March 6-13: States fight new travel ban, Trump seeks to change rules of engagement

Monday, March 6, 2017

US airstrikes killed a former Guantanamo Bay detainee, Yasir al-Silmi, on March 2. Al-Silmi was released from the detention center in 2009, where he had been held for seven years.

President Trump announced a new version of the travel and immigration ban on six Muslim-majority countries today. The changes to the ban include removing Iraq from the list of countries that will be impacted, and shifts in the timeline of implementation, but the order remains extremely discriminatory and is opposed by human rights groups such as Amnesty International (and the YPP).

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) released a recording on their media channels recently, claiming that the US refused to trade American journalist Luke Somers, held hostage by AQAP and killed in a rescue attempt in 2014, for the cleric Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman who died last month in a prison in North Carolina.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Associated Press discussed the changes to the new travel ban, highlighting how the new executive order impacts citizens of and refugees from the banned countries. Syrian refugees, rather than being banned indefinitely, will now be subject to the same 120-day freeze as other refugees. The order will go into effect on March 16. A second article on the ban from AP notes that the new version of the executive order removes many of the more controversial measures of the first ban, such as Iraq’s placement on the list of barred countries and language that gave priority to “religious minorities,” considered to be aimed at allowing Christian travel and migration while excluding Muslims. Ultimately, however, the article closes with the words of Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants Rights Project, that “the only way to actually fix the Muslim ban is not to have a Muslim ban.”

Malaysian police claim to have foiled plans for an attack on Saudi King Salman by Yemeni militants, who were arrested just before the king’s recent visit to Kuala Lumpur. It is unclear what group the alleged militants belong to, however.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Trump administration recently approved a measure to resume the sale of precision guided weapons to Saudi Arabia, reversing a decision made by the Obama administration to suspend such munition sales. The Saudi-led coalition has used American-made smart bombs in previous attacks on civilians, which is why the previous administration froze the transfer.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

NPR reports that Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of US Central Command, told the Senate Armed Forces Committee today that he took “full responsibility” for the highly-criticized January raid in Yemen. Votel did not, however, say that the raid was a mistake. He also apparently lied to the Committee about the number of civilian casualties resulting from the raid, claiming that there had been “between four and twelve” civilians killed and saying that no further investigation into the raid was necessary. On-the-ground investigations have identified a minimum of sixteen civilians killed by US forces, and many more wounded.

Amnesty international says that Saudi Arabia is still using cluster bombs in Yemen, contrary to the Gulf country’s claims. The bombs are notorious for being indiscriminate in who they kill or maim, and have resulted in many unnecessary civilian deaths and injuries.

Foreign Policy reports that the last week’s series of airstrikes in Yemen have surpassed the total number of bombings carried out in any given year of Obama’s presidency. This clearly illustrates the Trump administration’s relative lack of hesitation to approve attacks, signalling a more aggressive military policy in Yemen and against Islamic militants more generally. But more airstrikes and the civilian casualties that often come with them may provide more fuel for extremist groups in the region.

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Saudi-led coalition carried out an airstrike today on an open-air market in the town of al-Khukha, Hodeida province, killing at least 16 people and wounding 10 according to the United Nations. Local Yemeni estimates of the death toll are higher, however. Why the market was targeted is still unclear. A report by Middle East Eye on the topic places the death toll at 20 civilians and 6 Houthi soldiers, and says that according to their sources the market was attacked when fighters under attack outside the city fled there.  

The US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations (SCFA) met on Thursday to discuss the Yemeni civil war and the future of the United States’ engagement in the country. Gerald Feierstein, who was the US ambassador to Yemen from 2010-2013, said it was likely that the new administration would continue to support the Saudi coalition and Saudi objectives in Yemen. Simultaneously, President Trump has proposed major cuts to the foreign aid budget which would seriously diminish the provision of humanitarian assistance to countries such as Yemen which are in dire need. Such a move would be a significant setback to US national interests in the region, which rest not only on military involvement but just as heavily on development assistance and diplomatic efforts.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The influx of refugees into Yemen, mostly coming from African countries, is concerning to humanitarian workers, says Al Jazeera. These incoming refugees are often misled by smugglers and traffickers about the safety conditions in Yemen and are not aware of the dangers they will face.

The United Nations has called the food security crisis in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, and the Lake Chad Basin the greatest humanitarian crisis since 1945. In Yemen, over 18 million people now need food assistance, 3 million more than in January, and the UN currently only has 6% of the funding it needs to provide for the needs of Yemenis.

CNN covers the results of the US military’s review of the January commando raid in the village of Yakla. They report that according to US military officials, the raid was focused on gaining intelligence rather than capturing AQAP leader Qassim al-Rimi. General Joseph Votel, who oversaw the investigation, stated that he did not see the need for further investigation into the raid.

Meanwhile, the revised version of the travel and immigration ban on six Muslim-majority in countries is seeing a large amount of opposition. Democratic attorneys general from the states of Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, New York, Hawaii, Maryland, and Wisconsin are taking legal action to block the discriminatory policy. The Associated Press notes the US Justice Department’s statement that because the original order was revoked, the restraining order issued by a Seattle judge on the previous ban does not impact this new order.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Middle East Eye focuses on a recent phenomenon among Yemeni women, who have been entering the workforce more and more since the start of the civil war. Many women are now the sole breadwinners of their households, and as humanitarian aid has been prevented from entering the country and many charitable organizations have closed, their salaries provide much-needed relief for their families.

The Trump administration is seeking to dismantle rules designed to prevent civilian deaths in both Yemen and Somalia.

The Emergency Telecommunications Cluster published a factsheet on Yemen today. They aim to provide services to the humanitarian community in the country, despite the ongoing conflict, in five areas including San’a, Sa’dah, al-Hudaydah, Ibb, and Aden.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Association of Mothers of Abductees in San’a protested the abduction and disappearances of their children by Houthi-Saleh forces today, outside the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in the city.