Yemen war deepens; No Trump-Kim meeting notes?; Taliban wants direct talks with US; Cyberdefending dams; and just a bit more…

The war in Yemen begins a new chapter as the U.S. military acknowledged its role in helping refine air strike targets for the UAE while Emirati-backed forces kicked off a new offensive Tuesday evening (Wednesday morning local time) to retake the western port city of Hodeida from Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.

The Houthis have held Hodeida since 2015, the Associated Press reports from neighboring Dubai. That’s the same year the Houthis forced the sitting president to flee the southern port city of Aden for refuge in Saudi Arabia, a move that eventually triggered the Saudi-led intervention on March 22, 2015.

Why now? From the UAE’s perspective — specifically, Emirati State Minister for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash, via Twitter on Tuesday: “The current & illegal Huthi occupation of Hodeida is prolonging the Yemeni war. The liberation of the city & port will create a new reality & bring the Huthis to the negotiations,”

The name of the operation is “Golden Victory,” and Reuters calls it the “biggest assault of [the] Yemen war” to date, which may be true if you don’t count the opening days of the Saudi-led intervention.  

Initial indications — like this from Sky News Arabia — quickly spread on social media when “convoys of vehicles appeared to be heading toward the rebel-held city as heavy gunfire rang out,” AP writes.

The initial battle plan appeared to involve a pincer movement,” AP reports, citing Yemeni security officials. “Some 2,000 troops who crossed the Red Sea from an Emirati naval base in the African nation of Eritrea landed west of the city with plans to seize Hodeida’s port… Emirati forces with Yemeni troops moved in from the south near Hodeida’s airport, while others sought to cut off Houthi supply lines to the east.”

Snapshots of battle: “The Houthis had deployed military vehicles and troops in the city center and near the port, as coalition warplanes flew overhead striking a coastal strip to the south,” Reuters reports. “People were fleeing by routes out to the north and west.”

The damage so far: 30 air strikes had hit the city within half an hour on Wednesday morning,” according to “CARE International, one of the few aid organizations still operating in Hodeidah.” Some 18 or so strikes reportedly hit Houthi “positions on the outskirts of Hodeida on Wednesday,” Agence France-Presse reports from inside Yemen, citing “coalition sources.” And from that, “According to medical sources in the province, 22 Huthi fighters were killed by coalition raids, while three pro-government fighters were killed in a rebel ambush south of Hodeida.”

Just eight days ago, the U.S. warned the UAE against an offensive on Hodeida, fearing it “could precipitate a new humanitarian crisis,” Reuters reported at the time.

But by Tuesday, that story had changed dramatically — according to The Wall Street Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum, who reported yesterday that the U.S. military shared intelligence with the UAE to help it fine-tune its airstrike targets, but only after giving the Emirates a “yellow light” to begin “Golden Victory.”

For what it’s worth, UAE “field commanders” told the AFP they were given a “green light” for the op. Green, yellow — doesn’t matter, because the offensive has begun.

So, what now? All eyes are on the Houthis and their control of the city. Then maybe the coalition will turn to the humanitarian considerations and consequences of “Golden Victory.” And those considerations are immense, and include drinking water disruption in and around Hodeida, and whether or not Yemen’s 8.4 million starving people will rise to 8.5 million or even higher in the days ahead. Get a better picture of the stakes via USAID, here.   

Get smart: Why are we where we are in Yemen today? Take a half-hour to listen to this podcast special, or read all that over at The Atlantic, here.


From Defense One

Trump Got Nearly Nothing From Kim Jong Un // Uri Friedman, The Atlantic: Maybe this is the beginning of something big. But it started off small.

A Summit Short on Details, Yet Better Than War // Tom Z. Collina: The good news is that the Trump administration already has plans to continue the talks.

While Trump Met Kim, A Smuggling Ship Sailed Right Past Singapore // Patrick Tucker: Ship trackers say the initial Trump-Kim deal is unlikely to deter sanctions violators.

What ‘Missile Engine Testing Site’ Is Trump Talking About? // Patrick Tucker: It’s unclear. But experts say it also doesn’t really matter: it’s unlikely to much affect the North’s nuclear capabilities.

The Secrecy Surrounding the John Doe-ISIS Case Is the Real Threat // Nate Christiansen: An accused terrorist may go free because the Trump administration demanded an end-run around the rule of law.

Two Companies Picked To Protect Nation’s 600 Dams from Cyberattacks // Aaron Boyd, Nextgov: The Interior Department awarded spots on a five-year, $45 million contract to manage IT risk for more than 600 dams nationwide.

The State Department’s New Cyber Reports Miss the Point Entirely // David Fidler, Council on Foreign Relations: Amid a crisis in U.S. cyber policy, a pair of reports on deterrence and international engagement offer recycled ideas.

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. And if you find this useful, consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. They can subscribe here for free. On this day in 1942, the U.S. formed the Office of War Information (think: “Uncle Sam Wants You!”) and a quiet little other government agency called the Office of Strategic Services.


The threat of nuclear war between the U.S. and North Korea is “over,” POTUS says this morning on (what else) Twitter, the Associated Press reports.
Counterpoint: “Absolutely untrue,” says Nicholas Burns, George W. Bush’s undersecretary of state for policy. “North Korea is still a nuclear threat to the U.S., South Korea and Japan.  Kim has not dismantled any part of his nuclear apparatus.”
Still, always better to jaw-jaw than war-war, as Churchill said. A New York Times 10-things-you-need-to-know piece on the summit comes to that conclusion, among others. So does Ploughshares’ Tom Collina, writing for Defense One.
No notes? It’s not clear that anyone on the U.S. side recorded or took notes as President Trump talked with North Korea’s Kim on Tuesday, according to this White House transcript of the subsequent press conference.
So what did they agree about sanctions? Trump told reporters they would stay in place until “the menace of nuclear weapons” is removed. The North’s state-controlled media, however, reported that the economic pressure would be lifted immediately.
And ending joint exercises with South Korea? Trump sounded unequivocal in his remarks to reporters, but it’s easy enough to turn those on and off (with apologies to the many, many planners, troops, and officials who know that putting together a giant exercise is anything but easy). And perhaps some version of the “war games” will go on under the rubric of “training exercises.” The real damage is having blindsided U.S. allies — South Korea and also Japan — who now know that Trump and the United States are willing to pull the rug out from under them.
Stavridis’s take: Ending the exercises is a grave mistake.
Putin’s idea? The Russian leader suggested it to Trump last year, according to this Wall Street Journal article from January.

The leader of the Taliban in Afghanistan wants direct talks with the U.S., Voice of America reported Tuesday. That leader, Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, delivered a “message of felicitation” for this year’s Eid ul Fitr festival in an email to journalists this week.
In his own words: “If the American officials truly believe in a peaceful end to the Afghan imbroglio, then they must directly present themselves to the negotiation table so that this tragedy [invasion] the destructive effects of which mainly harm the American and Afghan people can be resolved through talks.”
Not exactly the language of diplomacy. Despite calls for direct talks, Akhundzada still calls U.S.“invaders” who will bring peace to the country only when they leave. That line: “The American invaders have not desisted from any brutality and severity in pursuit of subduing our nation. They bomb our villages, cities, mosques, madrassas and other events, murder innocent civilians, forcibly displace them and torment thousands of Afghans through unimaginable torture in prisons.”
For the NATO-led military’s part, they told Reuters “we hope [the Taliban’s own three-day cease-fire] leads to dialogue and progress on reconciliation”.  A bit more, here.

Meanwhile in that other country the U.S. and pals invaded in the early 21st century, Shiite factions continue their consolidation of power in Iraq, as “cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has announced an unexpected political alliance with pro-Iranian militia chief Hadi al-Amiri in a bid to lead Iraq over the next four years,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Tuesday.
One benefit: “The Sadr-Amiri pact could ease fears of violence, which some have said could even spiral into intra-Shi’ite civil war,” Reuters adds from Baghdad. More, but not a lot more, here.  

Congress is having to force the Pentagon to tell it what the hell it’s doing, Task & Purpose reported Tuesday — after reading the 600-plus-page report on this year’s National Defense Authorization Act.
The section in question is “buried on pages 310 and 311, inside a section on ‘notifications for sensitive military operations,’” T&P writes. As written, it reads, “Despite the [Defense] Department’s guidelines regarding notifications, recent notifications have been both untimely and insufficiently detailed for the committee to conduct necessary oversight… Therefore, the committee directs the Department to comply with the following requirements for notifications of sensitive military operations going forward.” Read the requirements in the rest of T&P’s report, here.

A possible rogue CBP agent (last name: Rambo) is in hot water for questioning New York Times national security reporter Ali Watkins (at the time working for Politico) about alleged leaks, the Washington Post reported Tuesday.
The gist: “Rambo’s behavior was un­or­tho­dox. It’s highly unusual for government investigators to question reporters about their sources, and national security leaks are generally investigated by the FBI, not CBP, part of the Department of Homeland Security. Rambo also contacted Watkins using a personal email address and declined to provide his name.”
The problem, in short: “Rambo’s search of travel records could be a crime if he didn’t have a legitimate reason to examine that information, which is protected by privacy laws and regulations that prevent unauthorized disclosures of personal information.” Read on, here.

And finally today: The Coast Guard will be getting $117 million worth of small drones, the U.S. Naval Institute News reported Tuesday. The drone: Insitu’s ScanEagle, a deal which “marks the end of what had become a multi-year testing process for the Coast Guard to find an unmanned aircraft to assist with its ongoing mission to stop drug smuggling and human trafficking.”
Specs: “ScanEagle can remain aloft for more than 24 hours, can cruise at 55 knots with a maximum speed of 90 knots, and has service ceiling of 15,000 feet… The system is shot from a pneumatic launcher and recovered using a hook and arresting wire. ScanEagle is 8.2-feet long and has a 16-foot wingspan.”
And for what it’s worth, “The Coast Guard had been using ScanEagle in a limited basis when the system deployed aboard USCGC Stratton (WMSL-752). The Coast Guard credits ScanEagle with helping Stratton’s crew interdict an estimated $165 million worth of cocaine during a two month period in 2017.” Continue reading, here.

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