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American Resistance To Empire

The Ultra-Pure, Super-Secret Sand That Makes Your Phone Possible

In the digital age, the jobs we work at, the entertainment we divert ourselves with, and the ways we communicate with one another are increasingly defined by the internet and the computers, tablets, and cell phones that connect us to it. None of this would be possible were it not for sand.
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The Ultra-Pure, Super-Secret Sand That Makes Your Phone Possible

The processor that makes your laptop or cell phone work was fabricated using quartz from this obscure Appalachian backwater.

Fresh from church on a cool, overcast Sunday morning in Spruce Pine, North Carolina, Alex Glover slides onto the plastic bench of a McDonald’s booth. He rummages through his knapsack, then pulls out a plastic sandwich bag full of white powder. “I hope we don’t get arrested,” he says. “Someone might get the wrong idea.”

Glover is a recently retired geologist who has spent decades hunting for valuable minerals in the hillsides and hollows of the Appalachian Mountains that surround this tiny town. He is a small, rounded man with little oval glasses, a neat white mustache, and matching hair clamped under a Jeep baseball cap. He speaks with a medium‑strength drawl that emphasizes the first syllable and stretches some vowels, such that we’re drinking CAWWfee as he explains why this remote area is so tremendously important to the rest of the world.

Spruce Pine is not a wealthy place. Its downtown consists of a somnambulant train station across the street from a couple of blocks of two‑story brick buildings, including a long‑closed movie theater and several empty storefronts.

Excerpted from The World in a Grain by Vince Beiser.

Penguin Random House
The wooded mountains surrounding it, though, are rich in all kinds of desirable rocks, some valued for their industrial uses, some for their pure prettiness. But it’s the mineral in Glover’s bag—snowy white grains, soft as powdered sugar—that is by far the most important these days. It’s quartz, but not just any quartz. Spruce Pine, it turns out, is the source of the purest natural quartz—a species of pristine sand—ever found on Earth. This ultra‑elite deposit of silicon dioxide particles plays a key role in manufacturing the silicon used to make computer chips. In fact, there’s an excellent chance the chip that makes your laptop or cell phone work was made using sand from this obscure Appalachian backwater. “It’s a billion‑dollar industry here,” Glover says with a hooting laugh. “Can’t tell by driving through here. You’d never know it.”
Rocks like these high-grade silica samples mined near Charlotte, North Carolina, are the basis for modern computer chips.
Charles O’Rear/Getty Images

In the 21st century, sand has become more important than ever, and in more ways than ever. This is the digital age, in which the jobs we work at, the entertainment we divert ourselves with, and the ways we communicate with one another are increasingly defined by the internet and the computers, tablets, and cell phones that connect us to it. None of this would be possible were it not for sand.

Most of the world’s sand grains are composed of quartz, which is a form of silicon dioxide, also known as silica. High‑purity silicon dioxide particles are the essential raw materials from which we make computer chips, fiber‑optic cables, and other high‑tech hardware—the physical components on which the virtual world runs. The quantity of quartz used for these products is minuscule compared to the mountains of it used for concrete or land reclamation. But its impact is immeasurable.

Spruce Pine’s mineralogical wealth is a result of the area’s unique geologic history. About 380 million years ago the area was located south of the equator. Plate tectonics pushed the African continent toward eastern America, forcing the heavier oceanic crust—the geologic layer beneath the ocean’s water—underneath the lighter North American continent. The friction of that colossal grind generated heat topping 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, melting the rock that lay between 9 and 15 miles below the surface. The pressure on that molten rock forced huge amounts of it into cracks and fissures of the surrounding host rock, where it formed deposits of what are known as pegmatites.

It took some 100 million years for the deeply buried molten rock to cool down and crystallize. Thanks to the depth at which it was buried and to the lack of water where all this was happening, the pegmatites formed almost without impurities. Generally speaking, the pegmatites are about 65 percent feldspar, 25 percent quartz, 8 percent mica, and the rest traces of other minerals. Meanwhile, over the course of some 300 million years, the plate under the Appalachian Mountains shifted upward. Weather eroded the exposed rock, until the hard formations of pegmatites were left near the surface.

Unimin’s North Carolina quartz operations supply most of the world’s high‑ and ultra‑high‑purity quartz.
Jerry Whaley/Alamy

Native Americans mined the shiny, glittering mica and used it for grave decorations and as currency. American settlers began trickling into the mountains in the 1800s, scratching out a living as farmers. A few prospectors tried their hands at the mica business, but were stymied by the steep mountain geography. “There were no rivers, no roads, no trains. They had to haul the stuff out on horseback,” says David Biddix, a scruffy‑haired amateur historian who has written three books about Mitchell County, where Spruce Pine sits.

The region’s prospects started to improve in 1903 when the South and Western Railroad company, in the course of building a line from Kentucky to South Carolina, carved a track up into the mountains, a serpentine marvel that loops back and forth for 20 miles to ascend just 1,000 feet. Once this artery to the outside world was finally opened, mining started to pick up. Locals and wildcatters dug hundreds of shafts and open pits in the mountains of what became known as the Spruce Pine Mining District, a swath of land 25 miles by 10 miles that sprawls over three counties.

Mica used to be prized for wood‑ and coal‑burning stove windows and for electrical insulation in vacuum tube electronics. It’s now used mostly as a specialty additive in cosmetics and things like caulks, sealants, and drywall joint compound. During World War II, demand for mica and feldspar, which are found in tremendous abundance in the area’s pegmatites, boomed. Prosperity came to Spruce Pine. The town quadrupled in size in the 1940s. At its peak, Spruce Pine boasted three movie theaters, two pool halls, a bowling alley, and plenty of restaurants. Three passenger trains came through every day.

Toward the end of the decade, the Tennessee Valley Authority sent a team of scientists to Spruce Pine tasked with further developing the area’s mineral resources. They focused on the money‑makers, mica and feldspar. The problem was separating those minerals from the other ones. A typical chunk of Spruce Pine pegmatite looks like a piece of strange but enticing hard candy: mostly milky white or pink feldspar, inset with shiny mica, studded with clear or smoky quartz, and flecked here and there with bits of deep red garnet and other‑colored minerals.

For years, locals would simply dig up the pegmatites and crush them with hand tools or crude machines, separating out the feldspar and mica by hand. The quartz that was left over was considered junk, at best fit to be used as construction sand, more likely thrown out with the other tailings.

Working with researchers at North Carolina State University’s Minerals Research Laboratory in nearby Asheville, the TVA scientists developed a much faster and more efficient method to separate out minerals, called froth flotation. “It revolutionized the industry,” Glover says. “It made it evolve from a mom‑and‑pop individual industry to a mega‑multinational corporation industry.”

Froth flotation involves running the rock through mechanical crushers until it’s broken down into a heap of mixed‑mineral granules. You dump that mix in a tank, add water to turn it into a milky slurry, and stir well. Next, add reagents—chemicals that bind to the mica grains and make them hydrophobic, meaning they don’t want to touch water. Now pipe a column of air bubbles through the slurry. Terrified of the water surrounding them, the mica grains will frantically grab hold of the air bubbles and be carried up to the top of the tank, forming a froth on the water’s surface. A paddle wheel skims off the froth and shunts it into another tank, where the water is drained out. Voilà: mica.

The remaining feldspar, quartz, and iron are drained from the bottom of the tank and funneled through a series of troughs into the next tank, where a similar process is performed to float out the iron. Repeat, more or less, to remove the feldspar.

It was the feldspar, which is used in glassmaking, that first attracted engineers from the Corning Glass Company to the area. At the time, the leftover quartz grains were still seen as just unwanted by‑products. But the Corning engineers, always on the lookout for quality material to put to work in the glass factories, noticed the purity of the quartz and started buying it as well, hauling it north by rail to Corning’s facility in Ithaca, New York, where it was turned into everything from windows to bottles.One of Spruce Pine quartz’s greatest achievements in the glass world came in the 1930s, when Corning won a contract to manufacture the mirror for what was to be the world’s biggest telescope, ordered by the Palomar Observatory in Southern California. Making the 200‑inch, 20‑ton mirror involved melting mountains of quartz in a giant furnace heated to 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit, writes David O. Woodbury in The Glass Giant of Palomar.

Once the furnace was hot enough, “three crews of men, working day and night around the clock, began ramming in the sand and chemicals through a door at one end. So slowly did the ingredients melt that only four tons a day could be added. Little by little the fiery pool spread over the bottom of the furnace and rose gradually to an incandescent lake 50 feet long and 15 wide.” The telescope was installed in the observatory in 1947. Its unprecedented power led to important discoveries about the composition of stars and the size of the universe itself. It is still in use today.

In the 1930s, Corning won a contract to manufacture the mirror for what was to be the world’s biggest telescope, ordered by the Palomar Observatory in Southern California. Making the 200‑inch, 20‑ton mirror involved melting mountains of quartz in a giant furnace heated to 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Montifraulo Collection/Getty Images

Significant as that telescope was, Spruce Pine quartz was soon to take on a far more important role as the digital age began to dawn.

In the mid‑1950s, thousands of miles from North Carolina, a group of engineers in California began working on an invention that would become the foundation of the computer industry. William Shockley, a pathbreaking engineer at Bell Labs who had helped invent the transistor, had left to set up his own company in Mountain View, California, a sleepy town about an hour south of San Francisco, near where he had grown up. Stanford University was nearby, and General Electric and IBM had facilities in the area, as well as a new company called Hewlett‑Packard. But the area known at the time as the Santa Clara Valley was still mostly filled with apricot, pear, and plum orchards. It would soon become much better known by a new nickname: Silicon Valley.

At the time, the transistor market was heating up fast. Texas Instruments, Motorola, and other companies were all competing to come up with smaller, more efficient transistors to use in, among other products, computers. The first American computer, dubbed ENIAC, was developed by the army during World War II; it was 100 feet long and 10 feet high, and it ran on 18,000 vacuum tubes.

Transistors, which are tiny electronic switches that control the flow of electricity, offered a way to replace those tubes and make these new machines even more powerful while shrinking their tumid footprint. Semiconductors—a small class of elements, including germanium and silicon, which conduct electricity at certain temperatures while blocking it at others—looked like promising materials for making those transistors.

At Shockley’s startup, a flock of young PhDs began each morning by firing up kilns to thousands of degrees and melting down germanium and silicon. Tom Wolfe once described the scene in Esquire magazine: “They wore white lab coats, goggles, and work gloves. When they opened the kiln doors weird streaks of orange and white light went across their faces . . . they lowered a small mechanical column into the goo so that crystals formed on the bottom of the column, and they pulled the crystal out and tried to get a grip on it with tweezers, and put it under microscopes and cut it with diamond cutters, among other things, into minute slices, wafers, chips; there were no names in electronics for these tiny forms.”

Shockley became convinced that silicon was the more promising material and shifted his focus accordingly. “Since he already had the first and most famous semiconductor research and manufacturing company, everyone who had been working with germanium stopped and switched to silicon,” writes Joel Shurkin in his biography of Shockley, Broken Genius. “Indeed, without his decision, we would speak of Germanium Valley.”

Shockley was a genius, but by all accounts he was also a lousy boss. Within a couple of years, several of his most talented engineers had jumped ship to start their own company, which they dubbed Fairchild Semiconductor. One of them was Robert Noyce, a laid‑back but brilliant engineer, only in his mid‑20s but already famous for his expertise with transistors.

William Shockley worked with the element germanium, as well, before becoming convinced that silicon was the more promising material.
Alfred Eisenstaedt/Pix Inc./The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
In 1959, when Robert Noyce and his colleagues at Fairchild Semiconductor figured out a way to cram several transistors onto a single fingernail‑sized sliver of high‑purity silicon. He went on to found Intel.
Ted Streshinsky/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
The breakthrough came in 1959, when Noyce and his colleagues figured out a way to cram several transistors onto a single fingernail‑sized sliver of high‑purity silicon. At almost the same time, Texas Instruments developed a similar gadget made from germanium. Noyce’s, though, was more efficient, and it soon dominated the market. NASA selected Fairchild’s microchip for use in the space program, and sales soon shot from almost nothing to $130 million a year. In 1968, Noyce left to found his own company. He called it Intel, and it soon dominated the nascent industry of programmable computer chips.

Intel’s first commercial chip, released in 1971, contained 2,250 transistors. Today’s computer chips are often packed with transistors numbering in the billions. Those tiny electronic squares and rectangles are the brains that run our computers, the Internet, and the entire digital world. Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, the computer systems that underpin the work of everything from the Pentagon to your local bank—all of this and much more is based on sand, remade as silicon chips.

Making those chips is a fiendishly complicated process. They require essentially pure silicon. The slightest impurity can throw their tiny systems out of whack.

Finding silicon is easy. It’s one of the most abundant elements on Earth. It shows up practically everywhere bound together with oxygen to form SiO2, aka quartz. The problem is that it never occurs naturally in pure, elemental form. Separating out the silicon takes considerable doing.

Step one is to take high‑purity silica sand, the kind used for glass. (Lump quartz is also sometimes used.) That quartz is then blasted in a powerful electric furnace, creating a chemical reaction that separates out much of the oxygen. That leaves you with what is called silicon metal, which is about 99 percent pure silicon. But that’s not nearly good enough for high‑tech uses. Silicon for solar panels has to be 99.999999 percent pure—six 9s after the decimal. Computer chips are even more demanding. Their silicon needs to be 99.99999999999 percent pure—eleven 9s. “We are talking of one lonely atom of something that is not silicon among billions of silicon companions,” writes geologist Michael Welland in Sand: The Never-Ending Story.

Getting there requires treating the silicon metal with a series of complex chemical processes. The first round of these converts the silicon metal into two compounds. One is silicon tetrachloride, which is the primary ingredient used to make the glass cores of optical fibers. The other is trichlorosilane, which is treated further to become polysilicon, an extremely pure form of silicon that will go on to become the key ingredient in solar cells and computer chips.

Each of these steps might be carried out by more than one company, and the price of the material rises sharply at each step. That first‑step, 99 percent pure silicon metal goes for about $1 a pound; polysilicon can cost 10 times as much.

Semiconductors are a small class of elements, including silicon, which conduct electricity at certain temperatures while blocking it at others.
Getty Images

The next step is to melt down the polysilicon. But you can’t just throw this exquisitely refined material in a cook pot. If the molten silicon comes into contact with even the tiniest amount of the wrong substance, it causes a ruinous chemical reaction. You need crucibles made from the one substance that has both the strength to withstand the heat required to melt polysilicon, and a molecular composition that won’t infect it. That substance is pure quartz.

This is where Spruce Pine quartz comes in. It’s the world’s primary source of the raw material needed to make the fused‑quartz crucibles in which computer‑chip‑grade polysilicon is melted. A fire in 2008 at one of the main quartz facilities in Spruce Pine for a time all but shut off the supply of high‑purity quartz to the world market, sending shivers through the industry.Today one company dominates production of Spruce Pine quartz. Unimin, an outfit founded in 1970, has gradually bought up Spruce Pine area mines and bought out competitors, until today the company’s North Carolina quartz operations supply most of the world’s high‑ and ultra‑high‑purity quartz. (Unimin itself is now a division of a Belgian mining conglomerate, Sibelco.)

In recent years, another company, the imaginatively titled Quartz Corp, has managed to grab a small share of the Spruce Pine market. There are a very few other places around the world producing high‑purity quartz, and many other places where companies are looking hard for more. But Unimin controls the bulk of the trade.

The quartz for the crucibles, like the silicon they will produce, needs to be almost absolutely pure, purged as thoroughly as possible of other elements. Spruce Pine quartz is highly pure to begin with, and purer still after being put through several rounds of froth flotation. But some of the grains may still have what Glover calls interstitial crystalline contamination—molecules of other minerals attached to the quartz molecules.

That’s frustratingly common. “I’ve evaluated thousands of quartz samples from all over the world,” says John Schlanz, chief minerals processing engineer at the Minerals Research Laboratory in Asheville, about an hour from Spruce Pine. “Near all of them have contaminate locked in the quartz grains that you can’t get out.”

Some Spruce Pine quartz is flawed in this way. Those grains are used for high‑end beach sand and golf course bunkers—most famously the salt‑white traps of Augusta National Golf Club, site of the iconic Masters Tournament. A golf course in the oil‑drunk United Arab Emirates imported 4,000 tons of this sand in 2008 to make sure its sand traps were world‑class, too.

The very best Spruce Pine quartz, however, has an open crystalline structure, which means that hydrofluoric acid can be injected right into the crystal molecules to dissolve any lingering traces of feldspar or iron, taking the purity up another notch. Technicians take it one step further by reacting the quartz with chlorine or hydrochloric acid at high temperatures, then putting it through one or two more trade‑secret steps of physical and chemical processing.

The result is what Unimin markets as Iota quartz, the industry standard of purity. The basic Iota quartz is 99.998 percent pure SiO2. It is used to make things like halogen lamps and photovoltaic cells, but it’s not good enough to make those crucibles in which polysilicon is melted. For that you need Iota 6, or the tip‑top of the line, Iota 8, which clocks in at 99.9992 percent purity—meaning for every one billion molecules of SiO , there are only 80 molecules of impurities. Iota 8 sells for up to $10,000 a ton. Regular construction sand, at the other end of the sand scale, can be had for a few dollars per ton.

At his house, Glover shows me some Iota under a microscope. Seen through the instrument’s lens (itself made from a much less pure quartz sand), the jagged little shards are as clear as glass and bright as diamonds.

Unimin sells this ultra‑high‑purity quartz sand to companies like General Electric, which melts it, spins it, and fuses it into what looks like a salad bowl made of milky glass: the crucible. “It’s safe to say the vast majority of those crucibles are made from Spruce Pine quartz,” Schlanz says.

The polysilicon is placed in those quartz crucibles, melted down, and set spinning. Then a silicon seed crystal about the size of a pencil is lowered into it, spinning in the opposite direction. The seed crystal is slowly withdrawn, pulling behind it what is now a single giant silicon crystal. These dark, shiny crystals, weighing about 220 pounds, are called ingots.

Polysilicon is placed in quartz crucibles, melted down, and set spinning.
Kay Chernush/Getty Images
Dark, shiny crystals of silicon called ingots are sliced into thin wafers. Ingots of the highest purity are polished to mirror smoothness and sold to a chipmaker like Intel.
Getty Images

The ingots are sliced into thin wafers. Some are sold to solar cell manufacturers. Ingots of the highest purity are polished to mirror smoothness and sold to a chipmaker like Intel. It’s a thriving multi-billion dollar industry in 2012.

The chipmaker imprints patterns of transistors on the wafer using a process called photolithography. Copper is implanted to link those billions of transistors to form integrated circuits. Even a minute particle of dust can ruin the chip’s intricate circuitry, so all of this happens in what’s called a clean room, where purifiers keep the air thousands of times cleaner than a hospital operating room. Technicians dress in an all‑covering white uniform affectionately known as a bunny suit. To ensure the wafers don’t get contaminated during manufacture, many of the tools used to move and manipulate them are, like the crucibles, made from high‑purity quartz.

The wafers are then cut into tiny, unbelievably thin quadrangular chips—computer chips, the brains inside your mobile phone or laptop. The whole process requires hundreds of precise, carefully controlled steps. The chip that results is easily one of the most complicated man‑made objects on Earth, yet made with the most common stuff on Earth: humble sand.

The total amount of high‑purity quartz produced worldwide each year is estimated at 30,000 tons—less than the amount of construction sand produced in the United States every hour. (And even construction sand is in high demand; there’s a thriving black market in the stuff.) Only Unimin knows exactly how much Spruce Pine quartz is produced, because it doesn’t publish any production figures. It is an organization famously big on secrecy. “Spruce Pine used to be mom‑and‑ pop operations,” Schlanz says. “When I first worked up there, you could just walk into any of the operations. You could just go across the street and borrow a piece of equipment.”

Nowadays Unimin won’t even allow staff of the Minerals Research Laboratory inside the mines or processing facilities. Contractors brought in to do repair work have to sign confidentiality agreements. Whenever possible, vice‑president Richard Zielke recently declared in court papers, the company splits up the work among different contractors so that no individual can learn too much.Unimin buys equipment and parts from multiple vendors for the same reason. Glover has heard of contractors being blindfolded inside the processing plants until they arrive at the specific area where their jobs are and of an employee who was fired on the spot for bringing someone in without authorization. He says the company doesn’t even allow its employees to socialize with those of their competitors.

It was hard to check out Glover’s stories, because Unimin wouldn’t talk to me. Unlike most big corporations, its website lists no contact for a press spokesperson or public relations representative. Several emails to their general inquiries address went unanswered. When I called the company’s headquarters in Connecticut, the woman who answered the phone seemed mystified by the concept of a journalist wanting to ask questions.

She put me on hold for a few minutes, then came back to tell me the company has no PR department, but that if I faxed (faxed!) her my questions, someone might get back to me. Eventually I got in touch with a Unimin executive who asked me to send her my questions by email. I did so. The response: “Unfortunately, we are not in a position to provide answers at this point in time.”

So I tried the direct approach. Like all the quartz mining and processing facilities in the area, Unimin’s Schoolhouse Quartz Plant, set in a valley amid low, thickly treed hills, is surrounded by a barbed‑wire‑topped fence. Security isn’t exactly at the level of Fort Knox, but the message is clear.

One Saturday morning I go to take a look at the plant with David Biddix. We park across the street from the gate. A sign warns that the area is under video surveillance, and that neither guns nor tobacco are allowed inside. As soon as I hop out to snap a few photos, a matronly woman in a security guard uniform popped out of the gatehouse. “Watcha doin’?” she asks conversationally. I give her my friendliest smile and tell her I am a journalist writing a book about sand, including about the importance of the quartz sand in this very facility. She takes that all in skeptically, and asks me to call Unimin’s local office the following Monday to get permission.

“Sure, I’ll do that,” I say. “I just want to take a look, as long as I’m here.” “Well, please don’t take pictures,” she says. There isn’t much to see—some piles of white sand, a bunch of metal tanks, a redbrick building near the gate—so I agree. She lumbers back inside. I put away my camera and pull out my notebook. That brings her right back out.

“You don’t look like a terrorist”—she laughs apologetically— “but these days you never know. I’m asking you to leave before I get grumpy.”

“I understand,” I say. “I just want to take a few notes. And anyway, this is a public road. I have the right to be here.”

That really displeased her. “I’m doing my job,” she snaps. “I’m doing mine,” I reply.

“All right, I’m taking notes, too,” she declares. “And if anything happens . . .” Leaving the consequences unspecified, she strides over to my rental car and officiously writes down its license plate number, then asks for the name of “my companion” in the passenger seat. I don’t want to get Biddix in any trouble, so I politely decline, hop in, and drive off.

Unimin guards its trade secrets fiercely. Whenever possible, vice‑president Richard Zielke recently declared in court papers, the company splits up the work among different contractors so that no individual can learn too much.
Vince Beiser
If you really want a sense of how zealously Unimin guards its trade secrets, ask Tom Gallo. He used to work for the company, and then for years had his life ruined by it.Gallo is a small, lean man in his 50s, originally from New Jersey. He relocated to North Carolina when he was hired by Unimin in 1997. His first day on the job, he was handed a confidentiality agreement; he was surprised at how restrictive it was and didn’t think it was fair. But there he was, way out in Spruce Pine, with all his possessions in a moving truck, his life in New Jersey already left behind. So he signed it.

Gallo worked for Unimin in Spruce Pine for 12 years. When he left, he signed a noncompete agreement that forbade him from working for any of the company’s competitors in the high‑purity quartz business for five years. He and his wife moved to Asheville and started up an artisanal pizza business, which they dubbed Gallolea—his last name plus that of a friend who had encouraged him.

It was a rough go. The pizza business was never a big money‑maker, and it was soon hit with a lawsuit over its name from the E. & J. Gallo Winery. Gallo spent thousands of dollars fighting the suit—it’s his name, after all—but eventually decided the prudent course would be to give up and change the company’s name. The five‑year noncompete term had run out by then, so when a small startup quartz company, I‑Minerals, called to offer Gallo a consulting gig, he gladly accepted. I‑Minerals put out a press release bragging about the hire and touting Gallo’s expertise.

That turned to be a big mistake. Unimin promptly filed a lawsuit against Gallo and I‑Minerals, accusing them of trying to steal Unimin’s secrets. “There was no call, no cease‑and‑desist order, no investigation,” Gallo says. “They filed a 150‑page brief against me on the basis of a press release.”

Over the next several years, Gallo spent tens of thousands of dollars fighting the suit. “That’s how billion‑dollar corporations terrify people,” he says. “I had to take money out of my 401(k) to defend myself against this totally baseless lawsuit. We were afraid we would lose our house. It was terrifying. You can’t imagine how many sleepless nights my wife and I have had.” His pizza business collapsed. “When Unimin filed suit, we had just gotten over the Gallo thing. It was the sledgehammer that broke the camel’s back. We’d worked on it for five years. It was more than we could handle emotionally, psychologically, and financially.”

Unimin eventually lost the case, appealed it to federal court, and finally dropped it. I‑Minerals and Gallo separately countersued Unimin, calling its suit an abuse of the judicial process aimed at harassing a potential competitor. Unimin eventually agreed to pay an undisclosed sum to have the suits withdrawn. Under the terms of the settlement, Gallo can’t disclose the details, but says bitterly, “When you get sued by a big corporation, you lose no matter what.”

For all the wealth that comes out of the ground in the Spruce Pine area, not much of it stays there. Today the mines are all owned by foreign corporations. They’re highly automated, so they don’t need many workers. “Now there’s maybe 25 or 30 people on a shift, instead of 300,” Biddix says. The area’s other jobs are vanishing. “We had seven furniture factories here when I was a kid,” he says. “We had knitting mills making blue jeans and nylons. They’re all gone.”

Median household income in Mitchell County, where Spruce Pine sits, is just over $37,000, far below the national average of $51,579. Twenty percent of the county’s 15,000 people, almost all of whom are white, live below the poverty line. Fewer than one in seven adults has a college degree.

People find ways to get by. Glover has a side business growing Christmas trees on his property. Biddix makes his living running the website of a nearby community college.

One of the few new sources of jobs are several huge data processing centers that have opened up in the area. Attracted by the cheap land, Google, Apple, Microsoft, and other tech companies have all opened up server farms within an hour’s drive of Spruce Pine.

In a sense, Spruce Pine’s quartz has come full circle. “When you talk to Siri, you’re talking to a building here at the Apple center,” Biddix says.

I pull out my iPhone and ask Siri if she knows where her silicon brains came from.

“Who, me?” she replies the first time. I try again.

“I’ve never really thought about it,” she says.

From THE WORLD IN A GRAIN by Vince Beiser. Published by arrangement with Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2018 by Vince Beiser.

about the author

Vince Beiser is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in WIRED, Harper’s, The Atlantic, Mother Jones, and Rolling Stone, among other publications. A graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, he lives in Los Angeles.

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Is the Taliban Asking the Pentagon For Help Against ISIS In Nangarhar, Or For the US To STOP Helping ISIS In Nangarhar?

TALIBAN TO U.S.: Help us wipe out ISIS death cult

[Afghan] Govt Rejects Possibility Of Talks Between US And Taliban

The Taliban is seeking the help of the U.S. in ridding Afghanistan of ISIS killers.GETTY IMAGES

The ISIS death cult is even too bloodthirsty for the Taliban.

During secret talks between the Taliban and the United States, the Afghans have asked for American help in ridding the country of ISIS, according to The Times of London.

The talks have produced “very positive signals”, the newspaper said. A Taliban called the discussions “friendly”.

ISIS executioner The Bulldozer. Apparently ISIS is too nutty for the Taliban.

Now, the Taliban are launching a major offensive to drive ISIS out of one of their last redoubts.

They want the U.S. to stop airstrikes in Nangarhar so they don’t kill Taliban fighters attempting to flush out the terrorists.

According to the fabled British newspaper, the request comes as the Taliban and U.S. engage in peace talks following an Eid ceasefire last year.

Taliban forces plan on hitting three ISIS areas next week with fighting expected to last several weeks spearheaded by their Red Unit.

Smoke ya later. The Taliban wants the U.S. to curtail airstrikes while they flush out ISIS. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

“The Red Unit commando fighters will participate in the Nangarhar operation. They are already fighting against IS in other eastern provinces,” a member told The Times.

“You can’t call it peace talks … These are a series of meetings for initiating formal and purposeful talks. We agreed to meet again soon and resolve the Afghan conflict through dialogue,” the Taliban source told The Times.

Afghans on both sides of the 17 year war are tired of fighting. GETTY IMAGES

Last month, U.S. special forces wiped out a major ISIS stronghold in Afghanistan killing 167 militants with no friendly casualties.

Sources said that following the obliteration of the ISIS caliphate, the terror group has been trying to colonize Afghanistan.

 

America’s Other Hiroshimas–more dead from napalm than from nukes

The Other Hiroshimas: A Review of Napalm: An American Biography

Fire-weapons have been used from ancient times. Napalm-like weapons were used by and against the Romans and Greeks. One term used for them was “wildfire”; another was “Greek fire”, as incendiaries were widely used by the Greeks. Some ships were equipped to shoot other vessels with flaming oils emitted from tubes in their bows. Individual soldiers were equipped with flaming oils that they could shoot through reeds in a kind of fire-breath. But the use of incendiaries declined as longer-range projectiles were created, such as rockets (e.g. the British rockets mentioned in the US national anthem).Incendiaries were always regarded with particular awe and horror, as they invoked the terrors of hell and being burned to death.

As the ability to project incendiaries over long ranges increased in the 19th century, the weapon again came into use. The major turning point that would see an unprecedented rise of fire-weapons was World War II. With Germany leading the way, Japanese and British forces also used incendiaries to devastating effect, but the weapon would be taken to new heights by the United States. Initially, US officials said they wanted to avoid the “area bombing” – killing everyone in a large area – that was being carried out by the above groups on various cities. But soon they abandoned this approach and embraced the method. Wanting to further increase their ability to destroy large areas, and with particular regard to the wooden cities of Japan (66), the US Chemical Warfare Service assembled a team of chemists at Harvard to design an incendiary weapon that would be optimal for this goal.

As the team progressed in its development, the military built replicas of German and Japanese civilian homes – complete with furnishings, with the most attention devoted to bedrooms and attics – so that the new weapon, dubbed “napalm” (a portmanteau of chemicals napthenate and palmitate) could be tested. In all of these replica structures, which were built, burnt, and rebuilt multiple times, only civilian homes were constructed – never military, industrial, or commercial buildings (stated multiple times, e.g. 37). In 1931, US General Billy Mitchell, regarded as the “founding inspiration” of the US Air Force, remarked that since Japanese cities were “built largely of wood and paper”, they made the “greatest aerial targets the world has ever seen. … Incendiary projectiles would burn the cities to the ground in short order.” In 1941, US Army chief of staff George Marshall told reporters that the US would “set the paper cities of Japan on fire”, and that “There won’t be any hesitation about bombing civilians” (66). While napalm was first used against Japanese troops in the Pacific Islands, the campaign of “area bombing” of Japanese civilians was led by a man with the “aura of a borderline sociopath” who had, as a child, enjoyed killing small animals (70): Curtis LeMay. LeMay said the goal was for Japanese cities to be “wiped right off the map” (74). To this effect, on March 9, 1945, the US “burned a flaming cross about four miles by three into the heart” of Tokyo, which crew information sheets said was the most densely populated city in the world at the time: 103,000 people per square mile. In the first hour, 690,000 gallons of napalm were used. The city was essentially undefended. Japanese fighters, mostly unable to take flight, did not shoot down a single US aircraft, and air-defense batteries were defunct.

By the next morning, fifteen square miles of the city center were in ashes, with approximately 100,000 people dead, mainly from burning. Streets were strewn with “carbonized” figures and rivers were “clogged with bodies” of people who had tried to escape the firestorms. The text contains numerous descriptions and survivors’ accounts, but here I’ll just mention one: A survivor saw a wealthy woman in a fine, gold kimono running from a firestorm. The winds, which reached hundreds of miles per-hour, whipped her high into the air and thrashed her around. She burst into flame and disappeared, incinerated. A scrap of her kimono drifted through the air and landed at the feet of the survivor.

On the US end, multiple bombers reported vomiting in their planes from the overpowering smell, blasted skyward by the windstorms, of “roasting human flesh” – a sickly “sweet” odor (81).

In Washington, Generals congratulated each other. General Arnold cabled LeMay that he had proved that he “had the guts for anything.” Mission commander Power boasted that “There were more casualties than in any other military action in the history of the world.” Neer says this assessment is correct: this was the single deadliest one-night military operation in the world history of warfare, to the present (83).

Some 33 million pounds of napalm were used in the campaign overall, with 106 square miles of Japan’s cities burned flat. 330,000 civilians are estimated to have been killed, with burning “the leading cause of death”. Chief of Air Staff Lauris Norstad said the destruction was “Nothing short of wonderful” (84).

After both atomic bombings (which, individually, inflicted less damage than the March 9 Tokyo area-firebombing), and after the Japanese surrender, but before it had been officially accepted, General Hap Arnold called for “as big a finale as possible.” Accordingly, 1,014 aircraft were used to further “pulverize Tokyo with napalm and explosives”. The US did not incur a single loss in the raid (85).

Japan’s best ability to attack the US mainland was seen in its hanging of bombs from balloons and drifting them into the eastward Jetstream. The Japanese government thus managed to kill five people in Oregon.

While the atomic bomb “got the press”, American napalm was thus established as the truly “most effective weapon”. While each atomic bombing cost $13.5 billion, incinerating cities with napalm cost only $83,000 “per metropolis” – relatively speaking, nothing. Napalm was now understood by the US military as the real bringer of “Armageddon”, and was then used accordingly in its next major military campaigns in foreign countries.(North America and Australia remain the only two continents where napalm has never actually been used on people. It has been used by many other militaries, largely US clients, but no one has used it to the extent of the United States [193]).

While the text continues tracing the use of napalm up to the present, the sections on the development of napalm and then its first major use, on Japan, are the most powerful – even though, after determining napalm’s power, the US used it more extensively on Korea and Vietnam (in the latter case, mostly, as the author notes, in South Vietnam, where there was no opposing air-force or air-defense). I think this is somewhat intentional, since part of the author’s goal, I argue below, is to justify the US’s use of napalm. This is much easier to do regarding WWII, as it is overwhelmingly interpreted by Americans as a “good war” and thus requires no justification, whereas the selectively “forgotten” Korean war or the often shame-invoking Vietnam war require historical manipulations or omissions to make US actions at least semi-thinkable. So, from here I will give a broader summary and critique of the book.

One important theoretical and historical argument that the author makes is that while there was virtually no American opposition to the use of napalm in WWII or against Korea (indeed, there was celebration; in WWII, the press did not even mention human victims in its initial reports of the raids, only property damage [82]), in the course of the Vietnam war, massive disgust and opposition resulted from the US’s widespread use of the incendiary chemical concoction. (During the Korean war, there was foreign opposition to the US’s use of napalm to incinerate Korean cities. Even Winston Churchill, who oversaw the brutal torture or killing of millions of people elsewhere, such as in India, remarked that the US’s napalm use was “very cruel”: the US was “splashing it all over the civilian population”, “tortur[ing] great masses of people”. The US official who took this statement declined to publicize it [102-3].) Because of concerted opposition to napalm and corporations (particularly Dow Chemical) that produced napalm for the military, the gel became regarded as a “worldwide synonym for American brutality” (224).Neer asserts that a reason for this is that “authorities did not censor” during the Vietnam war to the extent that they did “during World War II and the Korean War” (148). Images of children and others horrifically burnt or incinerated by napalm therefore became available to the public and incited people like Dr. Bruce Franklin and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to engage in group actions to stop the war and the use of napalm. What this says about the effectiveness of imagery and government and corporate control of imagery, and information generally – and about Franklin’s observation that censorship was increased in response to opposition to the Vietnam war (Vietnam and Other American Fantasies) – may be disquieting.

However, Neer points out (and in part seems to lament), the image of napalm was never salvaged, except for within a sub-group of personality-types (in this text limited to the rabble) who had always enthusiastically supported its use, referring to its Vietnamese victims in racist and xenophobic terms such as “ungodly savages”, “animals” (130), etc., or with statements such as “I Back Dow [Chemical]. I Like My VC [Vietcong] Well Done” (142).These kinds of statements were often embarrassing to corporate and government officials who tried to defend their use of the chemical on “humanitarian” and other such grounds, in apparent contrast to the low-brow rabble that simply admitted it liked the idea of roasting people alive. When W. Bush used napalm and other incendiaries against personnel in his invasion of Iraq, initiated in 2003, the weapon’s reputation was then such, on balance, that the administration at first tried to deny that it was being used (e.g. 210). In academic biographies of the main inventor of napalm, Louis Fieser, Neer notes that the fire-gel goes mysteriously unmentioned.

Attention on napalm due to American use of it in Vietnam resulted in multiple experts and expert panel assessments of the weapon, and the issue was repeatedly raised in the UN General Assembly – which, since the Korean War and the rise of the decolonization climate, had drifted increasingly away from purely Western colonial, American-led control. (During the Korean War, China had not been admitted to the UN and the USSR abstained from participation [92].) In 1967, Harvard Medical School instructor Peter Reich and senior physician at Massachusetts General Hospital Victor Sidel called napalm a “chemical weapon” that causes horrific burns, and said it is particularly dangerous for children and has a devastating psychological clout. They said doctors should familiarize themselves with napalm’s effects (133). In 1968, the UN General Assembly voted in favor of a resolution deploring “the use of chemical and biological means of warfare, including napalm bombing” (175).In 1971, the UNGA called napalm a “cruel” weapon. In 1972, it again overwhelmingly approved a resolution deploring the use of napalm “in all armed conflicts”, noting it regarded the weapon “with horror” (178).An expert panel agreed, calling napalm a “savage and cruel” “area weapon” of “total war” (176). The United States abstained from or opposed all of these overwhelmingly approved resolutions.

While napalm ultimately lost the battle for public opinion, its use today is only technically outlawed against civilians and civilian areas – an agreement reached in 1980 and finally ratified by the US, with self-exceptions of dubious legality, in 2009.

While the text is highly informative and readable, my main critique is that as it presents the reality of napalm and its use, it drifts – seemingly out of nationalistic necessity – into a partisan defense of the United States. My problem with this is that Neer does not state this position outright but argues it implicitly, through omission. Regarding WWII, defending US actions requires little work. Most people who would read this book, including myself, know that the crimes committed by Germany and Japan were perpetrated on a scale far vaster than the violent actions carried out by the US at the time. However, there is an interesting point within this observation, which Neer should be commended for not necessarily shying away from: if we imagine a parallel situation of a group attacking a second group that a) militarily attacked the first group and b) is universally recognized for performing terrible acts, it does not mean the first group is angelic and thereafter morally justified in anything it wants to do. (An example to illustrate the parallel might be Iran’s anti-ISIS campaign, which Iran is using in ways similar to how the US uses WWII, to legitimate itself and justify subsequent actions.) The first group, even if less criminal, can still be incredibly brutal, and can easily issue self-serving justifications (such as expediency, “humanitarianism”, etc.) for its brutality. This is a dynamic that may be illustrated in, for example, the fact that the US’s March 9 attack on Tokyo was and remains the single deadliest one-night act of war in world history. Germany and Japan were far worse overall at the time, but this does not mean the people in the US administration were Gandhi, or that everything the US did should be celebrated or issued blanket justification. Robert McNamara, for example, LeMay’s top lieutenant in WWII and later architect of the efficiency-maximizing “body-count” policy in Vietnam (See Turse,Kill Anything that Moves), said the firebombing of Tokyo “was a war crime” (226). Still, Neer limits understanding here, and covers for “his” side, by omitting any discussion of racism (more on this below), and may only be more willing to detail US actions because of the distance in time and the feeling that any action in WWII is justified by Germany and Japan’s unthinkable criminality. (We might also note that, for example, Zinn, in his history of the United States, argues that the US was supportive of both German and Japanese state terrorism and aggression before the two nations made their desperate go-for-broke bids for empire-extension and colonization-avoidance, and that, in terms of Germany, as the documentary record illustrates, the US was not motivated by a desire to save Jewish people.)

Regarding the Korean War, Neer’s method for “justifying” the US’s use of napalm is to omit literally everything that happened contextually before North Korean forces crossed the 38th parallel, and to act as if the UN imprimatur for the Western war in Korea was meaningful, and not essentially the US approving its own war-plans. He does say that China and Russia did not participate in the UN then (China because it was not allowed and Russia by protest of China’s exclusion, according to Neer), but he does not explicitly note, as, say, does Banivanua-Mar in Decolonizing the Pacific, that the UN at this point was simply a Western colonial (and neocolonial) military alliance utterly dominated by the United States, with no opposition. Thus, UN imprimatur meant nothing like what it would mean today, when it is still highly problematic. “UN forces”, as Neer implicitly illustrates at one point, were basically US forces.[i] On the other issue, Neer has no excuse for omitting everything that happened before NK troops crossed the 38th parallel because (for other reasons) he cites Bruce Cumings, whose authoritative seminal study The Korean War: A History points out that before DPRK (NK) troops entered, the US had itself invented the 38th parallel by looking at a map and guessing the halfway point. The line was an arbitrary US creation to serve US interests and tactics, not a Korean one. The US then propped up a dictator in the South and exterminated one or two hundred thousand people before the NK troops “invaded” by crossing the US’s arbitrary line. The troops from the North, like much if not most of the population, did not accept the artificial division or the US-backed dictatorship that was exterminating people in the South. Cumings also says the US war on North Korea constituted “genocide”, and says the NK troops empirically, i.e. simply by the numbers, behaved far better than American or South Korean forces, as unacceptable as this is to the mind of a fanatically ‘anti-communist’ culture. Reckoning with the US’s pouring of “oceans of napalm”[ii]on Korea in this light thus becomes more challenging – even more so if racism is not omitted, as it also is in Neer’s account. Cumings, by contrast, notes that Americans referred to “all Koreans, North and South”, as “gooks”, and to the Chinese as “chinks”. This was part of a “logic” that said “they are savages, so that gives us a right to shower napalm on innocents.”[iii]

Neer even engages in this a bit himself, demonstrating some of what historian Dong Choon Kim notes was an attitude of dehumanization of the “other”. Kim writes that the “discourse and rhetoric that US and ROK [South Korea] elites used dehumanizing the target group (‘communists’) was similar to what has occurred in … cases of genocide”.[iv] Neer, for example, says, using the US’s self-serving ideological framing, that napalm “held the line against communism” in the 1950s and then “served with distinction” in Vietnam – characterizations seemingly intended to evoke strength, honor, and rightness.

Neer also says China “invaded” North Korea (96). This is false. The US didn’t like it, but China was invited into North Korea by the DPRK regime. Unlike the US, China did not cross the US’s 38th parallel. The characterization of China as invader in this context is also curious given that Neer never once says the US (or UN) invaded North Korea or Vietnam. US actions are thus never characterized as invasions, while China’s invited defense of North Korea, which remained entirely within that territory, is.

Regarding Vietnam, Neer again justifies US action through omission of context such as the Geneva Accords of 1954[v]and the US’s own findings that the vast majority of the Vietnamese population supported the independence/anti-colonial/communist movement that the US was trying to prevent from holding the nationwide unification vote mandated by the Geneva Accords. Also interestingly in this chapter, Neer gives his only editorial characterization of the use of napalm as an “atrocity” – in describing a “Vietcong” use of napalm, which Neer says the Vietcong barely used – flamethrowers were a small part of their arsenal. Yet a relatively minor use of napalm by the “Vietcong” merits a casual editorial value-judgment by Neer as an “atrocity” while no other action in the text does so.

Neer at one point says that Cuba and the USSR used napalm against “pro-Western forces in Angola in 1978” (194). In this case, omission is used to condemn, rather than justify, napalm use, since Neer fails to mention that those “pro-Western forces”, which indeed were pro-Western and US-supported, were Apartheid regimes massacring black people and trying to maintain openly white supremacist dictatorships. Thus, when the nature of a regime serves the purpose of justifying American use of napalm, it is highlighted, but when, if the same logic were applied, it might “justify” a non-Western use of napalm, the nature of the regime is imbued with a positive hue as “pro-Western” – thus implicitly condemning the nonwestern forces’ use of napalm.

One gets virtually zero sense in the book of the prevalence of racism in US culture during these time periods. It is reduced to a couple of unknown, fringe civilians making comments in favor of napalm – comments then contrasted with the more sophisticated producers of napalm, who are characterized as embarrassed by the ugly racist remarks. The omission of racism stands in sharp contrast to many other histories of the eras, such as Dower’s history of WWII (War Without Mercy), in which he notes that an exterminationist ethos towards the Japanese was present in a minority of the US population generally, but much more prevalent in elite political circles carrying out the US’s military actions. Dehumanizing terms like “Jap” and “gook” are thus never mentioned once in Neer’s text, though they were used all the time. One gets the sense that Neer feels that including the extent of American racism (even race-law; see Hitler’s American Model, by Whitman, or The Color of the Law, by Rothstein) along with his accounts of America blanketing defenseless Asian cities with napalm would allow an image of the US that, though historically accurate, would be too unpalatable to be acceptable.

All of this may not be completely surprising given that Neer teaches a course about US history called “Empire of Liberty”, which, for example, includes two texts by Max Boot, often regarded as a “neocon”. I have no issue, in theory, with taking this position, but if doing so requires omissions as large as some of those mentioned above, in at least one case even flirting with genocide-denial, or at least avoidance of the debate, (i.e., completely omitting US-backed South Korean dictatorship), I start to question the position’s validity.

Overall, though, if one wants to learn about napalm and some things it illustrates about US history and ideology, this text should certainly be read – in conjunction with others that give a fuller picture of the reality of the times.

Notes:

[i]Neer notes that Eighth Army Chemical Engineer Corps officer Bode said that of the approx. 70,000 pounds of napalm being thrown on Korea on “a good day”, about 60,000 pounds of this was thrown by US forces. P. 99.

[ii]Cumings, Bruce. The Korean War: A History. Modern Library. 2011. P. 145.

[Iii]Ibid. p. 81, 153.

[iv]Kim, Dong Choon. “Forgotten War, Forgotten Massacres—the Korean War (1950–1953) as Licensed Mass Killings.”Journal of Genocide Research, vol. 6, no. 4, 2004, pp. 523–544. P. 17.

[v]Neer does mention other Vietnam-related events in the 1950s, thus giving at least some broader context.

Robert J. Barsocchini is working on a Master’s thesis in American Studies. Years serving as a cross-cultural intermediary for corporations in the film and Television industry sparked his interest in discrepancies between Western self-image and reality.

Trump’s Anti-Russian/Anti-Iranian Economic Warfare Empowered Caspian Sea Convention and Sealed Long-Stalled Delimitation Treaty

At the Caspian Summit. From left: the presidents of Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan .
At the Caspian Summit. From left: the presidents of Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan . Photograph: Mikhail Metzel/Tass

Vladimir Putin met the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, on Sunday at the close of a dramatic week in which each had been threatened with punishing economic sanctions by the US.

But they were not meeting to publicly agree a united response to the act of “economic warfare”, as Russia described the sanctions. The two presidents were in the small Kazakh coastal city of Aktau to sign a legal convention on the Caspian Sea.

After more than 20 years of fraught diplomatic efforts, the five littoral Caspian nations – Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan – agreed upon a legal framework for sharing the world’s largest inland body of water, which bridges Asia and Europe and has reserves of oil and gas as well as being a habitat for sturgeon.

Diplomats described the document as a regional constitution.

Putin told a room where presidents and foreign ministers were present: “Our summit is exceptional if not truly epoch making.”

Rouhani was more circumspect: “Today we have taken a very important step but we should recognise there are more important issues that need to be addressed.” He thanked his Caspian partners for their support since the withdrawal by the US from the nuclear deal known as the joint comprehensive plan of action.

This was a hard-won diplomatic victory. As late as last week Iranian analysts reported that Tehran was “50:50” on whether to sign. The main sticking point was how to apportion the seabed. Many favour division by a line equidistant from the five coastlines, but Iran – with the smallest coastline – does not.

Russia was reluctant to allow Turkmenistan to pursue its proposed 300km gas pipeline to Azerbaijan, which would open up its huge, cheap, gas reserves to a European market at present dominated by Gazprom.

The solution, it seems, has been to keep the wording vague and delay divisive decisions. On Sunday the five nations agreed to 15 miles of sovereign waters, in addition to a further 10 nautical miles of fishing area, beyond which there would be common waters.

“What does this mean? Who knows,” one delegate told the Guardian. “The lawyers will have to tell you.”

The thorny issue of how to split up the hydrocarbon-rich subsoil territory has been put off. Reading from the convention document, Kairat Abdrakhmanov, the Kazakh foreign minister, told the press: “The methodology for establishing state base lines shall be determined in a separate agreement among all the parties according to this convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea. This is a key phrase, especially important for our Iranian partners.”

The Caspian Sea, which was once controlled by Iran, is a sensitive issue for that country. It lost the northern part of the sea in a defeat by Russia in the 1820s and the loss seems still traumatic. Rouhani’s critics will paint any perceived concession at the summit as national betrayal.

But Rouhani is not well placed to quibble with his neighbours. Since the US president, Donald Trump, issued his twitter threat to unleash “the most biting sanctions ever imposed” on Iran with a promise that “anyone doing business with Iran will not be doing business with the United States”, Tehran has been scrambling to fill dangerous new holes in its economy.

Its preference has long been to reach for trade and diplomatic partnerships in Europe but now the US has effectively cut this market off, Iran has been forced to turn to Russia, China and its regional allies to keep its economy afloat.

Asked if they feared sanctions on the two big regional players would undermine the Caspian’s trading potential, Aktau delegates responded with wait-and-see pragmatism.

“We will have to look into this issue, but for us Iran is an opportunity. It’s a huge country and a huge market. We should not miss this opportunity of cooperating with them,” said a senior Kazakh diplomat. “Iran is our neighbour and our inevitable partner.”

Trump’s goal to reduce Iranian oil sales to zero by November is looking increasingly implausible. On Friday, Iran’s biggest oil customer, China, said it would keep doing business with Iran. Rouhani would have used his bilateral meeting with Putin on the sidelines of the summit to seek similar assurances.

“Putin and Rouhani have very good personal relations. They understand each other,” Stanislav Pritchin, a political analyst and Caspian Sea expert said. “They will discuss sanctions and how to deal with the new circumstances – also the Syrian situation, especially Israel’s attempts to force Iranian troops from Syrian territory, which is completely unacceptable for Iran. But the Russian media won’t cover these meetings. The signing of the convention is the real outcome – that is the great success.”

A legally binding convention that prevents Caspian nations from opening their borders to third-party aggressors – such as the US or Nato – or allowing any foreign military presence at all on Caspian waters is a triumph for Putin. For Rouhani, a strategic display of Russian support is more pressing.

Ariane Tabatabai, a political scientist and co-author of Triple Axis, Iran’s relations with Russia and China, said: “Rouhani needs to indicate to [the Iranian] public he’s doing everything he can to address their economic grievances and reassure the population it’s not isolated. That’s been the major talking point for the Iranian government in the past few weeks.

“The best possible outcome for the Iranians will be to walk away with something tangible to take back to Tehran that says we’re doing just fine with or without US sanctions.”

But bound by sanctions of its own Russia has not got much to give in the way of economic lifelines. The best Putin can offer is assistance in developing Iranian gas fields or some form of cooperation between state-owned institutions already blighted by existing sanctions and written off as toxic.

When it comes to substantial reassurances which Rouhani can take back to an anxious Tehran, an awkward alliance with some trade-friendly neighbours might have to do.

Combative Saudi foreign policy stirs international ire

Saudi Arabia and Their “Toy Prince” Really Pissing-Off the World

[SEE: Saudis Want Global Gag On Criticism of Wahhabism (Counterfeit Islam)]

[SEE: Clinton Working To Implement “Universal Blasphemy Law” To Prevent Criticism of Wahabbi Islam ]

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has sought to tame critics with an aggressive foreign policy, but a deadly air raid in Yemen following an acrimonious spat with Canada will only amplify international pressure on the country, according to analysts.

An air strike by the Saudi-led coalition hit a bus in rebel-held northern Yemen on Thursday, killing over 20 schoolchildren, with the United States and United Nations both calling for an investigation.

The coalition insisted Houthi rebel combatants were aboard the bus, but international media have photographed dazed and bloodied children flooding into hospitals struggling to cope with a three-year conflict that the UN has dubbed the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

“The war is becoming increasingly unpopular with the international community, including in the US Congress,” Sigurd Neubauer, a Middle East analyst in Washington, said.

“(This) attack has unfortunately become the norm and not the exception.”

The coalition has repeatedly been accused of striking civilians in Yemen since it launched an intervention in 2015 to try to restore the internationally recognised government after the Iran-backed Houthi rebels drove it out of the capital Sanaa.

The coalition called Thursday’s strike a “legitimate military action” in response to a rebel missile attack on Saudi Arabia’s southern Jizan city a day earlier that resulted in the death of a Yemeni national.

But that did not quell the outpouring of global condemnation.

“No excuses anymore!” tweeted Geert Cappelaere, Unicef’s regional director in the Middle East and North Africa.

“Does the world really need more innocent children’s lives to stop the cruel war on children in Yemen?” Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, tweeted.

“Grotesque, shameful, indignant. Blatant disregard for rules of war when bus carrying innocent schoolchildren is fair game for attack.”

‘Shutting the door to criticism’

The bombing raid, part of an intervention that reflects Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s increasingly assertive foreign policy, follows the country’s diplomatic rupture with Canada earlier this week.

Saudi Arabia expelled Canada’s ambassador, recalled its own envoy and froze all new trade and investments after Ottawa publicly demanded the “immediate release” of rights campaigners jailed in the country.

A furious Riyadh also moved to pull out thousands of Saudi students from Canadian universities, state airline Saudia suspended flights to Toronto, and Riyadh pledged to stop all medical treatment programmes in Canada.

The Saudi reaction could impinge on its efforts to attract badly needed foreign investment to fund its ambitious reform plan to pivot the economy away from oil, experts say.

The move illustrates how Saudi Arabia is unwilling to brook any criticism — foreign or domestic — under its young crown prince.

“The top leadership is not particularly concerned with Canada’s global influence,” said analysis firm Eurasia Group.

“Instead, it is interested in shutting the door to broader criticism, also from European countries, and on other issues in the future.”

But Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has refused to back down and asserted that his country will continue to speak out on human rights.

Saudi officials privately insist that respect for cultural sensitivities and closed-door diplomatic engagement is a more effective approach than public denunciations.

Growing discontent

Canada is quietly consulting Germany and Sweden — targets of previous Saudi backlashes for calling out the kingdom over human rights abuses — to help resolve the row, according to a government source.

Canada also plans to reach out to regional heavyweight the United Arab Emirates and to Britain, which has strong historical ties to Saudi Arabia. Canada has expressed disappointment that Western powers including the US — which has provided arms worth billions of dollars to the Saudi-led coalition — did not publicly support Ottawa.

“Absent a strong US voice (under President Donald Trump) on human rights and democratic values, Arab leaders have become less willing to tolerate Western advice on either political refo­rm or governance,” said the Eurasia Group.

Published in Dawn, August 11th, 2018

Saudi Arabia and Their “Toy Prince” Really Pissing-Off the World

[SEE: Saudis Want Global Gag On Criticism of Wahhabism (Counterfeit Islam)]

The Guardian view on Saudi Arabia: time to back Canada

Riyadh’s thin-skinned response to Ottawa’s justified criticism is intended as a warning to others. Europe should take heed

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman
Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. Photograph: Abd Rabbo Ammar/Sipa/Rex/Shutterstock 

It is famously hard to pick a fight with Canadians, but Saudi Arabia’s forceful crown prince Mohammed bin Salman is not a man to be held back by what others think. That trait has led to both reforms (allowing women to drive) and a crackdown on those advocating them (arresting women who campaigned for the right). When Ottawa responded by calling for the immediate release of peaceful activists, including Samar Badawi, who has family in Canada, Riyadh lashed out at what it called reprehensible interference in its internal affairs. It expelled the Canadian ambassador, cancelled flights to Canada, froze new trade and investment, and is reportedly selling Canadian assets. Some measures – withdrawing students, and transferring home patients currently undergoing treatment – seem more damaging to those Saudi citizens than their hosts.

This absurd overreaction reflects the bullishness of the man who led the charge to war in Yemen and the blockade which has failed to bring Qatar to its knees as planned. But he has surely been emboldened by Donald Trump’s embrace, and the US president’s own attacks on Canada. It was little surprise when the state department said it would stay out of this row; more disappointing is the reticence of others. The UK has merely urged restraint on its two “close partners” and said it regularly raises rights concerns, including recent arrests.

Riyadh is sending a message to others, and while these measures are harsh, they are not entirely unprecedented: German businesses have reportedly paid for Berlin’s criticism of Riyadh’s role in Lebanese politics last year. It is in European countries’ own interests to stand together and tell the crown prince that such actions are not cost-free for Saudi Arabia. Like his anti-corruption coup, they are unlikely to reassure potential partners; and his mission to modernise the kingdom will require foreign support.

AP Blasts US Support To Pro al-Qaida Coalition In Yemen

ATAQ, Yemen (AP) — Again and again over the past two years, a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and backed by the United States has claimed it won decisive victories that drove al-Qaida militants from their strongholds across Yemen and shattered their ability to attack the West.

Here’s what the victors did not disclose: many of their conquests came without firing a shot.

That’s because the coalition cut secret deals with al-Qaida fighters, paying some to leave key cities and towns and letting others retreat with weapons, equipment and wads of looted cash, an investigation by The Associated Press has found. Hundreds more were recruited to join the coalition itself.

These compromises and alliances have allowed al-Qaida militants to survive to fight another day — and risk strengthening the most dangerous branch of the terror network that carried out the 9/11 attacks. Key participants in the pacts said the U.S. was aware of the arrangements and held off on any drone strikes.

The black al-Qaida flag is sprayed on the wall of a damaged school in Taiz. (AP Photo)

The deals uncovered by the AP reflect the contradictory interests of the two wars being waged simultaneously in this southwestern corner of the Arabian Peninsula.

In one conflict, the U.S. is working with its Arab allies — particularly the United Arab Emirates — with the aim of eliminating the branch of extremists known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP. But the larger mission is to win the civil war against the Houthis, Iranian-backed Shiite rebels. And in that fight, al-Qaida militants are effectively on the same side as the Saudi-led coalition — and, by extension, the United States.

“Elements of the U.S. military are clearly aware that much of what the U.S. is doing in Yemen is aiding AQAP and there is much angst about that,” said Michael Horton, a fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, a U.S. analysis group that tracks terrorism.

“However, supporting the UAE and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia against what the U.S. views as Iranian expansionism takes priority over battling AQAP and even stabilizing Yemen,” Horton said.

The AP’s findings are based on reporting in Yemen and interviews with two dozen officials, including Yemeni security officers, militia commanders, tribal mediators and four members of al-Qaida’s branch. All but a few of those sources spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals. Emirati-backed factions, like most armed groups in Yemen, have been accused of abducting or killing their critics.

Coalition-backed militias actively recruit al-Qaida militants, or those who were recently members, because they’re considered exceptional fighters, the AP found.

The coalition forces are comprised of a dizzying mix of militias, factions, tribal warlords and tribes with very local interests. And AQAP militants are intertwined with many of them.

Adnan Rouzek, center, stands with fighters in Taiz. (AP Photo)

One Yemeni commander who was put on the U.S. terrorism list for al-Qaida ties last year continues to receive money from the UAE to run his militia, his own aide told the AP. Another commander, recently granted $12 million for his fighting force by Yemen’s president, has a known al-Qaida figure as his closest aide.

In one case, a tribal mediator who brokered a deal between the Emiratis and al-Qaida even gave the extremists a farewell dinner.

Horton said much of the war on al-Qaida by the UAE and its allied militias is a “farce.”

“It is now almost impossible to untangle who is AQAP and who is not since so many deals and alliances have been made,” he said.

The U.S. has sent billions of dollars in weapons to the coalition to fight the Iran-backed Houthis. U.S. advisers also give the coalition intelligence used in targeting on-the-ground adversaries in Yemen, and American jets provide air-to-air refueling for coalition war planes. The U.S. does not fund the coalition, however, and there is no evidence that American money went to AQAP militants.

The U.S. is aware of an al-Qaida presence among the anti-Houthi ranks, a senior American official told reporters in Cairo earlier this year. Because coalition members back militias with hard-line Islamic commanders, “it’s very, very easy for al-Qaida to insinuate itself into the mix,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity under the terms of the briefing.

More recently, the Pentagon vigorously denied any complicity with al-Qaida militants.

“Since the beginning of 2017, we have conducted more than 140 strikes to remove key AQAP leaders and disrupt its ability to use ungoverned spaces to recruit, train and plan operations against the U.S. and our partners across the region,” Navy Cmdr. Sean Robertson, a Pentagon spokesman, wrote in an email to the AP.

A senior Saudi official commented by saying that the Saudi-led coalition “continues its commitment to combat extremism and terrorism.”

An Emirati government spokesman did not reply to questions from the AP.

But on Monday, Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash tweeted that the UAE-backed counter-terrorism strategy is working. He said it had “removed” thousands of militants and deprived them of safe havens.

AQAP is “at its weakest since 2012,” he wrote, adding that the UAE and its allies “have all lost troops in the fight.”

The coalition began fighting in Yemen in 2015 after the Houthis overran the north, including the capital, Sanaa. The UAE and Saudi Arabia are determined to stop what they consider a move by their nemesis, Iran, to take over Yemen, and their professed aim is to restore the internationally recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

Al-Qaida is leveraging the chaos to its advantage.

“The United States is certainly in a bind in Yemen,” said Katherine Zimmerman, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. “It doesn’t make sense that the United States has identified al-Qaida as a threat, but that we have common interests inside of Yemen and that, in some places, it looks like we’re looking the other way.”

Within this complicated conflict, al-Qaida says its numbers — which U.S. officials have estimated at 6,000 to 8,000 members — are rising.

An al-Qaida commander who helps organize deployments told the AP that the front lines against the Houthis provide fertile ground to recruit new members.

The black al-Qaida flag and the slogan in Arabic “al-Qaida passed here,” on the right wall, are sprayed on a damaged school that was turned into a religious court in the southern city of Taiz.

“Meaning, if we send 20, we come back with 100,” he said.

The well-known commander communicated with AP via a secure messaging app on condition of anonymity because he had no authorization from the group to talk to the news media.

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The Associated Press reported this story with help from a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

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A FAREWELL DINNER FOR AL-QAIDA

In February, Emirati troops and their Yemeni militia allies flashed victory signs to TV cameras as they declared the recapture of al-Said, a district of villages running through the mountainous province of Shabwa — an area al-Qaida had largely dominated for nearly three years.

It was painted as a crowning victory in a months-long offensive, Operation Swift Sword, that the Emirati ambassador to Washington, Yousef al-Otaiba, had proclaimed would “disrupt the terrorist organization’s network and degrade its ability to conduct future attacks.”

The Pentagon, which assisted with a small number of troops, echoed that promise, saying the mission would weaken the group’s ability to use Yemen as a base.

But weeks before those forces’ entry, a string of pickup trucks mounted with machine guns and loaded with masked al-Qaida militants drove out of al-Said unmolested, according to a tribal mediator involved in the deal for their withdrawal.

The U.S. has killed al-Qaida’s top leaders in a drone strike campaign that accelerated in recent years. But in this victory — as in the others touted by the coalition — the mediator said armed U.S. drones were absent, despite the large, obvious convoy.

Under the terms of the deal, the coalition promised al-Qaida members it would pay them to leave, according to Awad al-Dahboul, the province’s security chief. His account was confirmed by the mediator and two Yemeni government officials.

Al-Dahboul said about 200 al-Qaida members received payments. He did not learn the exact amounts, but said he knew that 100,000 Saudi rials ($26,000) were paid to one al-Qaida commander — in the presence of Emiratis.

Under the accord, thousands of local tribal fighters were to be enlisted in the UAE-funded Shabwa Elite Force militia. For every 1,000 fighters, 50 to 70 would be al-Qaida members, the mediator and two officials said.

Saleh bin Farid al-Awlaqi, a pro-Emirati tribal leader who was the founder of one Elite Force branch, denied any agreements were made. He said he and others enticed young al-Qaida members in Shabwa to defect, which weakened the group, forcing it to withdraw on its own. He said about 150 fighters who defected were allowed into the Elite Force, but only after they underwent a “repentance” program.

A former al-Qaida commander, Harith al-Ezzi, walks through streets destroyed in fighting in the southern Yemeni city of Taiz. (AP Photo)

The clearing of al-Qaida from Shabwa and other provinces did not completely take place without fighting. Clashes erupted in some villages, usually with al-Qaida remnants that refused to play ball.

One former al-Qaida member told the AP that he and his comrades turned down an offer of money from the Emiratis. In response, he said, an Elite Force squad besieged them in the town of Hawta until they withdrew.

Overall, deals that took place during both the Obama and Trump administrations have secured al-Qaida militants’ withdrawal from multiple major towns and cities that the group seized in 2015, the AP found. The earliest pact, in the spring of 2016, allowed thousands of al-Qaida fighters to pull out of Mukalla, Yemen’s fifth-largest city and a major port on the Arabian Sea.

The militants were guaranteed a safe route out and allowed to keep weapons and cash looted from the city — up to $100 million by some estimates — according to five sources, including military, security and government officials.

“Coalition fighter jets and U.S. drones were idle,” said a senior tribal leader who saw the convoy leaving. “I was wondering why they didn’t strike them.”

A tribal sheikh shuttled between AQAP leaders in Mukalla and Emirati officials in Aden to seal the deal, according to a former senior Yemeni commander.

Coalition-backed forces moved in two days later, announcing that hundreds of militants were killed and hailing the capture as “part of joint international efforts to defeat the terrorist organizations in Yemen.”

No witnesses reported militants killed, however. “We woke up one day and al-Qaida had vanished without a fight,” a local journalist said, speaking to AP on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Soon after, another accord was struck for AQAP to pull out of six towns in the province of Abyan, including its capital, Zinjibar, according to five tribal mediators involved in the negotiations.

Again, the central provision was that the coalition and U.S. drones cease all bombings as AQAP pulled out with its weapons, the mediators said.

The agreement also included a provision that 10,000 local tribesmen — including 250 al-Qaida militants — be incorporated into the Security Belt, the UAE-backed Yemeni force in the area, four Yemeni officials said.

For nearly a week in May 2016, the militants departed in trucks. One of the mediators told the AP that he threw the last of the departing fighters a farewell dinner among his olive and lemon orchards when they stopped at his farm to pay their respects.

Another mediator, Tarek al-Fadhli, a former jihadi once trained by al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, said he was in touch with officials at the U.S. Embassy and in the Saudi-led coalition, keeping them updated on the withdrawal.

“When the last one left, we called the coalition to say they are gone,” he said.

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‘WE WILL UNITE WITH THE DEVIL’

To think of al-Qaida as an international terror group is to miss its other reality. For many Yemenis, it is simply another faction on the ground — a very effective one, well-armed and battle-hardened.

Its members are not shadowy strangers. Over the years, AQAP has woven itself into society by building ties with tribes, buying loyalties and marrying into major families.

Power players often see it as a useful tool.

Hadi’s predecessor as Yemen’s president, long-ruling strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh, set the model. He took billions in U.S. aid to combat al-Qaida after the 9/11 attacks, even as he recruited its militants to fight his rivals. Hadi’s current vice president, Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, a military chief for decades, also has been accused of enlisting jihadis.

An explosion raises a cloud as coalition-backed fighters advance on the Red Sea port town of Mocha. (AP Photo)

In that light, it would almost be more startling if the militants were not involved against the Houthis, especially since al-Qaida militants are extremist Sunnis seeking the defeat of the Shiite rebels.

Al-Qaida militants are present on all major front lines fighting the rebels, Khaled Baterfi, a senior leader in the group, said in a previously unpublished 2015 interview with a local journalist obtained by the AP.

Last month, Baterfi said in a Q&A session distributed by al-Qaida that “those at the front lines for sure know of our participation, which is either actual fighting with our brothers in Yemen or supporting them with weapons.”

Al-Qaida has reduced attacks against Hadi’s and Emirati-linked forces because assailing them would benefit the Houthis, Baterfi said.

The branch is following guidance from al-Qaida’s worldwide leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, to focus on fighting the rebels, another top AQAP member said in written answers to the AP.

In some places, militants join battles independently. But in many cases, militia commanders from the ultraconservative Salafi sect and the Muslim Brotherhood bring them directly into their ranks, where they benefit from coalition funding, the AP found. The Brotherhood’s Yemen branch is a powerful hard-line Islamic political organization allied to Hadi.

Two of the four main coalition-backed commanders along the Red Sea coast are allies of al-Qaida, the al-Qaida member said. The coalition has made major advances on the coast, and is currently battling for the port of Hodeida.

Video footage shot by the AP in January 2017 showed a coalition-backed unit advancing on Mocha, part of an eventually successful campaign to recapture the Red Sea town.

Some of the unit’s fighters were openly al-Qaida, wearing Afghan-style garb and carrying weapons with the group’s logo. As they climbed behind machine guns in pick-up trucks, explosions from coalition airstrikes could be seen on the horizon.

An AQAP member interviewed in person by the AP in May viewed the video and confirmed the fighters belonged to his group. His affiliation is known from his past involvement in AQAP’s rule over a southern city.

The impact of the intertwining of al-Qaida fighters with the coalition campaign is clearest in Taiz, Yemen’s largest city and center of one of the war’s longest running battles.

In the central highlands, Taiz is Yemen’s cultural capital, a historic source of poets and writers and educated technocrats. In 2015, the Houthis laid siege to the city, occupying surrounding mountain ranges, sealing the entrances and shelling it mercilessly.

Taiz residents rose up to fight back, and coalition cash and weapons poured in — as did al-Qaida and Islamic State militants, all aimed at the same enemy.

One liberal activist took up arms alongside other men from his neighborhood to defend the city, and they found themselves fighting side by side with al-Qaida members.

“There is no filtering in the war. We are all together,” said the activist, who spoke on condition of anonymity. He said commanders received weapons and other aid from the coalition and distributed it to all the fighters, including al-Qaida militants.

Abdel-Sattar al-Shamiri, a former adviser to Taiz’s governor, said he recognized al-Qaida’s presence from the start and told commanders not to recruit members.

“Their response was, ‘We will unite with the devil in the face of Houthis,’” al-Shamiri said.

He said he warned coalition officials, who were “upset” but took no action.

“Taiz is in danger,” al-Shamiri said. “We will get rid of the Houthis and we will be stuck with terrorist groups.”

Coalition-backed fighters help a wounded man during an advance on Yemen’s Red Sea port town of Mocha. (AP Photo)

The activist and officials in the city said one of the main recruiters of al-Qaida fighters is Adnan Rouzek, a Salafi member tapped by Hadi to be a top military commander.

Rouzek’s militia became notorious for kidnappings and street killings, with one online video showing its masked members shooting a kneeling, blindfolded man. Its videos feature al-Qaida-style anthems and banners.

Rouzek’s top aide was a senior al-Qaida figure who escaped from a prison in Aden in 2008 along with other AQAP detainees, according to a Yemeni security official. Multiple photos seen by the AP show Rouzek with known al-Qaida commanders in recent years.

In November, Hadi named Rouzek head of the Taiz Operations Rooms, coordinating the military campaign, and top commander of a new fighting force, the 5th Presidential Protection Battalion. Hadi’s Defense Ministry also gave Rouzek $12 million for a new offensive against the Houthis. The AP obtained copy of a receipt for the $12 million and a Rouzek aide confirmed the figure.

Rouzek denied any connection to militants, telling the AP that “there is no presence of al-Qaida” in Taiz.

Another coalition-backed warlord is on the U.S. list of designated terrorists due to his ties to al-Qaida.

The warlord, a Salafi known as Sheikh Aboul Abbas, has received millions of dollars from the coalition to distribute among anti-Houthi factions, according to his aide, Adel al-Ezzi. Despite being put on the U.S. list in October, the UAE continues to fund him, al-Ezzi told the AP.

The aide denied any links to militants and dismissed his boss’s designation on the U.S. terror list. Nevertheless, he acknowledged that “al-Qaida has fought on all the front lines alongside all factions.”

Right after the AP team spoke to him in Taiz, the team saw al-Ezzi meeting with a known senior al-Qaida figure, warmly hugging him outside the home of another former AQAP commander.

Aboul Abbas runs a coalition-funded militia controlling several districts in Taiz. A 2016 video produced by al-Qaida shows militants in black uniforms with al-Qaida’s logo fighting alongside other militias in districts known to be under his control.

A former security official in Taiz said militants and Aboul Abbas’ forces attacked security headquarters in 2017 and freed a number of al-Qaida suspects. The officer said he reported the attack to the coalition, only to learn soon after that it gave Aboul Abbas 40 more pick-up trucks.

“The more we warn, the more they are rewarded,” the officer said. “Al-Qaida leaders have armored vehicles given to them by the coalition while security commanders don’t have such vehicles.”

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Wilson contributed from Washington. Keath contributed from Beirut. AP correspondent Desmond Butler also contributed to this report.