Tag Archives: Yemen

Third Horseman of the Apocalypse

In the Christian Old Testament, seeking food for self and animals is often a part of the stories. Herdsmen like Abraham moved to find better pastures for their flocks. A famine in Israel sent Jacob and his large family fleeing into Egypt. Lack of rain in the time of the prophets led Elijah to a miraculous encounter with a poor widow.

Obviously, areas with less predictable rain, as in much of the Middle East and parts of Africa, are more likely to suffer famine than countries in temperate climates. Sometimes, however, famine is not caused by weather but by conflict.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, who follow each other in the book of Revelation in the Christian New Testament, are sometimes depicted as conquest, war, famine, and death. The third horseman, famine, is not the result of weather but of conquest and war. It is human caused.

This kind of famine is afflicting millions of people in the countries of South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia, and Yemen. In Sudan, they flee power struggles, often over oil revenues or ethnic rivalries. In Nigeria, people flee terrorism. Somalia’s looming famine is partly a problem with lack of rain but is increased by struggles with the terrorist group, al-Shabab.

Yemen, a country in the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula, suffers fallout from rivalry between Saudi Arabia and its arch enemy Iran. The two countries are supporting rival factions that are tearing the country apart. Terrorist groups also have made inroads, as they often do in areas of conflict.

Some relief is possible if food shipments can be unloaded in one of the ports. According to reports, Saudi Arabia has so far been unwilling to allow shipments to the people they are fighting.

The United States has supported Saudi Arabia in this struggle. If we are truly a compassionate nation, we will exert as much pressure as possible on Saudi Arabia not to use starvation as a weapon of war. Else, we will be collaborators in the resulting deaths.

Get Them Out! Removing U.S. Embassy Staff from Harm’s Way

The U.S. embassy in Yemen recently shut down, due to the ongoing conflict in that Arabian Peninsula country. Terrorists have targeted the embassy for years. When the current government fled, the State Department deemed the situation too dangerous for onsite diplomatic work. Personnel were evacuated to the tiny nation of Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa, bordering Somalia.

When I entered the Foreign Service in 1990, my orientation class was told: “You’ll probably be evacuated at least once in your career.” Only once in a career is increasingly optimistic.

In 1993, I was evacuated out of Algeria when terrorists targeted diplomatic personnel of several countries. In 2003, my posting in Saudi Arabia dramatically ended as U.S. missions there drew down due to terrorist threats. Fortunately, I was able to leave on an airplane in both cases. A recent evacuation from Libya included a nineteen hour trek across the desert to Tunisia.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made a first ever visit by a Secretary of State to the U.S. embassy in Djibouti. His remarks to the evacuated staff from Yemen highlighted the complexity of an evacuation.

“I wanted to personally come here really just to tell the world about the story of what’s behind the news headlines when they read “Refugees trapped in Yemen,” or “trapped in Aden, people trying to get out.” And people have no sense of all the machinery that has to come together to work to find a way to get out, a safe way, get onto a boat, the harrowing nature of traveling across water under those kinds of circumstances; your family huddled on a deck or down below, or if you’re lucky, on a larger military ship . . .

“And the entire State Department family contributed to this effort from – literally, from Madrid to Jerusalem to Casablanca, people have come together . . . And the entire embassy here in Djibouti and the entire embassy community – American and local staff – have all joined together.”

Just another “evac” operation.


Murdered, A Foreigner Working for the United States


Qassim Aklan, local employee of the U.S. embassy in Sana’a, Yemen, was recently murdered. Aklan, an employee of the embassy for eleven years, aided his American colleagues in investigations that the embassy carried out.

About 53,000 local employees help staff U.S. embassies and consulates  abroad. The mere fact that they work for the United States sometimes puts them in danger. Over the years, hundreds have been killed because of their employment.

Every American who has worked in a U.S. embassy or consulate and earned any accolades knows how much of the praise is due to the local staff who made their work possible. I especially remember the three Foreign Service Nationals (as we called them then) who shepherded me through my exhausting first tour. No way could I have survived that tour without them.

Perhaps in tribute, two of my novels feature locally hired staff who work in U.S. embassies where the American protagonists are assigned. Lavali, Farid, and Ramelon are the fictitious national employees from A Sense of Mission. They support newbie U.S. Foreign Service Officer Kaitlin Sadler. She depends on the trio as she struggles to master the interviews of a never ending line of applicants for U.S. visas, endures a Middle Eastern war, and falls in love.

Hatem Lakhdar, at another Middle Eastern embassy, provides Patrick Holtzman, ambitious U.S. political officer in Searching for Home, with the names of valuable contacts. One contact becomes a special friend. Later Hatem offers sympathy to Patrick when the contact is murdered.

The American officers come and go when their tours end. When posts become too dangerous, they are evacuated. The Foreign Service Nationals remain, sometimes with tragic consequences.


When Ignorance Is Not Bliss But Deadly


We fight a war in a country called Afghanistan that few Americans had heard of before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Probably no more than one in a hundred of us could have identified it on a map.

The war began as an attempt to destroy the group responsible for the 9/ll attacks, though the  group is more often found in other countries now, like Yemen and Somalia—countries as unfamiliar to us as Afghanistan.

Our lack of knowledge of the countries where we fight has proved deadly. The deaths of American and other NATO troops in Afghanistan by their supposed allies, Afghani soldiers, has risen sharply in the past few weeks. Some of the killings were caused by members of the anti-American insurgent group, the Taliban, who sometimes infiltrate Afghani forces.

Observers contend that the Taliban are not the main reason for the killings, however. They suggest that the American-led NATO troops don’t respect Afghani culture. They burn the Quran, they say, disrespect women, and look down on Afghani society, causing them to be resented by the people they supposedly are protecting.

Americans appear to have little interest in countries outside of their own even when their soldiers die there. Tests of American students indicate a lack of knowledge about other countries. The interests of their parents center on news and literature concerning domestic issues. Foreign affairs are rarely mentioned in political campaigns.

Yet thousands of Americans, not to mention Afghani citizens, continue to be killed, wounded, and traumatized because we decided to fight there. What happens outside our national boundaries can lead us to life and death decisions. Shouldn’t we learn about the rest of the world so we can choose wisely?