Yemen Ceasefire on Brink of Collapse

A two-day old ceasefire in Yemen is on the brink of collapse. Saudi military officers say that the truce has been violated by Houthi forces at least 150 times and one, Brigadier General Ahmed al-Assiri, told Reuters that his forces were responding to the attacks. “We urge the United Nations to clarify to the Houthis that there will be no patience towards these practices and the truce could collapse at any moment,” he said. Despite the clashes, a prisoner swap between pro-government and Houthi forces involving hundreds of detainees was completed in Lahj Province. The swap was delayed when tribal militias blocked the roads near the exchange site to compel the release of additional prisoners, but who eventually allowed the exchange to proceed.

Talks between the parties to the conflict are continuing in Switzerland. More than 5,800 people have died in the Yemeni conflict since March.

Iraq Refuses U.S. Offer of Troops, Helicopters

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi refused an offer made by U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter to provide Iraqi forces with expanded advisory support from U.S. troops and close air support from Apache helicopters. The support forces would expand the U.S. presence in Iraq to fight the Islamic State, but the Iraqi government is growing increasingly reticent to consent to an expanded U.S. role. “There are a number of complex relationships that the government of Iraq has to attend to. And we are here in Iraq at the behest of that government, so sometimes we have to adjust the things that we would do,” said Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, head of the U.S. military’s Islamic State operations. “It’s kind of hard to inflict support on somebody.”


  • The United Nations said that the planned signing of a peace accord between Libya’s rival governments that would facilitate the creation of a reconciliation government has been postponed, with a spokesperson citing logistical reasons.

  • Nine members of the Qatari hunting party abducted in Iraq near the Saudi border have been released to the Qatari ambassador to Kuwait at the Iraq-Kuwait border; the Qatari government is working with Baghdad to secure the release of the remaining prisoners, but reports have not released the group responsible for the abduction.

  • After expressing surprise in response to Saudi Arabia’s announcement of the formation of an international counterterrorism force, Pakistani officials today confirmed its participation but said they are “awaiting further details to decide the extent of its participation in different activities of the alliance.”

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin in continuing his public fuming about an incident in November when a Russian Su-24 was shot down by Turkish F-16s along the Turkey-Syria border; in an annual press conference today, he called it “an enemy act.”

  • An IMAX theater in Cairo, Egypt, canceled its opening day showing of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, telling fans who had purchased tickets in advance that the copy of the film delivered to the theater was faulty; “I was livid,” a fan told the Associated Press, “If this had happened in the U.S., they would have set the theatre on fire.”

Arguments and Analysis

If the Dead Could Speak: Mass Deaths and Torture in Syria’s Detention Facilities” (Human Rights Watch)

“The Caesar photographs received by Human Rights Watch can be divided into three categories. The largest category of photographs, 28,707 images, are photographs of people Human Rights Watch understands to have died in government custody, either in one of several detention facilities or after being transferred to a military hospital. What distinguishes this batch of photographs is that all the bodies in them have identification numbers, typically three separate numbers, either written directly on the body or on a paper that is placed on the body or held in the photograph frame. There are multiple photographs of each body, typically four to five but ranging between three to more than twenty. SAFMCD [Syrian Association for Missing and Conscience Detainees], which reviewed the entire collection and logged the photographs by individual body, found that these 28,707 photographs correspond to at least 6,786 separate dead individuals each with their own unique identification numbers.”

Wilayat Sinai Risks Backlash after Metrojet Bombing” (Zack Gold, CTC Sentinel)

“All of the Islamic State propaganda regarding the Metrojet crash — the initial claim, another audio statement, and the Dabiq article — focus on Russian policies toward and military actions in Syria. Despite being carried out by Wilayat Sinai, and the negative implications for Egypt’s tourism sector, no effort was made to gain sympathy among Egyptians or to use the attack to recruit Egyptian youth that already have anti-government views. Had the Islamic State wanted to use the incident to recruit locally, it could have easily linked Russia to the perceived excesses of the Egyptian regime. There are close ties between Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, frequent government exchanges, and military sales. The decision to instead focus their propaganda on threats to the international community and those sympathetic to Syrian Sunnis makes it clear that the plotters — and the Islamic State’s media machine — cared little about the local impact. If Egypt responds carefully, Wilayat Sinai’s decision to attack a civilian aircraft will go down as yet another example of the foreign-influenced group overplaying their hand.”

-J. Dana Stuster