India-Pakistan: Update. The directors-general of military operations from the two countries spoke on the telephone about the recent ceasefire violations along the Line of Control in Kashmir. Press outlets report they reached an understanding on de-escalating the tension. The two generals ordered strict observance of the November 2003 ceasefire to their respective forces.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Khar said Pakistan is open to discussion to ensure the ceasefire.
Comment: This outcome was fore-ordained two weeks ago. The unanswered questions are who prompted the increase in border tension and for what purposes.
The timing of the attacks corresponds to the multiple internal political crises besetting the government of Prime Minister Ashraf, which were addressed in last night's NightWatch.
Some coalition of interest groups wants to bring down the Zardari presidency and the Pakistan People's Party-led coalition government before the elections in March. They seem to want to re-create in Pakistan the Arab Spring uprising that brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt, but with much stronger Pakistan Army influence.
Readers are urged to keep in mind that the Pakistan Army is Islamist and consistently has opposed secular, elected government. The Army is the party that made Pakistan an Islamic Republic.
Algeria: Islamist militants, apparently affiliated with al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, seized a natural gas facility in east-central Algeria early Wednesday. The 20 or so attackers took as hostages up to 41 foreign supervisors, technicians and workers. They include at least 13 Norwegians and seven Americans, plus one Irishman, and a number of Japanese and British citizens. Two workers died in the attack.
The group announced that this attack was in retaliation for the French use of Algerian airspace to mount their attack against Islamist rebels in Mali. The attack group reportedly is led by a militant named Mokhtar Belmokhtar, an Algerian. He claimed that his group would release the hostages if the French stopped their operations in Mali.
During this Watch, Algerian forces have surrounded the plant and the situation is in a standoff.
Comment: Despite French warnings about retaliation, this plant in eastern Algeria undertook no increased security measures. The salient features of the Islamists in Mali to date are their organization and discipline. Today's action adds to their military repertoire communications connectivity with sympathetic groups in Algeria. The Islamists threatened retaliation over the weekend and they have been as good as their word.
Today's attack and hostage-taking occurred a long way from Mali. The al-Qaida franchise in the Saharan region is far more sophisticated and coordinated than the Pashtun and Uzbek tribal fighters in Afghanistan or the tribal Arabs in Yemen. Southern Algeria appears to be their base of operations, not LIbya.
Mali: Malian and French ground troops clashed with Islamic rebels in Diabaly on 16 January. The French-Malian force has not yet recaptured the village.
Mauritania reportedly has increased its border patrols, reducing the rebel ability to operate with impunity from Mauritanian territory.
Comment: A prominent narrative in the English language press is that the jihadists and Islamist rebels who seized northern Mali, plus their weapons, came from Libya. In fact, the information in the public domain indicates they came from Algeria and maintain connectivity with other Algerian Islamist groups. The attack at the gas facility at In Amenas, Algeria, tends to reinforce that judgment.
The significance is that the Islamist takeover of northern Mali was not a ripple effect from the inept NATO management of the Libyan uprising. It is a more sinister and well planned expansion of the Algerian Islamist rebels, who form the core of al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. These are tough guys.
End of NightWatch ###.
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