The Yemen war may officially de-escalate just a bit now that the Houthi rebels have offered to stop launching drones and firing rockets into Saudi Arabia “for the sake of peace efforts,” the Associated Press reports from the Houthi-held capital of Sana’a. Reuters calls it “by far the biggest concession from the movement since it left the southern port city of Aden in 2015.”
Quick read: “The rebel leader, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, said in a statement to journalists that the Iran-backed rebels ordered the cessation of rocket and drone attacks on the Saudis and forces loyal to coalition member the United Arab Emirates at the request of U.N. special envoy Martin Griffiths,” according to AP.
For his part, Griffiths said Friday he’s working to get the Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition to a peace table sometime soon in Sweden. When is yet to be determined — as is whether or not the Houthis will even attend. (They opted out of the last round of talks back in September.)
What about Hodeida, where the Saudis and Emiratis recently re-started an offensive on the Houthi-held port city? Fighting has receded a bit inside the city, but the margins are still hot, as are “the provinces of Marib, Dhale, Bayda, and the Houthis’ northern strongholds of Hajjah and Saada,” AP writes.
Said one Yemeni to Reuters: “We pray that this will be the real beginning of peace in Yemen, we are all tired of this war.”
Said another: “We just want to live like other humans.”
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Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. If you find this stuff useful, consider sharing The D Brief with somebody you think might find it useful, too. And thanks for reading! On this day in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.
U.S. to Taliban: End the Afghan war in April 2019? America’s Afghan war envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, met with the Taliban (for the second time in a month) just last week for a three-day session in Qatar, he told reporters Sunday in Kabul. Somewhat remarkably, during that meeting Khalilzad pitched an April 2019 deadline to end the war, Reuters reports. That deadline also happens to be the date of Afghanistan’s next presidential elections.
The Taliban’s response: No. Postpone the elections first, then establish “an interim government under a neutral leadership,” AP reports. “Khalilzad also proposed a cease-fire, which the Taliban rejected,” and the two sides failed to reach an “agreement on the release of prisoners, opening the Taliban office or lifting a Taliban travel ban.”
Kabul’s response? Unknown, just like the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
What’s next? Round three of talks, which could happen before the end of the year — but no one really knows just yet.
TV trash talking meets Twitter diplomacy. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan saw Trump’s remarks about the death of Osama bin Laden on “Fox News Sunday” and struck back on Twitter this morning.
In case you missed those remarks, POTUS45 told Fox’s Chris Wallace: “We give Pakistan $1.3 billion a year. …(bin Laden) lived in Pakistan, we’re supporting Pakistan, we’re giving them $1.3 billion a year — which we don’t give them anymore, by the way. I ended it because they don’t do anything for us, they don’t do a damn thing for us.” (Full transcript here.)
Tweeted Khan on Monday: “Record needs to be put straight on Mr Trump’s tirade against Pakistan: 1. No Pakistani was involved in 9/11 but Pak decided to participate in US War on Terror. 2. Pakistan suffered 75,000 casualties in this war & over $123 bn was lost to economy. US ‘aid’ was a miniscule $20 bn. 3. Our tribal areas were devastated & millions of ppl uprooted from their homes. The war drastically impacted lives of ordinary Pakistanis. 4. Pak continues to provide free lines of ground & air communications (GLOCs/ALOCs). Can Mr Trump name another ally that gave such sacrifices?”
And Khan saved perhaps his harshest words for his final of three tweets: “Instead of making Pakistan a scapegoat for their failures, the US should do a serious assessment of why, despite 140000 NATO troops plus 250,000 Afghan troops & reportedly $1 trillion spent on war in Afghanistan, the Taliban today are stronger than before.”
One more fairly ridiculous thing about that Fox interview: The president managed to insult the commander of Joint Special Operations Command, retired Adm. William McRaven, for — apparently — being a supporter of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The insult, such as it was, came via this line: “Would it have been nicer if we got Osama Bin Laden a lot sooner than that, wouldn’t it been nice?”
McRaven did not take the jab silently, telling CNN: “I did not back Hillary Clinton or anyone else. I am a fan of President Obama and President George W. Bush, both of whom I worked for. I admire all presidents, regardless of their political party, who uphold the dignity of the office and who use that office to bring the nation together in challenging times.”
And about Trump’s attacks on the media and help popularizing the term “fake news,” McRaven said, “I stand by my comment that the President’s attack on the media is the greatest threat to our democracy in my lifetime. When you undermine the people’s right to a free press and freedom of speech and expression, then you threaten the Constitution and all for which it stands.”
China’s Great Wall of SAMs. That’s what Adm. Philip Davidson, who leads U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, says Beijing has built on fake islands in the South China Sea. “What was a great wall of sand just three years ago [is now] a great wall of SAMs,” Davidson said at the Halifax security conference, Breaking Defense reports.
His proposed counters? A larger fleet and more Aegis Ashore facilities to free up ballistic-missile defense cruisers and destroyers for other duty. Read on, here.
U.S. sanctions on China could be impacting Beijing’s surveillance and control efforts in Xinjiang, according to a report on chip makers by the Financial Times. The story centers on Hikvision, the Chinese camera maker that has profited by supplying surveillance in Xinjiang. FT found that U.S. companies like Intel and Nvidia supply key semiconductor chips in Hikvision cameras, Emily Feng reports.
Hikvision has already lost 37 percent of its share price since last year, before current U.S. sanctions began. If the U.S. decides to ban imports of U.S. components, that damage could deepen. Worth the click just to learn about facial recognition gear supply chains, here.
In the war against ISIS in Syria, the U.S. military is denying claims from Russia and Syria that American airstrikes killed 40 civilians near Hajin, in the eastern part of the country. According to Military Times, “Syrian state media, a war monitor and an ISIS-linked news agency reported Saturday that coalition airstrikes killed 40 people, mostly women and children.”
According to the coalition’s statement: “CJTF-OIR detected a total of ten additional strikes in the same area of Hajin that did not originate from the Coalition or partner forces. These strikes were neither coordinated with nor approved by CJTF-OIR. CJTF-OIR calls on all other actors to cease uncoordinated fires across the Euphrates.”
So what’s going on? Unclear, said coalition spokesman U.S. Army Col. Sean Ryan. “We can’t specify who is firing into the area for operational reasons, but we can say definitively these shots did not come from coalition or partner security forces, and are therefore irresponsible and dangerous.”
Back stateside, the Pentagon just failed its first comprehensive audit. That’s not exactly a surprise, so where from here? Of the 21 teams of auditors who produced Thursday’s final report for the Department’s inspector general, just five were able to report their portions were clean. Among the latter: the team that looked at the pay system for military personnel, Pentagon Comptroller David Norquist told reporters Thursday.
The biggest problems were in the area of IT, Norquist said. “The types of issues there are segregation of duties, terminating user access when they depart, and monitoring sensitive users, people who have special authorities, making sure there is careful monitoring to that,” Norquist said. “Our single largest number of findings is IT security around our business systems. We thought this was likely.” Defense News has more, here.
A Russian is expected to lead Interpol. “British officials expect Alexander Prokopchuk, 56, a veteran of Russia’s interior ministry, to be elected as the next Interpol president next week,” reports the Times of London. “Mr Prokopchuk’s appointment would represent a significant victory for the Kremlin after criticism of the Russian state for abusing the agency’s ‘red notice’ system.”
Moscow has been using red notices — essentially, international warrants — against dissidents and other political opponents of the Putin regime. The Atlantic wrote about it in July, here.
One reaction, from a New York Times reporter who spent years reporting from Beijing: “This is nuts. After China disappeared the last Interpol head (a vice minister of public security), you’d think Interpol would want a president from a country that actually had effective rule of law.”
And just how effective is Interpol these days, anyway? The Atlantic’s Kathy Gilsinan explored the question in 2014, when the organization turned 100 years old. Read, here.
U.S., China differences bring Pacific forum to unprecedented end. For the first time since the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group first met in 1989, its annual summit has ended without a joint declaration. The multilateral trade order that APEC was established in 1989 to protect is crumbling as Chinese assertiveness in the Pacific and U.S. tariffs strain relations in the region and divide loyalties,” Reuters reports.
Chinese diplomats reportedly steamed all week as U.S. diplomats pushed to include a passage denouncing “unfair trade practices.”
VP Pence’s list of differences with China: “They begin with trade practices, tariffs and quotas, forced technology transfers, theft of intellectual property. It goes beyond that to freedom of navigation in the seas, concerns about human rights.”
ICYMI: The Trump administration is having a hard time telling a coherent story about China. Defense One has that, here.
Border update: If you need a review of what the U.S. military is doing near America’s southern border, AP has this.
And lastly today: Bases picked for the next U.S. bomber. The stealthy B-21 Raider will be operated and maintained out of Tinker AFB, Okla.; Robins AFB, Georgia; and Hill AFB, Utah. Flight tests will be at Edwards AFB, Calif. More Air Force Times, here.