Stories by Michael P. Dempsey

Expert Voices

In Yemeni conflict, signs of diplomatic progress finally appearing

a soldier in a ravaged street of Hodeidah, Yemen
A Yemeni pro-government solider in an industrial district of the port city of Hodeidah on November 18, 2018. Photo: Stringer/AFP/Getty Images

As the war in Yemen grinds toward its fourth year, the prospects may be improving for a deal to reduce the bloodshed and suffering.

Why it matters: Yemen is facing a terrible humanitarian crisis — potentially the world’s worst in the past century — with as many as half of its 28 million people at risk of starvation, according to UN estimates. The conflict has allowed al-Qaeda’s most dangerous branch to deepen its influence within Yemen and has also spilled over the country’s borders, with regular Houthi drone and missile strikes in Saudi Arabia.

Expert Voices

Idlib is the next ugly phase in Syria’s civil war

Displaced Syrians who fled from regime raids ride in a truck with their belongings arrive near a camp in Kafr Lusin near the border with Turkey
Syrians who fled regime raids with their belongings arrive at a camp near the Turkish border in the northern part of Idlib province on September 9, 2018. Photo: Aaref Watad/AFP via Getty Images

Turkey’s last-minute effort to head off a looming offensive from the Syrian, Russian and Iranian governments in Idlib Province has fallen short, leaving open only the question of when and how the offensive will occur. Given Syrian President Assad’s pledge to recapture every inch of Syrian territory, neither Western pleas for restraint nor for a potential campaign targeting only extremist fighters is likely to avert the assault.

Why it matters: Idlib is the last remaining de-escalation zone from 2017’s Russian-led Astana peace process, and is home to more 3 million civilians. It is also home to thousands of the most extreme, battle-hardened al-Qaeda and Islamic State fighters, who now have nowhere in Syria left to go. Difficult terrain and the regime’s history of using chemical weapons in the region only compound the challenges. The U.N. warns that a major military clash could force nearly a million Syrians to flee north toward the Turkish border; as many as 30,000 have already been reported displaced from Idlib in recent days.   

Expert Voices

The Islamic State threat hasn’t gone away

 Houses and cars are that were destroyed by the Islamic State litter the city with debris.
Houses and cars destroyed by an Islamic State attack, in Mosul, Iraq, on April 24, 2018. Photo: Kay Nietfeld via Getty Images

Lost amid the intense international focus on diplomatic talks with North Korea and renewed U.S. tensions with Iran, has been a recent spate of Islamic State attacks across a broad swath of the Middle East and North Africa.

Why it matters: Like the mythological hydra, the Islamic State has remained resilient and lethal, even after losing its physical caliphate in Iraq and Syria last year — continuing to thrive in areas without local authority and legitimacy and to recruit from vulnerable Sunni populations. Equally worrisome, the recent attacks demonstrate the group’s ability to retain its followers; in the year since the fall of Raqqa, no Islamic State branch has renounced its pledge of fealty.