March 08, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

Back in the Game

After a few weeks of relative calm – following the contentious Navy SEAL raid that some US officials now say unfortunately yielded no significant intelligence – Yemen has once again become a US flashpoint.

The US launched two consecutive days of air strikes against suspected al Qaeda targets across the country last week, likely the first since the January raid that resulted in the death of one Navy Seal and several children, wrote NPR.

At least 12 suspected militants from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) – considered by many to be one of al Qaeda’s deadliest offshoots – were killed during the strikes, which involved fighter jets and drones, wrote the BBC. One was a former Guantanamo Bay inmate.

The Wall Street Journal called these strikes a sign of the US military’s growing interest in combating extremists in Yemen.

Terror groups like AQAP have been suspected of exploiting the chaos engulfing Yemen – now entering its third year of civil war between the Shiite Houthi rebels and the Saudi-backed Yemeni government – to plot terror attacks against the US.

Military officials have previously said the January raid was an attempt to gather intelligence and get “back into the game in Yemen,” wrote the Wall Street Journal. But US officials didn’t credit intelligence gathered in that raid for last week’s strike. They haven’t ruled out its utility in future raids, either, however.

Either way, Yemeni officials are bracing themselves for the long haul: They view these recent strikes as the opening salvo of sustained US operations in the country, wrote the Associated Press.

That could end up exacerbating the already high tensions between the US and Yemen.

Yemeni officials in President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s internationally recognized government complained in January they weren’t given adequate notice about the Navy SEAL raid.

They responded by suspending US permission to launch ground operations there only to quickly backtrack on the suspension. Last week, the Washington Post noted it was still unclear whether the suspension on ground operations is still in effect.

Ordinary Yemenis, on the other hand, are becoming increasingly occupied with survival in what has turned into an escalating humanitarian crisis.

Thanks to delays and interference from the Saudi-led coalition, hundreds of thousands of Yemenis are waiting for urgently needed medical supplies now held in limbo, said NGO Save the Children.

At the same time, now 80 percent of the population lives on food aid, and relief officials say food reserves will run out in two to four months.

That desperation is now causing Yemenis to become suspicious of each other, tearing the country’s social fabric further apart, and infusing people with a sense of futility.

“War was a lesson for us all that nothing remains the same,” one Yemeni told Al Jazeera, “and no one knows when he is going to die.”

Yemen was before its war the poorest and one of the most desperate places in the region. And now even what little it has is unraveling.

WANT TO KNOW

Does Brexit Still Mean Brexit?

British Prime Minister Theresa May has another fight on her hands next week, after the House of Lords doubled-down on its opposition to her Brexit bill.

On Tuesday, the House of Lords passed an amendment that would give parliament a blanket right to veto the final outcome of her deal with the European Union on the terms of Britain’s exit, the Guardian reported. The move adds to a previous amendment that had guaranteed that EU citizens already living in the United Kingdom would retain their present rights after its withdrawal. May will now seek to have both amendments overturned when the bill returns to the House of Commons on Monday.

But a group of May’s Conservative MPs is threatening to back the amendments unless she makes assurances that parliament will get a proper vote on the outcome of negotiations. They fear May could drag the UK out of the EU on poor terms.

Still, some Conservative lords accused other members of trying to frustrate the progress of Brexit.

“These amendments are trying to tie down the prime minister,” said one lord. “Tie her down by her hair, by her arms, by her legs, in every conceivable way in order to prevent her getting an agreement, and in order to prevent us leaving.”

A Test Too Far

China appealed to North Korea to suspend any further missile tests, offering to ensure that the US and South Korea halt their annual joint military drills.

The BBC quoted Foreign Minister Wang Yi as suggesting the deal on the sidelines of China’s annual parliamentary meeting, where he said the North and South were like “two accelerating trains, coming toward each other with neither side willing to give way.”

The plea follows North Korea’s test launch of four ballistic missiles on Monday, which in turn prompted the US to begin rolling out a missile defense system in South Korea that Beijing sees as a threat to China, as well. However, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Tuesday that the missile shield “is not meant to be a threat, and is not a threat, to them or any other power in the region”.

For its part, Beijing says the system’s radar capabilities go far beyond what is required for defense.

‘Less Bloody’

Philippine police killed four suspected drug dealers just hours after the resumption of a revised version of an anti-drug campaign intended to be “less bloody.”

That’s even though Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Ronald dela Rosa said he hoped the relaunched operation Tuesday would be less bloody “or even bloodless,” Reuters reported.

Prior to its suspension a month earlier by President Rodrigo Duterte following the killing of a South Korean businessman by rogue officers, the Philippines’ brutal drug war had killed about 8,000 people since Duterte took office on June 30.

Of those 8,000 people, some 2,555 were killed in shootouts during raids and sting operations, according to the national police, who say they had no role in the other killings. Activists classify those deaths, too, as extrajudicial executions carried out with the complicity or participation of the police.

The revised program comes as the Philippine House of Representatives voted to reinstate the death penalty for serious drug-related offenses in yet another blow to the country’s deteriorating human rights situation, Human Rights Watch noted.

DISCOVERIES

When Television Imitates Politics

Art is considered by many to be a mirror of reality. The same might apply to television and world politics.

An upcoming episode of the American TV drama “Madame Secretary,” for example, has the show’s main character, US Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord, punch the fictional president of the Philippines Datu Andrada in the face for making unwanted advances.

Some said the clip highlighted the difficulties women face in the workforce.

But others were quick to point out the similarities between the fictional Andrade and the Philippine’s unconventional and brash president – and self-confessed womanizer – Rodrigo Duterte.

The current Filipino president has made headlines for antics like catcalling female journalists and insulting female senators who have criticized his war on drugs.

He’s also known for being noticeably thin-skinned, and the Filipino reaction to the Madame Secretary clip was right in character: To say the least, it was not amused.

“This highly negative portrayal of our Head of State not only casts doubt on the respectability of the Office of the Philippine President… It also tarnishes the Philippines’ longstanding advocacy for women’s rights and gender equality,” said the Philippine Embassy.

Check out the clip and decide for yourself here.