soviets could target. They could execute bombings and ambushes at will, but never win the conflict until massive US, Saudi, and Pakistani assistance to the “muj” made the fight too expensive for Moscow to sustain.
A major difference is the Damascus government has no safe haven to which to retreat. Syria’s information minister denounced Saudi Arabia and Qatar for providing individual weapons and ammunition but said the weapons are not sufficient to bring down the government. Small arms and individual weapons fail.
Politics. Prime Minister Riad Hijab, a Sunni Arab, defected and fled to neighboring Jordan, a Jordanian official and a rebel spokesman said Monday. Supposedly several other ministers and some more one-star generals defected as well.
Comment: These defections signify that Syria’s Sunni elite, which heretofore has cooperated with the Alawites, has now rejected President Asad’s reform program. Hijab was named prime minister as part of the political reform program. This increasingly becomes a fight to the death for the Alawites, who are holding on and holding together.
Algeria: For the record. The local Muslim Brotherhood branch, the Movement of Society for Peace, warned that popular revolution is imminent if the country’s leaders do not enact real reform.
Comment: This is another manifestation of the Brotherhood’s readiness to exploit any weakness in established governments. The Algerian government is not in danger of collapse, but it is targeted.
France-Mali: Update. French Defense Minister Le Drian said on 5 August that France will support African military intervention in Mali to crack down on Islamist insurgents but will not send troops. Le Drian said an intervention is desirable and inevitable, but that France will not take a military initiative in Mali.
Comment: The French message is that France will provide the support, but the African states must provide the soldiers.
End of NightWatch for 6 August.
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