August 16, 2016

NEED TO KNOW

Desert Quicksand

Since the ouster and later killing of former dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi in 2011, Libya has been reeling in chaos.

A “shattered, hollowed-out country” due to the dictator’s long history of mismanagement and a lack of international follow-up after his ouster, Libya had fractured into a confusing tangle of tribal allegiances and local militias, making it an easy target for the Islamic State (IS), Middle East expert Frederic Wehrey writes in a recent issue of the New Yorker.

By late 2014, when IS began to arrive in Sirte, on Libya’s northern coast, a civil war was underway between the eastern and western halves of the country, each of which boasted its own parliament, prime minister and cluster of militias. Embroiled in the fight against each other, they allowed IS to garner power until it was too entrenched for them to root out.

That east-west conflict, between the so-called Tobruk government that was elected democratically in 2014 and the Islamist “National Salvation Government” based in Tripoli, is still unresolved. However, beginning this year the two factions have agreed to a UN-brokered national unity government, which facilitated a major push to evict IS from Sirte – the terrorist group’s most important stronghold in Libya.

This week, following premature reports of victory, the soldiers of the unity government appeared close to pulling that off. But with reports indicating that the current assault has marked the first direct involvement of U.S. Special Forces in the fighting, some locals fear their participation may escalate the conflict without leading to a permanent resolution, while others worry that America may be stepping into desert quicksand.

U.S. Special Forces are coordinating American airstrikes and providing intelligence information along with British troops in Sirte, the Washington Post reported, calling the new efforts the “culmination of an extended, low-visibility mission in Libya by U.S. special operators.” Earlier, U.S. troops had focused on making sense of the many local militias and identifying potential allies.

U.S. and British personnel in black body armor and tan fatigues were seen in central Sirte amid heavy fighting in the al-Dollar neighborhood, the paper cited officers allied with the Libyan government and Western security personnel as saying. But Pentagon officials said they were not part of the Special Forces contingent.

The support has paid dividends for local government militias, who last week captured the heavily fortified Ouagadougou convention center, which the Islamic State had used as its headquarters, according to the New York Times. On Sunday, the Libyan forces aligned with the UN-backed government said they had secured several other key sites in Sirte with the aid of U.S. airstrikes, Reuters reported, noting that 41 U.S. airstrikes had targeted Islamic State fighting positions, vehicles and weapons as of Thursday.

The latest advances had left IS militants surrounded in Sirte’s central residential neighborhoods, according to the news agency, suggesting that the complete recapture of the coastal city may be imminent.

But that could still prove problematic, some observers fear.

Observers in and outside Libya worry that direct U.S. military intervention will “only deepen instability and bring more violence to the country,” as has happened as the result of foreign intervention in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen, reports the local Tripoli Post.

A decisive victory over IS in Sirte would bolster the legitimacy of the UN-backed unity government. But it’s not clear what role U.S. troops may play afterward, with militias loyal to the eastern government signaling a possible conflict with the UN-backed administration in Tripoli by mobilizing troops around major oil ports last week, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, a too large or too visible role for U.S. troops could wind up undermining the UN-backed regime. Last month, for instance, the unity government was compelled to sharply criticize France for sending its own special forces into eastern Libya after three French soldiers were killed fighting IS, sparking protests in Tripoli and other Libyan cities.

WANT TO KNOW

Bombs Without Borders

At least 15 people were killed Monday in northern Yemen after warplanes from the Saudi-led coalition bombed a hospital supported by Doctors Without Borders.

At least three Yemeni staff members of Doctors Without Borders and three foreign doctors were among the casualties in the airstrikes that hit Abs Hospital in Yemen’s northern Hajjah Province, said hospital officials.

It’s at least the fourth time a hospital in Yemen supported by Doctors Without Borders has been hit by a coalition airstrike.

The Saudi-led coalition against the Houthi militias has ramped up its bombing campaign in Yemen in recent weeks following the collapse of peace talks between the Houthi rebels – still in control of Yemen’s capital of Sana’a – and the exiled government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

The hospital bombing comes after another round of Saudi airstrikes killed at least 19 people, mainly children, in a residential area in northern Yemen.

Holiday Brawl

A third city in France has banned women from wearing “burkinis” – women’s swimwear that complies with the Qur’an – after a brawl over the swimsuit erupted in a village on the island of Corsica between local residents and beachgoers of North African descent.

Roughly 100 police were called in to resolve the situation, which injured five people, in the Corsican village of Sisco, near the island’s capital of Bastia, on Saturday.

The fight broke out after teenagers and their families began taking pictures of women swimming in burkinis, said local media. Around 40 people from the village then joined the fray, after which stones and bottle were thrown and three cars burned.

After the French Interior Minister promised a full investigation into the brawl, the mayor of Cisco, Pierre-Ange Vivoni, said burkinis would be banned on the town’s beaches as of Tuesday. He is the third French mayor to ban the contested swimwear this summer. Burkinis have also been outlawed in the French Riviera resorts of Cannes and Villeneuve-Loubet.

A Conspicuous Absence

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his new defense minister shied away from visiting a Tokyo war shrine on Monday, the 71st anniversary of Japan’s defeat in World War II.

While several ministers from Abe’s cabinet paid a visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, Abe sent an aide in his stead with an offering of an envelope containing money. Defense Minister Tomomi Inada – known for holding nationalist views – was in Djibouti, where Japan’s Self-Defense Forces are running anti-piracy operations.

The absence of major political figures at the shrine, which honors 14 Class-A war criminals and 2.5 million war dead, will likely prevent tensions from flaring up with China and South Korea, says the Wall Street Journal. Those nations consider the Yasukuni Shrine to be a symbol of Japan’s prior militarism.

In the past, visits to the Yasukuni Shrine by Japanese politicians – including a previous visit to the shrine made by Abe in December 2013 – have often incited protests in neighboring countries.

DISCOVERIES

Only in New York

Between the oppressive humidity and the smell of hot garbage around every corner, New Yorkers have always had plenty to complain about in the summer.

And this year, they can add a new item to that list of grievances: flying cockroaches.

The extended run of hot temperatures the city is experiencing has apparently inspired the city’s roaches to spread their wings and take flight, say scientists.

“In hot steam tunnels, something with the temperature and the humidity encourages them to fly,” Ken Schumann, an entomologist at Bell Environmental Services, told DNAinfo. “When it’s warm and steamy that seems to be what they like.”

American Cockroaches gain more use of their muscles in hot and humid conditions, according to scientists. They are already known as airborne pests in southern states likes Texas or Florida, where roaches, referred to as “palmetto bugs” because of their penchant for hanging out in palm trees, fly to reach food sources.

But in New York City, the high density of trash cans and plethora of street-level dining options has made flying less of a necessity for the city’s cockroaches.

Exterminators say they’ve seen roaches fly as far as an entire city block at times, although the typical flight pattern is more of a glide from a high point to a lower one, said DNAinfo.