UAE exits Yemen; Taliban attack a school in Kabul; Trump and Russia; Iran enrichment watch; Tanks in DC; And a bit more.
The UAE, Washington’s key partner in Yemen, is withdrawing from the war, “pulling tanks and attack helicopters out of the country," as well as "hundreds of soldiers from the Red Sea coast, including those close to the port city of Hodeidah that serves as the country’s main gateway for humanitarian aid," the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday, five days after Reuters previewed the changes.
Why this matters: “The U.A.E. has been the most important partner in the Saudi Arabia-led military alliance fighting against the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels since March 2015,” the Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum writes. With that major partner now in a significantly diminished role, the Saudis are likely to take even more casualties in the war against the Houthis than they have already.
Recall,“In March this year the war entered its fourth year with very little to show in terms of achievements apart from the atrocities that the Saudis and their allies have committed in Yemen,” Lebanese Dr. Mustafa Fetouri argued in the Middle East Monitor just over a month ago.
About those atrocities: Some 90,000 people are believed to have died so far during the Yemen war, including 8,000 civilians. The deadliest months of the war spanned April through December 2018, according the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, writing last month. “This lethality in armed confrontations during that time can be traced back to the deadly Hodeidah offensive by UAE-supported Yemeni forces to reconquer the port of Hodeidah from the Houthi Movement.”
What’s also changing: An “increasing danger [from] IEDs and landmines,” and an uptick in deaths at “high-intensity battlefronts such as Taiz or Al Jawf.”
Where things stand presently: The internationally-recognised government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi "is still in exile in Riyadh,” Fetouri writes, “the Houthis are resisting the Saudi campaign; and, amazingly, the rebels are still receiving all sorts of supplies from external sources, including Iran.”
For the U.S., the big question hanging over the conflict looms even larger than it did more than one year ago when your D Brief-er asked: What does the U.S. expect the Saudis to be able to achieve in Yemen?
Back stateside, according to Nissenbaum, “The U.A.E. has been stung by the expanding opposition in Washington to the military campaign and fears their country would be one of Tehran’s first retaliatory targets if President Trump orders military strikes on Iran.”
Now, the UAE is turning its focus “on battling al Qaeda, Islamic State and other extremist groups,” in Yemen, Western officials told the Journal. Last month, the purported leader of ISIS in Yemen, Abu Osama al-Muhajir, was captured in a raid reportedly involving U.S. special operators “on the morning of June 3 in the eastern province of al-Mahra,” according to the Washington Post.
Also worth noting here in the states, according to the Journal: "While the Trump administration sees Saudi Arabia and U.A.E. as central allies in the fight against Iran, more lawmakers in Congress view the Gulf nations as architects of a flawed war plan in Yemen.”
And in Yemen, “diplomatic efforts to end the conflict face major hurdles,” Nissenbaum writes. “Negotiators have yet to agree on the next steps in the deal, and there is widespread dissatisfaction with Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, the Yemeni president forced from the capital San’a by the Houthis in 2015.”
Which means for both the Saudis and the U.S., the war is pretty much exactly where it was more than four years ago. Read on at WSJ, here.
But there is still hope for some Yemen-watchers, and it comes in the form of a “Rare PhD opportunity for a linguistics scholar to research Modern South Arabian languages,” according to Yemen academic Elisabeth Kendall. Potential scholars — specializing in Mehri, Jibbāli, Hōbyōt, Soqoṭri, Ḥarsūsi, Baṭħari languages — would study at Nantes University in France. “Although spoken mainly in Yemen,” Kendall writes on Twitter, “fieldwork can be in Oman, the UAE and Kuwait.” Details here.
From Defense One
Brand New Marine One Helicopter To Make Debut at Trump’s July 4th Parade // Marcus Weisgerber: Other aircraft slated to fly over include the B-2 stealth bomber, F-22 Raptor and Air Force One.
Warren Vows to Double the Number of Career Diplomats at State // Eric Katz, Government Executive: Democratic candidate calls for massive overhaul to the State Department and how it manages its employees.
Russian Troops Will Be Getting Tactical Bomb Drones // Patrick Tucker: Having learned from ISIS attacks in Syria, Russia is rushing to put armed drones on the front lines.
Congress Wants DHS to Study Disruptive Deepfake Videos // Brandi Vincent, Nextgov: Bills introduced in the House and Senate aim to combat the forged media through comprehensive research and technological assessments.
Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson, who will be spending the July 4 holiday climbing out from a pile of thousands of unread emails after hurried visits to the ancient and storied cities of Toledo, Spain, Paris, France, and more. It’s great to be back home. If you’re not a D Brief subscriber already — hi, and thanks for reading, by the way — you can do that here. Today's edition was edited by Kevin Baron.
On this day two years ago, nine female suicide bombers tried to attack Iraqi forces pushing ISIS out of the last blocks of Mosul’s Old City. Two of the bombers were successful, as the BBC reported the following day. The city was fully liberated of ISIS fighters on July 10. Remember the treacherous fight, and what remains to be done still today — not just for Mosul, but for the wider region — from the perspective of Mosuli historian Omar Mohammed in our most recent podcast of Defense One Radio, recorded in Paris, here.
U.S. and Taliban negotiators just ended day four of the seventh round of peace talks in Qatar. But in Afghanistan, more than four-dozen children are recovering after the group’s latest high-profile bout of violent hit a school, museum and television station in Kabul all at once, the New York Times reports.
About that attack Monday: “In addition to wounding 51 children and killing one, the militants also took the lives of another 39 people, most of them civilians, according to Afghan authorities. In all, 116 people were hospitalized with serious injuries, 26 of them children and six women,” an official from the Ministry of Public Health told the Times.
The Taliban, for its part, said it didn’t hit the school on purpose, but “witnesses of the attack said the insurgents entered the school so they could reach the tower’s rooftop, which they used as a firing position.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a public statement following Monday’s attack: “We call on the Taliban to stop attacking civilians. Afghans yearn for peace and deserve an end to these senseless acts of violence. Today’s indiscriminate assault, which caused injuries to children at school, was particularly barbarous. It serves as a stark reminder of what is at stake in the peace process and why we remain committed to helping those Afghans who seek a peaceful future for their country.”
Tweeted U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, on Tuesday — during day four of peace talks: “On @Twitter & in media, the photos of innocent #Afghan children, scared & hurt, drive home a sense of profound urgency to resolve remaining issues here in Doha. Afghan people deserve an end to the violence”
Sediq Seddiqi, a spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, to the Times: “Not only the United States but the entire world is condemning it, obviously it will have its repercussions on the results of the ongoing talks.”
However, “officials with knowledge of the talks said that the issue did not come up at the Doha peace talks themselves,” the Times reports, noting for good measure that “American negotiators raised the violence with senior Taliban officials informally on the sidelines of the talks Monday.”
ICYMI: President Donald Trump told Fox News on Monday that he is sympathetic with the position of his Afghan war commander, Gen. Scott Miller, that withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan would likely increase the chances the Taliban or other Afghan-based extremists try to attack American citizens back in the states. More on that from Reuters, here.
This weekend, a separate peace talk is scheduled, brokered by Qatar and Germany, Reuters reports today. About that get-together: “[A]round 40 Afghan personalities and activists will fly to Doha but will not have any official status — a condition made necessary by the Taliban’s refusal to deal directly with the Western-backed government in Kabul.”
And that’s a useful reminder that President Ghani is still being excluded from U.S.-Taliban negotiations, “although the Americans have insisted that once a deal is made the next step would be talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban,” according to the Times. Read on, here.
Also in that Fox News interview with POTUS45: “We're the policeman for the whole world,” Trump told Tucker Carlson. “You know, if you look at Russia, Russia doesn't police the world. Russia has — you know, they police Russia."
Related headline from just four days ago: “Russia beating U.S. in race for global influence, Pentagon study says,” via Politico.
In other Russia news, “A fire that broke out on a secret Russian submarine [on Monday] has killed 14 sailors,” U.S. Naval Institute News reported Tuesday. “The incident is believed to have occurred off Russia’s northern shore in the Barents Sea on Monday, but the MoD has not specified.”
What were they doing? “Kremlin says the mission and type of the vessel will stay secret,” The Guardian’s Moscow correspondent Andrew Roth tweeted this morning. “And loyalist Russian tabloid has deleted story confirming the names of submariners who died on board.”
Happening today: Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher could be punished in some form — or maybe not at all — despite being “acquitted of murdering a captured Islamic State fighter but convicted of unlawfully posing for pictures with the detainee’s dead body," Reuters reports from San Diego.
What’s going on in this case: “The single offense of posing for unofficial pictures with a human casualty, in this case the remains of the Iraqi whom Gallagher was acquitted of killing, carries a maximum sentence of four months’ imprisonment. Navy authorities said Gallagher gets credit for nearly seven months of time already served in pretrial custody, so he would presumably remain a free man. But he could receive other punishment, such as a demotion in rank and reduced pay.” More here.
Iran enrichment watch: President Hassan Rouhani warning today that, beginning on Sunday, Tehran will "take the next step" of “increasing its enrichment of uranium unless European powers are able to find a way to offset the impact of the Trump administration's sanctions on its economy,” USA Today reports.
Warned Rouhani, via Fox News: “Our advice to Europe and the United States is to go back to logic and to the negotiating table. Go back to understanding, to respecting the law and resolutions of the U.N. Security Council. Under those conditions, all of us can abide by the nuclear deal.”
Worth noting: This new level “is still far off the levels Iran would need to produce weapons-grade nuclear materials, but it narrows the time it would take to make a nuclear bomb – something Iran says it does not want to do.”
Dive into what these levels mean (and do not) via Iran-watcher, nuclear expert, and frequent Defense One contributor Joe Cirincione of Ploughshares in a long Twitter thread from Monday, here.
Friends like these in times like these. “Iraq is establishing a financial ‘loophole’ to continue buying vital gas and electricity from Iran despite US sanctions,” Agence France-Presse reported Tuesday from Baghdad, “mirroring a European mechanism that came into effect Friday… One senior government official told AFP it was the product of months of talks between Iraqi, Iranian and US officials.” More on that delicate dance, here.
For your eyes only: A couple of Bradley Fighting Vehicles on the move through Washington, D.C., ahead of the July 4 parade on the National Mall. (Hat tip to Washington Nationals fan @eloc8, who spotted the machinery around 10 p.m. Tuesday evening.)
For the record: “It has been 28 years since tanks last rolled through the streets of Washington, leaving heavy tread marks in the asphalt along the way,” the Washington Post reported this morning in a sort of historic preview.
After an eye role, one Army O-5 told The D Brief: “It’s probably best if I just keep my mouth shut” about the decision to use tanks on the National Mall.
Also involved in tomorrow’s parade at the Mall: One of the new Marine One helos will make its public debut, Marcus Weisgerber reports. Also, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, along with “military bands, drill teams and a rare collection of aircraft that is expected to include the B-2 stealth bomber and the F-22 fighter,” WaPo reported separately Tuesday.
What to expect: “a speech by Trump in front of the Lincoln Memorial, ticketed VIP seating for Trump donors, two fireworks displays, flyovers by the Blue Angels, Air Force One and other military jets.”
And ICYMI: “The National Park Service has diverted $2.5 million from its entrance and recreation fees to help pay for it all.” More on that consideration, also from WaPo, here.
And finally, an observation from your D Brief-er: We want to wish all of you and your families a safe and happy July 4th holiday. Reading hot takes from across the Atlantic these past 10 days, the information spaces like Twitter and news headlines generally have seemed unusually toxic and divisive. Perhaps that’s just a trick of distance, but perhaps not. One could use this moment to focus on scary things, like North Korea’s first ICBM launch two years ago tomorrow; or one could focus on the declaration of the ISIS caliphate on the same day five years ago. Or we could celebrate what makes America and the values it was built upon a beacon to people, from academics to refugees, around the world still today. Having recently walked the extravagant palaces of past kings in France and Spain the last few days, your D Brief-er is exceedingly grateful for the equality and opportunity America still stands for in the minds of those abroad in 2019.
Feel free to drop us a line and share what makes American values stand out for you on the United States of America’s 243rd birthday. Or, perhaps even better, simply hold those things quietly sacred in the belief that they will endure despite stresses and strains from all sides in today’s information spaces.
Be good, be safe, and here’s to great grilling weather for all of us this July 4th!