The World Today for February 10, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

No Exit

Frequently overlooked compared to the Syrian civil war and the wider battle against the Islamic State, the conflict in Yemen briefly burst into the news last week following a botched American raid on an al Qaeda compound.

As Yemen withdrew its permission for US ground operations and members of Congress quarreled with President Donald Trump via Twitter, some said the operation raised important questions about the US’s strategy in the country.

The Hill, for example, noted that years of American drone strikes in Yemen have not had a meaningful impact on Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a subgroup of the larger al Qaeda terror group.

The US isn’t the only country at a loss for direction in Yemen, though. Saudi Arabia has found itself in an even bigger mess there.

Saudi Arabia launched a military intervention in Yemen in 2015, leading a coalition of nine Arab countries to support the Yemeni government in the war against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

But it has failed to make much progress on its twin goals of defeating the rebels and restoring President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi to power.

Instead, ordinary Yemenis have borne the brunt of the war. Significant civilian casualties of at least 10,000 have occurred, according to UN estimates.

The Saudi-led coalition is also coming under pressure from Western countries for more than 250 alleged human rights violations committed by soldiers in Yemen, wrote the BBC.

Saudi Arabia already tried to deflect these criticisms by launching its own investigation into these violations.

But British officials have insisted on independent oversight, criticizing the Saudi investigation as being “like marking your own homework.”

The fighting, meanwhile, continues unabated and might even be growing worse.

Only last week, Houthi rebel ships launched a suicide attack on Saudi warships in the Red Sea – an uncharacteristic strike for the rebels, wrote Yahoo News. The Saudi-led coalition called it an escalation of hostilities.

But even more alarming are reports that terrorist groups – and in particular Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula – are actually growing stronger as the war has dragged on.

The International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based NGO, said last week that al Qaeda is in fact “thriving in an environment of state collapse” in Yemen following Saudi intervention in the country.

That chaos on the ground has emboldened the terrorist group to push for more territory in Yemen. Al Qaeda invaded three villages last week, although it quickly withdrew from two in the face of fierce local resistance.

Firefights like that are going to make it difficult for the Saudis to accomplish anything going forward or to develop a clean exit strategy. If they’re not careful, Yemen could wind up being as disastrous for Saudi Arabia as the Vietnam War was for the US.

WANT TO KNOW

A Few Thousand More?

The commander of the American-led international military force in Afghanistan told Congress on Thursday he needs “a few thousand” more soldiers to train and advise Afghan troops.

“We have a shortfall of a few thousand,” the New York Times quoted Gen. John W. Nicholson as saying in a report to the Senate Armed Services Committee. Currently, he has at his disposal a force of 13,300 international soldiers, 8,400 of whom are American.

Nicholson also cited continued support from Islamabad for Taliban fighters and other militant groups as a key reason that Afghan forces have taken heavy casualties over the last year and called for “a holistic review” of US policy toward Pakistan.

“It is very difficult to succeed on the battlefield when your enemy enjoys external support and safe haven,” Nicholson said.

Broadly speaking, his speech amounted to a criticism of former President Barack Obama’s moves to reduce deployments in Afghanistan. But it remains to be seen whether President Donald Trump will reverse that position – as he has been fairly tight-lipped about Afghanistan.

Detentions and Deportations

German authorities detained an Algerian man and a Nigerian man on suspicion of planning a terrorist attack Thursday, even as Chancellor Angela Merkel and the governors of Germany’s 16 states agreed to push for speedier deportations of rejected asylum-seekers.

The Algerian and Nigerian suspects were caught with a machete and guns as part of raids carried out on a dozen locations by as many as 450 police officers, the New York Times reported.

Authorities have also reported the arrests of three Afghans suspected of ties to the Taliban in different parts of Germany over the last week, in what appears to be a crackdown on suspected extremists following the terrorist attack on a Berlin Christmas market on Dec. 19.

The perception that Germany’s acceptance of refugees has made the country more vulnerable to such attacks has put Merkel – who faces a national election in September – under pressure to shore up security measures. Partly for that reason, she’s working to revise deportation procedures to ensure that those whose asylum requests are rejected leave the country in a matter of weeks, the Associated Press reported.

Illegal and Discriminatory

A Kenyan judge ruled Thursday that a controversial plan to close the world’s largest refugee camp, in Dadaab, was illegal and discriminatory – providing an eleventh hour reprieve for more than 300,000 refugees who otherwise faced forcible relocation.

Judge John Mativo of Kenya’s High Court also ordered the government to reinstate its refugee department, which it had essentially closed last year, the New York Times reported.

Kenya has been threatening to close the sprawling refugee camp on its border with Somalia for years, claiming it is a breeding ground for Islamist terrorists. But the government appeared to get serious about actually making good on those threats this May – resulting in tit-for-tat threats from Kenya’s foreign donors, including the United States, that they will withhold aid payments if the government does close the camp.

Few believe the issue is settled. Within hours of the ruling, the government vowed to appeal, and even aid officials admit the current situation at the camp is untenable – though they oppose forced relocations.

DISCOVERIES

Ancient Brew

Everyone can be particular about beer. While some are fans of smooth lagers, others enjoy the acidic bite of the Flemish sour.

Five-thousand years ago, the Chinese apparently preferred their beer chunky and chose to sip it through a straw, a group of researchers at Stanford University have discovered.

By analyzing residue found in ancient Chinese ceramics, the group at Stanford isolated the ingredients of the brew.

After nailing down the recipe, which called for barley, broomcorn millets and Chinese pearl barley, the researchers did what any good scientists would – they made a batch for themselves.

In traditional Chinese fashion, the researchers didn’t filter out the finished product and sipped it through a straw.

But while the brew’s sour taste shocked many of the researchers, it was the incorporation of barely that made the biggest splash: Barley seeds in China until now have been believed to date back only some 4,000 years.

“Our results suggest the purpose of barley’s introduction in China could have been related to making alcohol rather than as a staple food,” said Li Liu, one of the researchers on the team.

Click here to get a look at this ancient brew yourself.

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