North Korea: Kim Jong-un delivered his first public speech on 15 April on the 100th anniversary of his grandfather's birth. In the 20-minute speech broadcast on state television, he recited familiar points contained in recent propaganda. Reading from a script, he said he wouldn't be intimidated by foreign aggressors and vowed the military would come first in North Korea.
Comment: The North Korean propagandists have made the young Kim appear to be the reincarnation of his grandfather. He acts and looks like Kim Il-sung when he was in his 20's. Unlike his father, Kim Chong-il, Kim Jong-un seems to enjoy public exposure and attention.
Nothing substantive will take place until after the birthday celebrations end this week.
North Korea-Iran: Japanese media reported on 13 April that a 12-member Iranian delegation secretly visited North Korea to observe the space launch. They reportedly arrived in Pyongyang on 31 March and watched the launch preparation procedures. Supposedly the delegation was present to observe the launch failure.
The Iranians reportedly are engineers from Iran's Shahid Hemat Industrial Group (SHIG), which is involved in missile and satellite development. The delegation was said to be interested in the missile launch technology using the high thrust engine and the technology to separate a three-stage missile.
The new items says that the delegation will remain to participate in the after action report, evidently because Iran helped finance the attempt.
Comment: This is the only report that an Iranian technical delegation was in North Korea for the launch. That group's present might help explain the North's willingness to acknowledge the failure … if it was a joint venture. The Iranians can no doubt learn a lot from the failure, but could have learned a lot more from a success.
India: The Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) plans the first test launch of India's most powerful and longest range ballistic missile, the Agni V, on 18 April from the Wheeler Island test range in eastern India.
According to Indian press, if the launch is successful, the Agni V will fly 5,000 km, 2,000 km more than any Indian missile has ever flown. The trajectory involves a powered vertical flight to 500 km in the atmosphere before following a ballistic trajectory that will end in splash down in the Indian Ocean beyond Indonesia.
The press report stated that the Agni V would put most of China's major cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, within Indian missile range. Vijay Kumar Saraswat, DRDO Chief and Scientific Adviser to the Union Defence Minister, said, "In terms of performance, Agni V is the ultimate step for India in terms of ballistic missile technology. It is pushing at the outer limits of the Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) class."
Comment: Indian ballistic missile development has advanced on two paths. One path is to deliver nuclear warheads to Pakistan with short range missiles that are now fielded in the Indian Army. The other is to threaten Chinese cities. The best Indian strategists consider the Pakistan threat a sub-set of the Chinese threat because of China's equipping of the Pakistan Army, Navy and missile forces.
The second Sino-Indian conflict is still in the future, but both states are preparing for it. India is preparing to fight a three-front conflict involving China and two proxies, essentially alone.
Pakistan: On 15 April, Pakistani Taliban armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades executed an attack on a prison in Bannu, in northwest Pakistan, that freed more than 400 prisoners, including 20 terrorists, representing about half the prison population.
Pakistani press reported more than 100 anti-government fighters participated in the attack. On 16
April, authorities ordered sweeps to round-up the escapees.
Comment: This attack was successful because there was inside support, as is almost always the case. Pakistan has no reliable security, even for prime ministers and presidents. Musharraf can testify to the lack of security because he was almost assassinated multiple times, including by his own bodyguards. He survived only because the attackers were inept.
Afghanistan: Comment: International news commentators have reported the details of the attacks in Kabul and three provincial capitals. They have spun in every direction their interpretations of the significance of the anti-government attacks of 15 April.
Some rightly have stressed the failure of intelligence by Afghan, US and NATO agencies, who claimed, after the fact, that they knew the Haqqani syndicate intended attacks. Such claims of prescience are inconsistent with the absence of any intelligence warning, no increased readiness and no heightened vigilance.
The purpose of intelligence is not to be smart, but to be safe. The purpose of intelligence warning is to avoid damage through deterrent or prophylactic action or to minimize its impact through increased readiness. Neither occurred. 20-20 hindsight is entertainment, not actionable intelligence.
Other commentators have cited positively the performance of the Afghan commandos in counterattacking and killing the attackers, at least in Kabul. A thousand Afghan soldiers with half a dozen French and American combat helicopters and all of NATO's modern communications, intelligence, drone and satellite systems in support killed 38 militants in two days of fighting.
This should have been a police problem. The attackers used building construction sites as their bases of operation in Kabul. They have done this before past attacks. The sites were not guarded by anyone.
Western commanders can tout the capabilities of the Afghan forces but these actions proved once again that without tactical air cover the NATO forces and the Afghan commandos are not sustainable in combat against an enemy that is armed with assault rifles and grenade launchers.
There were no Afghan commandos in Pol-e-Alam, Gardez or Jalalabad - the other cities where attacks occurred.
Not reported by mainstream media is that attacks also were attempted in Konduz in northern Afghanistan, which is inconvenient to the conventional narrative that the attacks were launched by the Haqqani faction of the anti-government forces. Haqqani has no known base of influence in Konduz. The Konduz fighters were Taliban Pashtun fighters.
The timing of the attacks suggests they were a reply to the NATO general who claimed last Thursday that there was no Taliban spring offensive, even though daily combat reports show a spike in fighting that began in March and continues into mid-April.
The attacks on Sunday have been called a failed "Tet Offensive." That is nonsense uttered by the ignorant. The anti-government forces staged a demonstration, not a maximum effort. On the 15th they staged 76 attacks. They have demonstrated the capability to surge 600 attacks in a day, if they choose, but only for a day.
The attacks achieved little tactically and operationally. They changed nothing, but strategically, they are a poignant reminder of how little has changed. The anti-government fighters can do in 2012 the same kinds of attacks they did in 2006. And they can repeat that performance indefinitely, whether the commandos are Western or Afghan. They live in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Their sons and grandsons will live there too.
Iran-US: After the latest round of talks with Iran, the US President said on 15 April that the United States had not given anything away in new talks with Iran. Both sides described the talks as positive and agreed to talk again in late May.
Comment: The US statement is confusing because it makes the dominant negotiating power - the US -- appear to be apologizing when there is no apparent need to apologize … unless something might be interpreted as having been given away.
And something was. The Arabs and the Iranians know that the US agreement to participate in talks with the Iranians invests them with stature that Iran could never obtain unless the US bestowed it. Iran got that for nothing.
Every Arab and Persian knows that Iran this week is the center of the Muslim world. Iran got that for nothing because it always professed to be open to talks without conditions.
More significantly, Iran set the terms of a bargain in which a nuclear accord would be exchanged for an end to sanctions. These are not the terms the US has insisted on, which are that the sanctions will end when Iran halts its nuclear program. Iran paid nothing to set the terms, but the next talks will be about the Iranian terms.
The talks went to the Iranians, but the good news is that the sanctions continue to bite, regardless of the questionable diplomacy.
Egypt: The election commission temporarily disqualified Mubarak's ex-vice president Oman Suleiman; the Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate el Shater; and Salafist candidate Abu Ismail, along with seven other of the 23 registered presidential candidates. The men have the right to appeal the decision and comply with the requirements for a valid candidacy.
Comment: The election commission eliminated the top three candidates for president. Suleiman was disqualified for not having enough signatures to support his nomination.
He above all can remedy that. Abu Ismail was disqualified because his mother had US citizenship. He is done.
If the election commission's decisions stand, the next president of Egypt could be a virtual unknown, but still most likely an Islamist.
Mali: The first meeting between the separatist Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and Malian officials from Bamako was held and described positive. Although no details were discussed, the fact of the meeting confirmed both sides' willingness to hold a dialogue, according to an MNLA spokesman. The meeting was held in in Nouakchott, Mauritania, over the weekend.
Comment: A brilliant and extremely well-informed Reader noted that the Tuareg success against the inept Malians could have significant ripple effects because Tuaregs do not recognize colonial-era national borders. Tuareg territory spans Sahelian Africa, including parts of Libya, Niger, Algeria and Burkina Faso, as well as northern Mali.
A US-trained junior officer got angry at his president and unhinged the counter-terrorism strategy of the US, France and five countries in Sahelian Africa.
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