North Korea: Commercial satellite imagery on 28 March showed steady progress in preparing a rocket or missile for a launch. The satellite images showed a mobile radar trailer and rows of what appear to be fuel and oxidizer tanks.
Comment: These are normal activities two weeks before a launch. The images showed no activities that were surprising, have not been detected before past launches or inconsistent with a space launch in two weeks. The novelty is that commercial imagery detected the activity.
What should have been mentioned in other analytical commentaries is that this activity obviously is intended to be detected. If the North wanted to hide it, it could. The openness of the preparations represents the North signaling its peaceful intentions. Of course, such signaling is meaningless when North Korea is using technology that has dual civil and military applications.
Pakistan: Too good to omit. A Pakistani court sentenced the wives of Usama bin Laden to 45 days in jail for illegal presence in Pakistan, in the past decade.
The sentence supports the government's contention that it did not know bin Laden's location. Ipso facto, the revelation that his wives were in Pakistan must be a crime, in the reasoning of the court.
The notion that Pakistani police are so inept and Pakistani intelligence and security services are so incompetent that the bin Laden clan could live and move around Pakistan with impunity for more than a decade did not seem to influence the government prosecutors or the judges of court. This was a face-saving charade.
In the end, bin Laden and his family were abandoned by everyone, including their Pakistani intelligence sponsors.
Syria-Russia: President Bashar al Asad's government must make the first step toward settling the conflict by withdrawing its troops, and Syria's opposition forces should follow suit by withdrawing as well, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on 2 April during a visit to Armenia.
Syria's government has promised that its armed forces would withdraw from population centers by 10 April and stop shooting within 48 hours after that date if rebels also stop, the special emissary attempting to end the violent year-old uprising in Syria told the United Nations Security Council on Monday. The special emissary, Kofi Annan, also told the Security Council that his team had held constructive talks with anti-government forces in the Syria conflict as part of an attempt to gain their adherence to his cease-fire plan.
Comment: This peace plan is unusual in that in that it requires the established government to take the first step towards peace, although the opposition gangs were the first to destroy civil order a year ago. In effect, Annan's plan requires the Asad government to admit its evil ways and give the opposition another chance to try to topple the government, having failed for the past year.
This is a strange form of diplomacy, intervening to give the loser a second chance. There seems to be no incentive for the government to agree, but Asad has.
The good news is that the government has the upper hand and can afford to be generous for 48 hours. What is doubtful is whether the "anti-government forces" can keep their part of this deal in any town, much less than the entire country. The so-called anti-government forces have no central command and control.
Somalia Anti-piracy patrol: The European Union (EU) agreed on 23 March to allow its anti-piracy force off Somalia (EUNAVFOR) to attack coastal targets and coordinate operations against land targets with the Somali Transitional National Government. In effect, the EU expanded the area of operations to include "Somali coastal territory and internal waters."
The UK is preparing to lead the Anglo-French joint naval force that will execute attacks on pirate coastal hideouts. The helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious and the amphibious landing ship HMS Bulwark will sail to the Mediterranean this summer, escorted by frigates and supported by Royal Navy auxiliary supply ships.
The UK Royal Navy task group will participate in war games with the French nuclear aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, after which the governments will announce the task group's deployment along the Somali coast. Afterwards the joint force will patrol closer to shore so as to attack pirate gangs before they leave port, using helicopter gunships, naval gunfire and commandos.
Comment: Years of anti-piracy patrols have done little to reduce piracy -- weather has more impact than naval patrols. The patrols have caused the pirates to operate farther from shore in the Indian Ocean, significantly reducing the physical value of intercepts at sea. The Somali pirates' ability to have any success in the open ocean depends on precise tracking information, which must come from inside operates in international shipping control centers. The Somali pirates are the maritime arm of an international criminal cartel.
The anti-piracy naval operations, however, have provided a windfall of intelligence on pirate operations ashore in Somalia that the EU authorities now judge will provide a better return on investment. Meanwhile, in an increasingly austere budgetary environment, the Royal Navy and the French Navy have initiated a variation of the anti-piracy mission that should help justify their naval budgets.
Mali: The security situation in Mali is deteriorating, but France will not send troops to Mali, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on 2 April. However, in light of the dangerous situation, Juppe said he has asked all French citizens whose presence in Mali is not essential to leave.
Comment: In an earlier period, French Foreign Legionnaires or Infantrie de Marine might have been deployed to protect French interests in a Franco-phone African ally. French President Sarkozy ended that policy.
Except for combatting terrorists, France has no strategic interests in Mali. That is the upshot of Foreign Minister Juppe's statement. The mismanagement of the Tuareg unrest is a self-inflicted wound of the Bamako government.
Today the Tuareg and Islamist rebels announced that with the capture of Timbuktu and Gao they had accomplished their operational objectives. The rebels apparently have no designs on the southern regions of Mali. Their objective is fragmentation of the state.
End of NightWatch for 2 April.
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