Nov 29, 2018

5. Yemen barrels toward famine as U.S. debate continues

As debate rages in Washington and around the world about how to slow or end the war in Yemen, the country continues to teeter on the edge of a debilitating famine.

Data: FEWS NET; Map: Naema Ahmed/Axios

The big picture: The UN has said for months that Yemen is on the brink of famine, and the heads of major humanitarian organizations say the U.S. will share responsibility "for the deaths of many more Yemeni civilians" if significant action isn't taken, per CNN.

Where things stand ...

Yesterday, the Senate voted to advance a resolution that would pull U.S. support from the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. That was a rebuke to President Trump, who has stood by the Saudis, but the resolution is a long way from passage.

Secretaries Mattis and Pompeo have called for a ceasefire in Yemen by Dec. 1, but that deadline is unlikely to be met. However, the sides are expected to begin talks next week in Sweden.

  • Dan Schneiderman of the International Crisis Group, and a former Yemen director at the White House National Security Council, told Axios: "It's important to remember that the Sweden talks are consultations — pre-talk talks rather than a full-blown peace process. So our expectations shouldn't be that they will end with a deal."
  • The Saudis plan to attend, per Reuters, as do the Houthis if "their safe exit and return is guaranteed." Previous talks broke down in September before they could really begin.

Meanwhile, things in Yemen are continuing to get worse.

  • Declan Walsh files from Sanaa for the New York Times: "The problem isn’t a lack of food; it’s that few people can afford to buy what food is available."
  • David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee, told Axios in a statement: "If we wait for famine to be declared, it will already be too late. ... The question is whether Congress and the Administration will do the right thing. Yemen can no longer wait."

Go deeper

The global cycle of violence, hunger and migration

Data: UNHCR; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

The number of people killed in armed conflicts has fallen from a recent high of 143,409 in 2014 — the height of the Syrian civil war — to 77,392 last year, per the Uppsala Conflict Data Program.

Zoom in: That's still more people than were killed in 2009 and 2010 combined. This year's deadliest conflicts were in Afghanistan and Syria.

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Trump may reduce troops in Afghanistan without Taliban deal

Taliban leaders during peace talks with the U.S. in July in Qatar. Photo: Karim Jaafar/AFP/Getty Images.

White House national security adviser Robert O'Brien told Axios in an exclusive interview that "it is possible" Trump will cut a deal with the Taliban this year but that even if a deal can't be struck, the president is still poised to reduce troops in Afghanistan.

Driving the news: "We're back in a situation where we're in talks with the Taliban," O'Brien said. "The Afghan forces are doing better, and I think we'll be in a position at some point soon, whether it's with a deal or without a deal, to reduce our military footprint in Afghanistan."

Go deeperArrowJan 12, 2020

Inside Trump's improbable Middle East deals

Trump with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

One of the hallmarks of President Trump's foreign policy has been his insistence that he can cut the deals that have eluded his predecessors: a durable peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and a deal that would not only stop Iran from getting a nuclear bomb but would also stop Iran from projecting force across the Middle East.

But, but, but: On the Middle East peace plan, which Israeli officials believe could be announced before the Israeli elections in March, White House national security adviser Robert O'Brien tells Axios said the Trump administration is under "no illusions" that "this will be an easy process."

Go deeperArrowJan 12, 2020