NightWatch

For the Night of 7 August 2009

 

North Korea:  Update.   North Korean officials told the the chairwoman of the South Korean company Hyundai Asan that North Korea is willing to negotiate the release of a South Korean worker who was detained in late March in a North-South joint industrial zone for allegedly denouncing North Korea, The Associated Press reported 7 August.

 

 Hyundai Asan denied the report, saying North Korean officials made no mention of the captive worker to the chairwoman during her routine trip to the industrial zone on 4 August.

 

The Hyundai Asan chairwoman’s denial is pro forma, lest any public statement frustrate negotiations. This marks the sixth overture for easing tension.  The South Koreans have been waiting for their turn in the rotation.

 

Indonesia: Thaindian reported that Indonesian security officers arrested Noordin Mohammad Top, a key member of Jemaah Islamiyah who is the most wanted man in Indonesia. 

 

Indonesian police exchanged gunfire with the occupants of the house in Java, believed to shelter Noordin top and his associates. Police said the anti-terror operation in the Temanggung district followed the arrest on Friday of several suspected militants loyal to Noordin Mohamed Top, who is actually a native Malaysian.

 

He is widely viewed as responsible for a string of fatal bomb blasts in Indonesia over the last seven years. They include the 2002 Bali bombing; the 2003 JW Marriott hotel bombing in Jakarta; the 2004 Australian Embassy bombing in Jakarta; the 2005 Bali bombings, as well as the bombings of the Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in Jakarta on 17 July.

 

 He has been wanted by Malaysian and Indonesian authorities since 2002, and in 2006 he was ranked No. 3 on the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorists list.  The reporting on Noordin’s arrest is contradictory, but if confirmed, it would be tonight’s good news.

 

Malaysia:  The new leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) , Selvarajah Pathmanathan, was arrested in Malaysia on 6 August and has been turned over to the Sri Lankan military, Pakistan's The News reported. In a statement, the Tamil Tigers said Pathmanathan was apprehended by the Malaysian Royal Intelligence Corps near a hotel. A Sri Lankan military spokesman said Pathmanathan has been brought to Sri Lanka and is being questioned.

 

The significance of this is that it showcases the effectiveness of one of the permanent solutions to a terrorist operation, known as “poisoning the host.”  The LTTE will elect or appoint new leadership, but as long as all the plausible refuges are hostile, the new leadership will get caught and extradited to Sri Lanka for trial. The denial of a refuge is a permanent systems solution.

 

Pakistan:  Pakistani Intelligence sources confirmed the death of Pakistan Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, according to Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi today as reported by Dawn News.  He said Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) insurgent group, along with one of his wives and six bodyguards were killed in a missile attack 5 August.

 

Reuters reported that the TTP leadership called an advisory council meeting or "shura," to choose a successor, and among those being considered are Mehsud's spokesman Hakimullah, Azmatullah and Wali Ur Rehman.

 

The Afghanistan Taliban's efforts will not be affected by the death of Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, said Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid, Reuters reported.. "We feel sympathy for our brothers who fight for the same cause, but resistance against the Afghan government and its foreign allies will continue," he said.

 

Comment: The death of Baitullah Mehsud produced a leadership gap that lasted less than 36 hours. That is the downside of decapitation tactics – billed as strategies -- against tribal insurgencies and uprisings. Decapitation has never proven to be a permanent solution that produces the destruction of a pre-modern armed opposition movement.

 

The western model of leadership posits that elimination of the leader collapses the opposition. That is mythology in the West as well as everywhere else. More importantly, decapitation appears to strengthen organizational commitment to the remaining leaders.

 

Poisoning the host, as in the Sri Lankan anecdote above, is a more durable and devastating strategy for suppressing insurgency and terrorism than decapitation because of what Professor Bob Jervis describes as Systems Effects, in his book with the same name.

 

A new study by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace highlighted another down-side of decapitation. The author of the study pointed out that in killing the more experienced Taliban field commanders the Forces of Order denied themselves opportunities to fracture the insurgent movement, by exploiting the grounds for disagreement. 

 

Experienced field commanders are prone to balk at unreasonable orders and break away from senior religious leaders who fail to appreciate their operational problems, responding with platitudes and suras (i.e., Quranic verses) to requests for ammunition and explosives.

 

On the other hand, new leaders strive to prove their loyalty to the cause, however unreasonable its directives. This results in greater organizational integrity in the short term.

 

Decapitation is a useful short term tactic, but no one should confuse it with a strategy. At every level of targeting wisdom the drone campaign has been an expensive, long term failure in the sense that it has produced dead men but no measurable reduction in the threat to US interests in Afghanistan or Pakistan; no reduction in the determination of anti-US fighters to die for the Taliban; no reduction in the spread of Taliban influence and attacks in Afghanistan or in the fighting in Pakistan; no disincentive to  other terrorist groups in attacking pro-US interests anywhere in the world and it has made Pakistani hostility to the US nearly nation-wide. It has backfired for eight years.

 

 In the National Security Advisor’s search for metrics, this program is a negative model. It is tempting to imagine what might have been accomplished in Afghanistan by devoting the drone resources and finances to simpler proven tactics, like bribery and good old fashioned human source intelligence work.

 

Afghanistan:  The new NATO Secretary General Rasmussen said there is no purely military solution to Afghanistan, and to win, the core of the new NATO strategy is to provide Afghan people with better opportunities in life, to win their "hearts and minds." Rasmussen also said in several weeks NATO field commanders will submit reports on the situation, which will be used to formulate a plan on how to proceed.

 

NightWatch Comment:   The Dane has been preaching the NATO gospel all week, but it is time to raise a red flag to the pontification about winning hearts and minds in Afghanistan. First, the hearts and minds of the Afghans in general are probably less significant as targets than ensuring the tomato harvest and bringing in the other food crops before winter without having to dodge bullets.

 

Second, how does a  “hearts and minds” strategy work with the Durani Pashtuns vs the Ghilzai Pashtuns vs the Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, gypsies, and Nuristanis plus the hundreds of clans. What makes modern people think Afghans are all cast of the same mold? They pride themselves on being the world’s greatest tribal society, according to Dupree, extolling difference not similarity.

 

The evidence that one idea fits all Afghans is an insult to a tribal society that was ancient and honorable before the time of Alexander the Great. There could never be one hearts and minds program for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The tribes are culturally too diverse. Ask them.

 

As for the Western capability to understand the hearts and minds of the pre- and semi- modern ethnic groups, history is not on the side of success. Southeast Asia after World War II featured a succession of blunders owing mostly to profound ignorance and arrogance. Events in South Asia and Palestine after World War II and Sub-Saharan African in 1960 are testaments to western misunderstanding about the importance of security over “being liked,” paid for in the lives of local populations.

 

Older experts,  every bit as educated, insightful and sensitive as modern experts, failed to understand the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese a generation ago. The evidence is lacking that a new generation of theorists, strategists, planners, experts and generals have superior knowledge, scholarship and insight about a still more primitive people than the Vietnamese. The results of so much “human terrain” study are not apparent on the ground in Afghanistan after nine years. Expertise is never enough.

 

And, do serious minded people today really think the enormously complex actions of living systems are comparable to the study of geography, as implied in the term “human terrain? “

 

Somehow the US society at large, including the defense establishment, has forgotten the lessons of Vietnam. One judgment they forgot is that the Veterans of Vietnam universally judged the hearts and minds program of that era to be a source of ridicule and shame.  And does anyone today seriously believe that all government resources were not applied to the Vietnam conflict? The US was at war then, not just the Defense Department.

 

It is hard for the older generation of ex- and retired soldiers and government officers to believe that their younger successors would actually “swallow” slogans as a substitute for serious problem solving.   One wonders who dug up this slogan of past failure.

 

The NightWatch suspicion is that the politicians’ continual references to the need to win Afghan hearts and minds are a shallow strategem to deflect blame onto the NATO armed forces in the event the Afghanistan adventure miscarries.

 

If Rasmussen continues to use “hearts and minds” as a rallying cry, he is in danger of becoming an object of derision, even in Denmark.  A slogan is not a strategy. 

 

Georgia-Russia: During this Watch, no news services have reported disturbances of any sort on the anniversary of the fragmentation of Georgia.

 

Eritrea-Somalia:  For the record.  Eritrea's information minister today denied a claim by U.S. Secretary of State Clinton that his country is sending weapons to Islamist insurgents in Somalia, The Washington Post reported. The minister added that the U.S. program to double an initial provision of 40 tons of arms to Somalia's government "will only produce hatred."

 

Niger:  Update.  President, Mamadou Tandja, claimed his referendum to change the Constitution has passed and he intends to run for a third term as president, the BBC reported 7 August.

 

End of NightWatch for 7 August.