Japan downs ballistic missile in test; Al Qaeda ‘very much alive’; The regrets of spy chiefs; And a bit more.

How are America’s allies in Yemen doing? Just fine, thanks for asking. As the U.S. Congress requested, SecState Mike Pompeo “certified” the Saudis and Emiratis are “working to avoid harming civilians in Yemen, a determination required by this year’s defense spending bill,” Reuters reports this morning from the State Department.

Adds Voice of America with a bit of background inside a short video explainer: “A bipartisan group of American lawmakers added a provision into a defense spending bill requiring Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to certify by September 12th whether Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are finding a political settlement to the three-year-old conflict.”

Certified how? Unclear exactly. But according to a statement from Pompeo on Tuesday, he says “the governments of Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates are undertaking demonstrable actions to reduce the risk of harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure resulting from military operations of these governments.”  

Said Defense Secretary Jim Mattis this morning in his own public statement: "I endorse and fully support Secretary Pompeo’s certification to the Congress that the governments of Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates are making every effort to reduce the risk of civilian casualties and collateral damage to civilian infrastructure resulting from their military operations to end the civil war in Yemen. The Saudi-led coalition’s commitment is reflected in their support for these UN-led efforts. Alongside the Department of State we are actively engaged with Mr. Martin Griffiths, the UN Special Envoy, to achieve a negotiated end to this fighting."

ICYMI: About that negotiated end to fighting: The first talks in more than two years were scheduled last week in Geneva…but reps from Ansar Allah (aka, the Houthis) never showed, Joyce Karam of The National reminds us in her Yemen status report this morning.

In case there was any doubt about where things stand, Griffiths said Tuesday, “This is no longer a race between political and military solutions, it is instead a race to salvage what is left of State institutions as quickly as possible.”

Next for Mr. Griffiths, on whose shoulders prospects for peace in Yemen currently rest: Trips to Yemen, Oman and Saudi Arabia to discuss, as Karam puts it, “the stalemate” that is this multi-sided conflict.

What he’s looking for in terms of progress: A possible prisoner exchange, the opening of the Sana’a (Yemen’s capital) airport — and promises to meet again and talk more in the future.

After that, Griffiths will try to talk with “southern [Yemeni] stakeholders to agree on their meaningful participation in the [peace] process.” Good luck, sir.

From Defense One

Japan’s New Ship-Based Interceptor Shoots Down a Ballistic Missile in Test // Patrick Tucker: It’s the fifth successful test of Japan’s ability to intercept ballistic missiles from warships.

Congress Wants a Space-Based Missile Defense System. That’s a Colossally Bad Idea // John F. Tierney and Philip E. Coyle: A provision in the 2019 defense authorization act orders the Pentagon to start development.

The 'War on Terror' Still Grows in Somalia // Christina Goldbaum, The Atlantic: “Drone strikes may have a purpose, but they are no substitute for a political strategy.”

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. On this day in 1943, the Gran Sasso raid delivered the “most hated man in Italy” from allied captivity atop a mountain and into the welcome arms of the Nazis.

It’s September 12, and “Al Qaeda is very much alive, and widely misunderstood,” Thomas Joscelyn writes for The Weekly Standard (reposted by The Long War Journal).
Misunderstood how? Joscelyn asks us to “Consider this shocking fact: the counterterrorism community still has not formulated a common definition or understanding of the organization.”
What we’d do well to bear in mind: “The organization has survived multiple challenges. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State is not the only Sunni jihadist organization that has fought for territory. From Afghanistan to West Africa, al Qaeda loyalists are attempting to build their own caliphate. They consider it long-term project, with multiple obstacles ahead of them.”
Worth noting: “The group hasn’t attempted to carry out a mass casualty attack in the U.S. or Europe in years. But that could change at any time.” Read the rest, here.
The LA Times has its own look at how Al Qaeda has grown in some key Middle Eastern countries. “Seventeen years later, Al Qaeda may be stronger than ever. Far from vanquishing the extremist group and its associated “franchises,” critics say, U.S. policies in the Mideast appear to have encouraged its spread.”

And for a rather comprehensive threat assessment, check out “Jihadist Terrorism 17 Years After 9/11,” New America’s Peter Bergen and David Sterman have produced this rather enormous five-part compendium. Start here.
One more thing: How much has America’s Global War on Terror cost? We don’t know — maybe $2.8 trillion? writes Laicie Heeley in Fortune.

The U.S. military’s drive on ISIS “last stronghold” in Syria could take about three months, The New York Times reported Tuesday of Operation Roundup, phase three.

Serious question: Is democracy dying? That’s what the new cover of The Atlantic magazine asks over a series of articles on warnings from Europe, possible tyrannical threats from artificial intelligence, tribalism today, racism tomorrow and the legacy of “isolated courts.” Find that on store shelves beginning today.

Regrets of a former NSA boss. The Daily Beast’s Kim Dozier was in the audience at the Hayden Center in Virginia Tuesday evening when retired Adm. Mike Rogers told the crowd (with Kim paraphrasing here) that he “wished President Donald Trump had pushed back more publicly over Russia’s election meddling when Trump met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland.” Details (such as they are) in a very short piece you can find here.
See (or hear) also: James Clapper. The former Director of National Intelligence has a new book, “Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence.” In an audio interview with Talking Points Memo, Clapper said, “I’ve seen a lot of bad stuff in my 50-plus years in intelligence, but I don’t think anything that disturbed me as much as the magnitude and aggressiveness and multidimensional nature of the Russian interference in our election in 2016.” Listen, here.

And finally this morning: American diplomacy 2018 edition, brah. What are we talking about? Foreign Policy’s Robbie Gramer tweeted on Tuesday, SecState “Pompeo sent an email to State Department staff today outlining his trip last week to India and Pakistan. This is how he signed off: ‘Keep on crushing it.’” (h/t @atomicbell)
Related social media machismo: The U.S. “Department of Swagger.” See for yourself, here.