Yemen’s three wars

Gregory D. Johnsen writes:

Last month, over the course of a few days in Yemen, one governor survived a roadside bomb while a second was denied entry through a checkpoint ostensibly run by his own government. At a military college in Aden, the government’s temporary capital, pro-secessionist soldiers opened fire on a graduation ceremony in response to the raising of the national flag. Three small security events—barely blips in Yemen’s daily catalogue of strikes that have already disappeared from the news. But each incident happened far from Yemen’s frontlines, and each, in its own way, is a reminder that what we call the war in Yemen is actually three separate yet overlapping conflicts.

There is the U.S.-led war against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State in Yemen. There is a regional conflict, pitting Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates against Iran. And there is a messy and multi-sided civil war, featuring the Houthis, what’s left of the Yemeni government, a southern secessionist movement, UAE proxy forces, and various different militias—some Salafi, some local, and some closer to criminal gangs—all vying to grab and hold as much territory as they can.

As distinct as these three wars are, each has porous borders, which bleed into one another. So the United States, which is fighting AQAP and the Islamic State, is also aiding Saudi Arabia and the UAE in its war against the Houthis, who are, in turn, themselves fighting AQAP and the Islamic State. UAE proxy forces, which were established to fight AQAP and the Houthis, also periodically clash with government troops loyal to President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who asked for the UAE’s military help in the first place. Salafi militias in Taizz fight the Houthis one day and government forces the next. [Continue reading…]

‘Killing a generation’ — one million more children at risk from famine in Yemen

AFP reports:

More than five million children are at risk of famine in Yemen as the ongoing war causes food and fuel prices to soar across the country, charity Save the Children has warned.

Disruption to supplies coming through the embattled Red Sea port of Hodeida could “cause starvation on an unprecedented scale”, the British-based NGO said in a new report.

Save the Children said an extra one million children now risk falling into famine as prices of food and transportation rise, bringing the total to 5.2 million.

Any type of closure at the port “would put the lives of hundreds of thousands of children in immediate danger while pushing millions more into famine”, it added. [Continue reading…]

North and South Korea take important steps to demilitarize the Korean peninsula

Richard Sokolsky writes:

At yesterday’s summit meeting in Pyongyang between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, the defense ministers of the two countries signed an important agreement to reduce military tensions along the two sides’ heavily militarized border. As of November 1, no-fly zones will be established along the border and both sides will halt artillery and other military drills close to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating the two countries. The North and South also agreed to dismantle several of the heavily armed guard posts they have each constructed inside the DMZ and to create a maritime peace zone in the West Sea (Yellow Sea).

These military confidence building measures (CBMs), and others that are under discussion to reduce border tensions and build mutual trust, such as banning the entry of warships and live-fire exercises around the Northern Limit Line (NLL), are historically significant and lay a solid foundation for more far-reaching measures to reduce the risk of a surprise attack or inadvertent conflict. The US and the rest of the world have been fixated on North Korea’s denuclearization—and the agreements that were announced yesterday on denuclearization have garnered most of today’s headlines. But a “bolt out of the blue” North Korean nuclear attack on the United States, which would be suicidal for the Kim dynasty and his country, has always been a fantastical scenario. The most likely trigger for any large-scale conventional conflict between North Korea and US/ROK forces has always been a local incident or accident that escalates out of control. [Continue reading…]

Only a fool takes Putin at his word in Syria

Nic Robertson writes:

Trusting Russia to keep its word in Syria is rather like believing in good faith that its intelligence agents only visited the UK to see Salisbury Cathedral.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s new peace plan — forged with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan — to protect the three million civilians crowded in camps in Idlib is staggeringly hard to take at face value for a multitude of reasons — not least, because of Putin’s history of denying all allegations against him, despite the mountain of compelling evidence.

Only last week, Putin sided with the implausible story told by two of his military intelligence agents, claiming that they were only in the UK as tourists. British authorities have amassed tomes of evidence implicating them in a brazen attempt to commit murder.

Such is Putin’s disdain for truth, his sudden peace plan in Idlib can only be read as a cynical attempt to dodge what would have been a barrage of condemnation at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) next week.

Without President Donald Trump pushing the US to stand in his way, Putin can run roughshod over all reasonable objections to start the final battle for Idlib.

His use of Turkey’s autocratic leader to help pull the wool over the international community’s eyes smacks not just of opportunism, but also a strategic resolve to draw this NATO partner out of the alliance. [Continue reading…]

New revelations about the Sabra and Shatila massacre

Seth Anziska writes:

Historians try not to audibly gasp in the reading rooms of official archives, but there are times when the written record retains a capacity to shock. In 2012, while working at the Israel State Archives in Jerusalem, I came across highly classified material from Israel’s 1982 War in Lebanon that had just been opened to researchers. This access was in line with the thirty-year rule of declassification governing the release of documents in Israel. Sifting through Foreign Ministry files, I stumbled upon the minutes of a September 17 meeting between Israeli and American officials that took place in the midst of the Sabra and Shatila massacre.

The startling verbatim exchange between Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon and US diplomat Morris Draper clearly demonstrated how the slaughter of civilians in the Palestinian refugee camps of south Beirut was prolonged by Draper’s acquiescence in the face of Sharon’s deceptive claim of “terrorists” remaining behind. This made the US unwittingly complicit in the notorious three-day massacre carried out by militiamen linked to the Phalange, a right-wing political party of Lebanese Maronite Christians that was allied with Israel.

Not long after publishing these findings, I was approached by William Quandt, a leading American expert on the Middle East who served on the National Security Council with responsibility for Arab-Israeli affairs under President Jimmy Carter. Quandt had been an expert consultant for the defense in the 1983–1984 lawsuit of Ariel Sharon v. Time Magazine, in which Sharon sued Time for libel over its coverage of his role in the massacre. In the course of preparing for the case, which was eventually settled out of court, the New York-based law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore obtained classified material from the secret appendix of the official Israeli report into the massacre, known as the Kahan Commission. Large sections of the Hebrew original were translated into English by the law firm, and have been authenticated by several experts, including Israeli sources. Quandt was given a copy of those documents and passed them along to me for my own research. [Continue reading…]

France’s Macron admits to military’s systematic use of torture in Algeria war

The Washington Post reports:

France will formally acknowledge the French military’s systemic use of torture in the Algerian War in the 1950s and 1960s, an unprecedented step forward in grappling with its long-suppressed legacy of colonial crimes.

President Emmanuel Macron announced his watershed decision in the context of a call for clarity on the fate of Maurice Audin, a Communist mathematician and anti-colonial activist who was tortured by the French army and forcibly disappeared in 1957, during Algeria’s bloody struggle for independence from France.

Audin’s death is a specific case, but it represents a cruel system put in place at the state level, the Elysee Palace said. “It was nonetheless made possible by a legally instituted system: the ‘arrest-detention’ system, set up under the special powers that [had] been entrusted by law to the armed forces at that time,” reads a statement that was to be released by Macron’s office Thursday, seen by Le Monde newspaper.

Benjamin Stora, a leading French historian of Algeria who has written more than 20 books on the subject, said that Macron’s decision represented a move away from “the silence of the father” that has characterized France’s relationship to its colonial past for decades. [Continue reading…]

3 million people with nowhere to go as Assad’s forces are about to attack

Kareem Shaheen writes:

The first thing that struck me when I saw Idlib, the rebel-held province in northwestern Syria, in April last year was how green the country was. Olive and cherry trees lined the pockmarked roads leading from the Turkish border down to the province’s towns. Smoke rose in the distance in the aftermath of an airstrike or an exploding shell, and the buildings in most towns were scarred by blows from the sky.

I had traveled to Idlib to report on the chemical attack in the town of Khan Sheikhun by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which killed over 80 people. I remember watching Abdulhamid al-Yousef, a father of two, hold his son and daughter before their burial; they were poisoned by the very air they breathed. According to the independent United Nations Commission of Inquiry, President Assad’s air force was responsible for the chemical gas attack, which killed Mr. Yousef’s wife and children, along with several other relatives.

A friend trying to comfort the distraught Mr. Yousef told him a story about “al-sirat,” a bridge that Muslims believe people must cross on the day of judgment. Al-sirat is believed to be thinner than a hair and leads to the gates of paradise. “On the day of judgment, those who lose their children and bear the tragedy with forbearance will be reunited with them,” the friend said. “Their children will have wings and will fly them across al-sirat to the gates of paradise.”

Mr. Yousef seemed to wake up. “And their mother too? Ahmad and Aya will be there? And Hammoudi and Ammoura?” he said. Ahmad and Aya were his children. Hammoudi and Ammoura, his nephews.

The moment still gnaws at me.

Over the past week, a gathering storm pointed to an impending assault by Mr. Assad’s regime and his Russian patrons on Idlib, with aid agencies warning of a humanitarian catastrophe that could drive new waves of refugees into neighboring Turkey. Russian airstrikes have already killed 13 people in Idlib. Mr. Assad’s forces are shelling the area, and his Iranian and Russian allies have chosen dehumanizing language and described the militants in Idlib as “this festering abscess that needs to be liquidated.” [Continue reading…]

How the U.S. government misleads the public on Afghanistan

The New York Times reports:

Seventeen years into the war in Afghanistan, American officials routinely issue inflated assessments of progress that contradict what is actually happening there.

More than 2,200 Americans have been killed in the Afghan conflict, and the United States has spent more than $840 billion fighting the Taliban insurgency and paying for relief and reconstruction. The war has become more expensive, in current dollars, than the Marshall Plan, which helped to rebuild Europe after World War II. That investment has created intense pressure for Americans to show the Taliban are losing and the country is improving.

But since 2017, the Taliban have held more Afghan territory than at any time since the American invasion. In just one week last month, the insurgents killed 200 Afghan police officers and soldiers, overrunning two major Afghan bases and the city of Ghazni.

The American military says the Afghan government effectively “controls or influences” 56 percent of the country. But that assessment relies on statistical sleight of hand. In many districts, the Afghan government controls only the district headquarters and military barracks, while the Taliban control the rest. [Continue reading…]

How Assad made truth a casualty of war

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad writes:

On February 22, 2012, when the British photojournalist Paul Conroy survived the artillery barrage that killed Marie Colvin, he was rushed to a place of greater danger. Bashar al-Assad’s war of repression has killed civilians indiscriminately, but its targeting of medical facilities has been systematic. Hospitals are the most endangered spaces in opposition-held areas. Of the 492 medical facilities destroyed in the war, Physicians for Human Rights attributes the destruction of 446 to Assad and his allies. The UN Commission of Inquiry has charged the regime and its allies with having “systematically targeted medical facilities… and intentionally attacking medical personnel.” With a pierced abdomen and a fist-sized hole in his thigh, Conroy was carried to hospital under a hail of mortar fire. It was the only hospital in Baba Amr, the besieged Homs neighborhood Colvin and Conroy had been reporting from—and it had no anaesthetics. As the hospital’s only doctor cut away Conroy’s torn muscles and stapled his wounds, Conroy had to dull the pain with three cigarettes.

Conroy was where he wanted to be, but not in the manner he had intended. A day earlier, he had convinced Marie Colvin, the intrepid Sunday Times correspondent, that the situation in Baba Amr was too dangerous for them to stay. Colvin had agreed to leave on the condition that they visit the beleaguered hospital one more time. The day before that, Colvin had also made the fateful decision to speak to the BBC and CNN about the dire situation inside the siege. She was aware that the broadcast would reveal her presence to the regime, putting her life in danger. A Lebanese intelligence officer had earlier warned them both that regime troops had orders to execute any Western journalists on the spot. (New information suggests that Colvin was indeed actively targeted by the regime.)

The regime had failed to thwart their entry, but it was determined to prevent their exit. Early the morning after her last broadcast, the regime started its assault on the activist-run media center where Conroy and Colvin were housed. A former artillery gunner in the British Army, Conroy quickly judged that the barrage was targeted at the media center. But before he could warn Colvin, the center had taken a direct hit, killing Colvin and the French photojournalist Rémi Ochlik, wounding Conroy and others.

The incident was a turning point. It signaled the regime’s willingness to use deadly violence to thwart independent witness to its slaughter. [Continue reading…]

China and Russia have set a nuclear collision course with the United States

Gordon G. Chang writes:

China, the New York Times reported last week, “can now challenge American military supremacy in the places that matter most to it: the waters around Taiwan and in the disputed South China Sea.” Therefore, Beijing can, in the words of the paper, “make intervention in the region too costly for Washington to contemplate.”

Too costly to contemplate? Unfortunately, assessments like these, often heard in U.S. policy circles, can embolden the already arrogant Chinese and make their adventurism—and war—more likely.

Moreover, any conflict between China and the United States in the Pacific could quickly escalate to nuclear war.

China, surpassing the U.S. last year, now boasts the world’s largest navy, and it is adding to its fleet “at a stunning rate,” according to the Times. Even last year, the count was lopsided with China claiming 317 surface vessels and subs in active service and the U.S. 283.

Of course, it’s not clear how capable the People’s Liberation Army Navy is. The PLAN, as it is known, has never participated in a large-scale wartime engagement at sea, and its fleet is not, on the whole, as modern as America’s.

Nonetheless, China has a few critical advantages. Its naval assets are concentrated along its shores and U.S. forces are spread around the globe; areas of likely conflict are near China and far from America; and the PLAN has some crucial weapons that are better than those of the United States, especially anti-ship missiles. Beijing has also gone big into “asymmetric” warfare, for instance militarizing fishing fleets, enlisting the “little blue men” of what has become a maritime militia. [Continue reading…]