The United States has announced it will designate Yemen's Houthi rebels as a terrorist organization, a move aid groups and diplomats have long warned will make getting assistance to people trapped in the "world's worst humanitarian crisis" even harder. In a Jan. 10 statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was officially notifying the US Congress of his intent to designate Ansar Allah, the official name of the Houthis, a "Foreign Terrorist Organization." The change is go into force on Jan. 19, and three Houthi leaders will also be blacklisted. NGOs have lobbied heavily against the designation, saying it will seriously hamper efforts to bring aid to the estimated 80% of Yemen's 30 million people who live in parts of the country controlled by the Houthis. It's already hard to deliver aid in Yemen, in part because of obstacles put up by the Houthis themselves.
Libya's eastern warlord Gen. Khalifa Haftar, who launched an offensive last year to capture the capital Tripoli from the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, threatened Dec. 24 to launch attacks on Turkish forces if Ankara doesn't withdraw troops and mercenaries sent in to back up the GNA. The ultimatum is a theat to the ceasefire that has largely held since it was signed in October. Haftar's comments came in response to the Turkish Parliament's move to extend for 18 months a law that allows the deployment of Turkish troops in Libya. "There will be no security or peace as long as the boots of the Turkish military are desecrating our immaculate soil," Haftar said in comments from his eastern stronghold of Benghazi on the 69th anniversary of Libya's independence. "We will carry weapons to bring about peace with our own hands and our free will."
In Episode 58 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg takes stock of pro-Trump rabble threatening insurrection from Michigan to Idaho (where overt neo-Nazism is in evidence) as explicit calls are raised from the far right for "martial law" and nullification of Biden's election. In this light, the petition to the Supreme Court by "red state" attorneys general was not significant because of its odds for success but as an indication of how the political lines are drawn at this moment. With the attempted "judicial coup" now failing, Trump and his partisans are preparing for Plan B—an actual military coup. The Pentagon purge is clear evidence of this, and the sabre-rattling at Iran may be aimed at fomenting a global crisis that will provide a convenient pretext. It is a failure of America's progressive forces that #StopTheSteal has become a popular hashtag on the right but #StopTheCoup has not become a popular hashtag on the left. Weinberg urges that we reject the dubious precepts of "American exceptionalism" and start acting like it can happen here—before it is too late.
President Donald Trump announced Dec. 10 that Morocco and Israel have agreed to normalize relations, adding that the US will formally recognize Moroccan sovereignty over the occupied territory of Western Sahara. Trump's official proclamation states that "as of today, the United States recognizes Moroccan sovereignty over the entire Western Sahara territory." The blatant quid pro quo makes Morocco the third Arab state to join Trump's vaunted "Abraham Accords," which have already seen the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain recognize Israel this year. Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Morocco's King Mohammed VI for his "historic decision" to sign the deal, and pledged a "very warm peace" between the two countries.
The Russian government has for the first time weighed in diplomatically on the dispute between Somalia and the separatist enclave of Somaliland on the north coast of the Horn of Africa. Moscow's UN ambassador Vassiliy Nebenzia last week issued a statement urging both sides to find a compromise solution. "We are concerned about the breakdown...of talks between delegations of Somalia and the self-proclaimed Somaliland. We urge both sides to consider a compromise way of resolving the differences," Nebenzia said. "It is important to resume talks between the governments of Somalia and Somaliland."
A UN group of experts has called on the Security Council to refer human rights violations and war crimes committed in the ongoing Yemen conflict to the International Criminal Court. The Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen concluded in a report released Sept. 8 that the governments of Yemen, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the Southern Transitional Council are responsible for rights violations including "arbitrary deprivation of life, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, gender-based violence, including sexual violence, torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the recruitment and use in hostilities of children." The report also alleges that "de facto authorities" in the capital Sana'a (the Houthi rebels) are responsible for the same violations.
On a visit to Baghdad this week, Gen. Frank McKenzie, chief of the Pentagon's Central Command, announced that US forces in Iraq will be reduced in the coming weeks from some 5,200 troops to about 3,000. McKenzie later told reporters that troop levels in Afghanistan will drop from the current 8,600 to 4,500. All of this is to happen by "late October," he said. How convenient. (AP, Politico) This all smells more of politics that strategy. There are still more than 10,000 ISIS fighters remaining across Iraq and Syria, according to a UN estimate from August. So, as Defense One comments, "any 'mission accomplished' moment remains elusive to clear-eyed observers of ISIS and the Middle East."
In an exhaustive report released June 30, the independent monitor Mwatana for Human Rights documents a chilling aspect of Yemen's more than five-year war that has gone overlooked, precisely because of its secretive nature: "enforced disappearances," torture, and deaths at illegal detention centers across the country. The report documents abuses by all parties to Yemen's war, some of which it says may constitute war crimes. The Saudi-backed government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, forces backed by the United Arab Emirates, and the Ansar Allah (Houthi) rebel group are all accused of running detention centers—some on military bases or intelligence compounds, some in cellars below private homes or requisitioned public buildings.