Night Watch

Japan: Japan has sovereignty over the disputed Senkaku Island and will not come to a compromise that would represent a retreat from that position, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said 26 September, after attending the U.N. General Assembly session.

Comment: Noda's statement guarantees future confrontations with the Chinese. No one in Asia will thank China if its assertions of sovereignty ignite Japanese militarism again. China did not fare well in the last test of strength with Japan over regional hegemony. Japan has the most advanced armed forces… self-defense forces … in Asia.

Somalia-Kenya: Update. The fall of the al Shabaab stronghold and Indian Ocean port city of Kismayo is imminent, according to the Kenyan Broadcasting Corporation. Kenyan Defense Forces (KDF) fixed wing combat aircraft attacked the city on 25 September, destroying a warehouse and an armory, KDF sources said.

Comment: Competent applications of combat air power appear to be decisive in the fight against al Shabaab. Without access to the Indian Ocean and air defense weapons, al Shabaab cannot survive as an organized force on its own, meaning it requires the patronage and protection of sympathetic Somali tribes. Lacking air defenses, the tribes also are vulnerable. No news outlets have reported recently on the attitudes of the tribes towards al Shabaab.

Egypt: At the UN General Assembly on 26 September, President Mursi said Egypt opposes foreign military intervention in Syria and is committed to pursuing an end to the Syrian crisis through Arab, regional and international negotiations. Mursi also insisted that public speech must be responsible, not free.

Comment: The significance of Mursi's first and possibly only speech at the UN is that it purports to establish him as a leader of the Arab world, challenging King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia. Mursi has cheek, if not good sense, because Saudi Arabia is providing $2 billion in aid to Egypt.

As a Muslim Brotherhood member, Mursi has strong reasons to oppose the Alawite government in Syria, which massacred the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood at Hama in 1982. However, Saudi Arabia opposes both the pro-Iranian Alawite government of Syrian President Asad and the Muslim Brotherhood. Mursi did not wrap himself in glory at the UN.

Mali: Malian authorities sent a letter to the United Nations formally requesting authorization for a West African-led military force to help it seize back territory from Islamist rebels.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius disclosed the existence of the letter on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. Fabius said, "The Malian government wants this force."

He said the letter to the UN was signed by Mali's President Dioncounda Traore and Prime Minister Cheikh Modibo Diarra and had been sent to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on 19 September.

He said the request outlined the precise terms under which Mali envisaged welcoming troops from the West African regional bloc ECOWAS to fight alongside government forces battling to recover land lost to rebel forces.

Comment: Under the Malian proposal, West African troops would support the Malian troops "on the ground" in retaking the Islamist-occupied north of the country. France has promised to provide logistic support but not combat troops.

"Military air-borne equipment will be provided by countries like Nigeria but also by countries like France and other countries of the international community who have those means," according to an official document. The document said "nearly two months" would be needed to get the allied forces' operation started and begin rooting out the extremists in the north. Some 3,000 troops will constitute the initial force contingent.

The ECOWAS force will be operative after receiving approval from the UN.

The West Africans have not moved swiftly, but the northern rebels are going nowhere. The attack in Benghazi has added urgency to the efforts to assemble a force capable of denying al Qaida access to northern Mali for use as a base of operations.

Mali-Tuaregs: The Tuareg rebels' National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) warned that it could join "Islamist and terrorist groups" occupying northern Mali if West African troops intervene in the region.

"The MNLA will not be a shield for the Islamists to stop the international community from kicking them out of the Azawad" region, Ibrahim Ag Mohamed Asseleh, a member of the Azawad transitional council, the MNLA's provisional government, told AFP.

He warned "against any military intervention in Azawad without prior agreement between the MNLA and the authorities in Bamako." Otherwise this intervention could lead us to seek alliances of convenience with Islamist and terrorist groups," he added in Ouagadougou where a number of MNLA officials are based, including its head, Bilal Ag Acherif.

Comment: The Tuaregs oppose the Islamic fundamentalists who continue to enforce their brutish interpretation of Sharia in northern Mali. They represent a significant force to reinforce operations against the fundamentalists and terrorists, in return for recognition of their autonomy. West African and Malian forces will need their knowledge of the ground and their fighters.

One news outlet reported the al Qaida elements that murdered the US ambassador to Libya operated from northern Mali. This claim has not been confirmed by other sources.

Mali-China: For the record. China has offered support to the Malian military in its efforts to reclaim the northern part of the country from Islamist rebels.

Greece: The General Confederation of Employees of Greece and the civil servants' union federation declared a 24-hour nationwide strike on Wednesday in protest against the finalization of the new package of austerity measures demanded by Greece's creditors.

Tens of thousands of protesters demonstrated outside Greece's parliament on 26 September against austerity measures. The strike included doctors, teachers, tax workers, ferry operators and air traffic controllers. The Greek government is looking for ways to cut 11.5 billion euros ($14.7 billion) from the country's budget.

Comment: The economic hardships and austerity measures carry the risk of a breakdown in civil order. The key indicator of a spreading, unmanageable breakdown is the duration of protests. Thus far they have been short lived in Spain and Greece.

The international media has suggested the Eurozone crisis is now on a more stable trajectory. The protests suggest otherwise. European bankers and financial experts continue to fail to distinguish financial risks from real threats. There will be more outbreaks of civil disorder and more violent clashes.

End of NightWatch ###.

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