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North-eastern Nigeria and Conflict's Humanitarian Fallout
North-eastern Nigeria and Conflict's Humanitarian Fallout
Yemen: Giving Peace a Chance?
Yemen: Giving Peace a Chance?
A displaced malnourished mother and her children sit on the ground waiting for food in Bama's camp for internally displaced people (IDP), Borno State, northeastern Nigeria, 30 June 2016. AFP/STRINGER
Commentary / Africa

North-eastern Nigeria and Conflict's Humanitarian Fallout

Children are dying in Bama, a town in Borno state, north-east Nigeria, suffering from lack of food, clean water and medical care. They are the most tragic manifestation of the humanitarian fallout of the Boko Haram insurgency and the state response to it, a crisis that now impacts the lives of millions. The insurgency itself, the aggressive military response to it, and the lack of effective assistance, both national and international, to those caught up in the conflict threaten to create an endless cycle of violence and depredation. Unless efforts to contain and roll back the current crisis are quickly scaled-up, peace is likely to remain a distant prospect in this region of Nigeria.

Once a city of 300,000, Bama is now an army-controlled camp of 30,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), some forcibly moved there by the military. There are around a dozen sites like Bama, hosting at least 250,000 people living under the security forces’ scrutiny. The number will likely grow as military campaigns continue.

Neither the army, nor the Nigerian emergency services are up to the task of caring for them. There have been – and still are – too many bottlenecks. Authorities must pay more attention and commit more resources, clarify and rationalise the country’s assistance structure, improve aid governance, promote transparency (more NGO and media reporting), facilitate humanitarian access and address the widespread suspicion that many IDPs support Boko Haram.

Humanitarian agencies have also struggled to respond adequately, both in recognising the scale of the problem and reacting sufficiently promptly. For their part, UN agencies and international humanitarian NGOs need to engage authorities more proactively and improve their collaboration in responding to one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world today. Doing so will mobilise more international funding – currently grossly lacking – and make better use of international expertise.If the humanitarian crisis is not addressed soon, it will have serious security and political implications. In the short term, it may push people back into areas under Boko Haram’s control, or to other parts of Nigeria whose capacity to sustain them is questionable, or across international borders, from where some could be trafficked into an already vulnerable Sahel region, and on to Libya – an important gateway to Europe. In the long term, it could leave the Nigerian state and its international partners tainted, undermining further their legitimacy and capacity to control violence in the north east and the Lake Chad region.

Dying in a “Safe Area”: The Situation in Bama

Situated 72km south east of Maiduguri, Borno’s capital, Bama was once a major trade hub on a main road to Cameroon. Overrun by Boko Haram in September 2014, the army recaptured it in March 2015. Most of its inhabitants had already left by then and thousands had been killed by Boko Haram, but the army began bringing in civilians it found during operations in the surrounding rural areas. Citing security concerns, the army has itself been running the Bama camp, notionally the responsibility of the Borno State Emergency Management Agency (BOSEMA). It has banned IDPs from travelling in the camp’s vicinity or to other “safe areas”. The security forces and state-supported civilian self-defence groups, known as vigilantes, also have been “vetting” the newly arrived.While Bama camp is safe from the Boko Haram threat that hovers over the wider local government area, it is, for many, a place of death. In June, the rate of severe acute malnutrition was 19 per cent among children – the emergency threshold is 3 per cent. According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 244,000 children are suffering from acute malnutrition in Borno state and on average 134 die every day from this. A few health ministry officials have been brought in under military escort for short stays and some humanitarian partners have been intermittently giving the army supplies to distribute to the IDPs, though with little supervision. This is not enough and with major deficiencies in water, sanitation and hygiene and the rainy season (June-September) under way, many are concerned that a cholera epidemic could break out. The rains, furthermore, will make many roads and tracks impassable.

The Humanitarian Costs of Insurgency and Counter-insurgency

Most officials blame Bama’s dire humanitarian crisis on Boko Haram: people began starving while they lived under the insurgents’ control, and the military rescued them. The insurgency has indeed done terrible damage to the lives and livelihoods of many in Borno state, as well as in neighbouring Yobe, Adamawa and Gombe states. Boko Haram ruthlessly targeted some communities, particularly those that set up vigilante forces or helped the military, killing many civilians and forcing many more into exile. Those who tried to stay and live under Boko Haram’s control faced significant difficulties. The insurgents heavily taxed communities, plundered and forcefully recruited among them and fighting disrupted harvests.But the humanitarian crisis has been exacerbated by the nature of the counter-insurgency campaign. An aggressive, regional military operation has deliberately stifled economic activities, denying Boko Haram supplies, trade and income from protection rackets. Military operations have also made producing and accessing food a lot more difficult for all living in and close to Boko Haram-controlled areas. Trade and mobility, essential for making a living in the Sahel, have become extremely difficult and dangerous.

Attitudes toward those Displaced

Many among the military and many civilians are quick to look with suspicion on people coming from Boko Haram-held areas. Though there is no evidence to suggest a deliberate attempt to punish a population suspected of complicity with the insurgents, there are alarming signs that their welfare is not being prioritised, whether out of a lack of capacity or concern or due to security concerns. Even women captured, abused or forced into “marriage” by Boko Haram bear the stigma of their association, and their children are suspected of having “bad blood”. This fear of “contagion” and, more concretely, of suicide attacks by women and children, is part of the problem. This is one reason the only IDPs the army lets into Maiduguri, which already hosts an estimated 1.5 million, are children requiring sustained medical support, though sometimes without their carers.Conducting security operations should be kept distinct from humanitarian actions. If not, those in genuine need of assistance risk being denied help; while entire communities stand in danger of neglect. In such an environment, people are likely to feel increasingly alienated from the state, driving them to seek support elsewhere. Humanitarian assistance must remain impartial and needs-based; while security measures must be proportionate to the risk – which will likely be reduced, not increased, by greater freedom of movement – and non-discriminatory.

Inadequate National and International Assistance

At the end of 2015, 3.9 million people in north-east Nigeria out of a total of 5.2 million across the Lake Chad Basin were in urgent need of food assistance. In April 2016, the Borno state Governor Kashim Shettima and UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator Toby Lanzer visited Bama. Shettima said afterward that his state was “hanging between malnutrition and famine …. People [were] dying like flies”.

Of the $248 million required for the emergency response in north-east Nigeria in 2016, less than 20 per cent was available by May. Donor pledges were higher for Chad and Niger, where the number of persons in need was smaller. The World Food Program (WFP) supported fewer than 2,000 people in the north east in March 2016; that figure had increased to 50,000 in May, but was still way behind target given that more than half of the 1.5 million IDPs just in Maiduguri are judged by the UN to be malnourished, and the situation in rural areas is often worse. In neighbouring Cameroon, also affected by Boko Haram, UN agencies helped four times as many people (90 per cent of the most food insecure). In July, the total number of IDPs in this part of Cameroon was around 190,000. Recent reports of the shocking conditions in Bama did draw some attention, but it took a controversial 22 June communiqué by Médecins Sans Frontières to bring the starving into the limelight.

The Nigerian government’s response has been hampered by constrained resources and multiple pressing security problems. It is facing a resurgent rebellion in the Niger Delta, separatist agitation in the south east, and increasing violence in the Middle Belt, including recent clashes between pastoralists and farmers over land and water, as well as a severe economic and budgetary crisis. Neither the National Emergency Management Agency nor its state-level counterparts have the funds or the capacity and experience to manage a prolonged, large-scale humanitarian operation. Already overwhelmed by IDPs in Maiduguri and other established sites, Nigerian agencies have struggled to serve new camps.

Attempts to improve the government’s response have lagged. The Victims Support Fund (VSF) is constrained by the lack of clarity in Nigeria’s overall framework for humanitarian response. In July 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari established a Presidential Committee on North-East Interventions (PCNI) to coordinate domestic and international humanitarian efforts, but as of July 2016, the committee had still not been inaugurated. Some government sources say the president is waiting for the National Assembly (federal parliament) to create the North East Development Commission (NEDC), which includes a humanitarian portfolio, but some interviewed by Crisis Group fear it may become merely another platform for the region’s elite to share patronage rather than for boosting humanitarian aid.

Many implementation partners of UN agencies lack the capacity to work in the region’s remoter parts where the terrain is extremely challenging and where they do not enjoy the relative protection of Maiduguri (which itself faces significant humanitarian needs). So far, humanitarian workers have been unable to establish credible contacts with Boko Haram to negotiate access and obtain guarantees that can reduce risks to acceptable levels. Particularly in areas of Borno state outside the Maiduguri metropolitan area, some organisations, including from the UN, have depended on the army for protection, assessments of local security conditions and sometimes humanitarian service delivery.

Nigeria, with Africa’s largest population and economy, is sensitive to foreign criticism and, understandably, keen to ensure that foreign support in addressing the crisis does not compromise its sovereignty. Many officials remember the civil war (1967-1970) when Nigeria was condemned for the terrible famine in the self-proclaimed Republic of Biafra and some secessionist supporters provided military aid under the guise of international humanitarian assistance. As a result, authorities are sensitive to outside aid or reporting. Yet the lack of reporting has made it difficult to mobilise international support for resources.

The Risks Ahead

Failure to adequately support IDPs, in part because of suspicion that they support Boko Haram, may push them back into, or discourage them from leaving, insurgent-controlled areas. Furthermore, it is entirely possible that Boko Haram’s attacks and suicide bombings in and around IDP camps are attempts by the insurgents to staunch the flow of people from areas under their control. It may be working to an extent. Some IDPs reportedly are choosing to return to their home areas, despite the risk of Boko Haram attacks, rather than staying in dire camps.In the long term, failure to help those in need could further undermine the state’s legitimacy and capacity to control violence. While the Nigerian military and its regional and international partners may be able to contain Boko Haram, unless the state addresses poor governance and other structural factors that drove people to support the movement, there is a high risk either that Boko Haram will be revived or similar groups will emerge.

What Should Be Done

To prevent the current humanitarian emergency from claiming more lives, prolonging the conflict and fuelling longer term insecurity in the region, the government must match its military campaign against Boko Haram with strong commitment to addressing the immediate humanitarian needs and longer-term development and reconstruction assistance to rebuild the north east. That includes granting access to, and facilitating, independent local and international reporting and assessments. This is necessary not only for proper resource mobilisation, but even more importantly as a way to provide independent analysis of outstanding emergency relief requirements.

Borno state Governor Kashim Shettima and President Muhammadu Buhari, as well as some army commanders, have been remarkably willing to talk to journalists. However, the president should pay special attention to the governance of aid. Reports of the embezzlement and diversion of food and other aid need to be properly investigated and officials found to have stolen or mismanaged aid must be sanctioned. For example, the report of the Borno state House Verification Committee into allegations of aid diversion, which should be completed soon, should be made public and quickly and openly acted upon.

The government and international partners should have fewer qualms about bringing assistance closer to the war zones. It is possible that some of it could leak to Boko Haram members, but this marginal price should be balanced with the immense relief it would provide, the lives it would save and the goodwill it would generate for the government. Furthermore, improved assistance would probably be more efficient in attracting civilians to government areas than military mop-up operations. Where Boko Haram can no longer use the “rhetoric of plenty”, as it once did, offering feasts of meat and cold drinks to potential recruits, authorities now have that card to play.

Equally, the reluctance to allow IDPs encamped in secondary towns like Bama to move around should be revised. The arguably marginal benefit in security which the ban on movement provides will be far outweighed by the humanitarian gains and goodwill generated by easing up this restriction. As an immediate measure, all those most in need should be allowed to temporarily move to Maiduguri or other cities where appropriate treatment is available.

‪While vigilante groups have done much to defend their communities, Borno state authorities should stop using these irregular forces to vet IDPs. Further, the Federal Government should begin to put in place a demobilisation process lest longer-term problems result, including increased risks of communal violence based on revenge between vigilante group members and displaced persons.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

International partners must drastically increase their humanitarian response, including by releasing all funds pledged to the UN and other humanitarian agencies for the emergency. They must lend greater support to the government, preferably in a high-level forum that includes the military, UN agencies, international NGOs, as well as local civil society and NGOs. This forum should provide a platform for all actors to share knowledge, including their assessments of the gravity of the humanitarian situation and areas of greatest needs as well as clarify guiding principles and improve working relations.

The Buhari administration for its part needs to be far more proactive. A clarification of its assistance framework is pressing, and senior officials need to make clear that they regard the unfolding humanitarian crisis as a first-order priority. The government should accelerate the implementation of its response, for instance in disbursing the 12 billion naira (about $41 million) which it announced, in May 2016, would be used to rebuild the north east and also in implementing the programs of the Victims Support Fund. It is also essential that accountability mechanisms are strengthened.

The authorities should not forget that they announced the North East Marshall Plan (Nemap) in October 2015 with the aim of providing “intermediate and long-term interventions in emergency assistance, economic reconstruction and development” – a vital component of efforts to bring peace to the region. The first action of this ambitious plan should target camps for the displaced. In order to rebuild state legitimacy, the authorities should scale down reliance on security forces to manage the camps and give greater room to civil authorities.

Finally, periodic visits by senior leaders, including President Buhari himself, to the camps and major communities hosting IDPs are essential to begin breaking down the suspicion faced by the newly displaced, and to affirm to them, as well as to state and government officials, that as Nigerian citizens and victims of the insurgency, they should not be left without food or medical assistance. Governor Shettima’s visits are welcome moves. He should make more and his fellow governors should follow his example. Without a visible and genuine commitment to providing the humanitarian support needed in these areas, insecurity will persist – and could become worse – and peace will remain far out of reach.

Contributors

Former Consulting Senior Analyst, West Africa
vincentfoucher
Director, Sahel Project
jhjezequel
Senior Adviser, Nigeria
NnamdiObasi
U.N. envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths speaks to the media during a visit to the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, Yemen November 23, 2018. Picture taken November 23, 2018. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad

Yemen: Giving Peace a Chance?

Preliminary peace consultations on Yemen are scheduled to start in Stockholm on 6 December. This is the second attempt in three months to jump-start talks. Crisis Group consultant Peter Salisbury explains why the Sweden talks are so important and what could go wrong.

What are the talks in Stockholm expected to achieve?

In September, the UN envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, failed to bring the parties to the table in Geneva after last-minute wrangling. This time he hopes to have better success. The Huthis arrived in Sweden on 4 December, with the internationally recognised government due to arrive the next day.

The talks in Sweden are preliminary consultations to set the stage for eventual negotiations. Griffiths hopes that the two sides will agree on some basic confidence-building measures, including prisoner swaps, the reopening of Sanaa airport and perhaps an agreement to stabilise Hodeida, as well as a broad roadmap for future talks. The two Yemeni delegations – representatives of the Huthi Ansar Allah movement and of the government of Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi – are not scheduled to meet face-to-face on this occasion; instead, the UN will shuttle between them. But given that every round of talks has collapsed – the last meaningful negotiations took place in Kuwait more than two years ago – even these limited goals may prove to be a stretch.

Has anything happened since September to suggest talks in Sweden will make progress?

What has changed is that, over the past three months, the world has become more aware of the catastrophe unfolding in Yemen and of the need to stop it. Leaders in Europe and the U.S. have spoken out with greater clarity about the need to end the war. The murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist, by a Saudi hit squad in Istanbul in early October, has bolstered the ranks of Congressmen trying to force a change in U.S. policy on Yemen, opening the war and the U.S.’s role in it to wider public debate. On 29 November, the Senate voted by a 63-37 margin to advance a resolution that would require the Trump administration to “remove United States Armed Forces from hostilities in or affecting the Republic of Yemen”.

Resolve to end U.S. support for the war appears to be growing.

The Senate is also considering a second bill that aims to curtail U.S. support for Saudi Arabia – as much a rebuke to the Saudis for the Khashoggi killing as it is to Trump for giving the Saudis seemingly unconditional support – despite the Trump administration’s efforts to ward off any action that might damage U.S. relations with the kingdom. In the wake of the CIA director’s testimony before select members of Congress on 4 December on the Khashoggi murder and Saudi responsibility for it, resolve to end U.S. support for the war appears to be growing. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who has become an outspoken critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said that he would work to build support for a bill aimed at cutting off military support for the Saudis’ war effort in Yemen in response to the killing.

In an attempt to pre-empt strong Congressional action, the U.S. secretaries of defence and state, Jim Mattis and Mike Pompeo, last month had called for a cessation of hostilities and for all parties to attend the Sweden talks. They subsequently announced an end to American in-air refuelling of Saudi aircraft operating in Yemen. A number of European countries have halted arms sales to Riyadh in protest of the indiscriminate way in which it has been waging its air war in Yemen, and the UK has introduced a draft UN Security Council resolution to address Yemen’s downward humanitarian spiral. But the U.S. position may not have changed as much as its public rhetoric might suggest. While publicly calling for an end to the war, the Trump administration has been vocally supportive of Riyadh’s policy in Yemen and quietly manoeuvring to block the draft UK resolution, suggesting that senior officials’ public statements of concern are less than genuine. In a 20 November statement, Trump wrote that Iran was directly responsible for the Yemen war, while Pompeo said on 1 December that “we intend to continue” military support for Riyadh.

What are the chances of success?

Griffiths might be able to fulfil his limited aim of getting the Huthis and Hadi to agree to confidence-building measures, sign up to a broader framework for negotiations with some tweaks, and schedule substantive peace talks in the near future. But unfortunately, the odds are high that the consultations will break down amid mutual recriminations, as has happened during all previous rounds.

Both sides are disinclined to compromise. The coalition and the Hadi government think that the tide has turned against the Huthis on the ground and are willing to wait to improve their position. The Huthis for their part are unlikely to demonstrate much flexibility, and view the current mood in Western capitals against Saudi Arabia as shifting in their favour. They might even see a battle for the port of Hodeida and the ensuing famine as a way of turning the narrative against the coalition and government, bolstering their bargaining position as Western governments ramp up the pressure to end the war.

Despite these negative dynamics, Griffiths nonetheless should use the meeting to try to build momentum behind his peace plan and line up more substantive talks for 2019. If he can get the parties to at least agree to confidence-building measures – and follow up on them in the weeks and months after the talks – then he will be able to credibly claim that the UN-led process has new relevance.

Most importantly, he needs to obtain an agreement on Hodeida that would spare it from a coalition-led offensive. The Huthis have said they are willing to hand the port over to the UN. Getting the Yemeni government – and by extension the coalition – to agree to this and then taking steps to demilitarise the city would be a major success.

What is the situation around Hodeida today and why is it so critical?

In the past three months, United Arab Emirates (UAE)-led Yemeni forces have tightened the noose around Hodeida, cutting off the main road into the northern highlands where the majority of Yemen’s population resides. This leaves open only the road along the coast from Hodeida northward, lengthening the journey of critical supplies to millions of people. This further raises the cost of goods for people who are already poorer because they have not received their public sector salaries in months. Moreover, the main milling facility east of Hodeida is held by UAE-backed forces who have not permitted the UN to enter it, preventing the processing of grain. The UN humanitarian chief, Mark Lowcock, has warned of “a great big famine” affecting 14 million people (half the country’s population) if the fighting does not stop immediately.

UAE policymakers openly state that they expect the talks to fail.

If fighting breaks out inside the port (let alone the city), the Huthis can be expected to dig in. Fighting and insecurity around the port inevitably would mean further disruption of the last remaining import supply line out of Hodeida. The result: a desperate, hungry population in the highlands could be pushed into outright starvation.

Why are UAE-led forces targeting Hodeida?

The UAE-led campaign for the Red Sea coast, which has been ongoing for almost two years, is an attempt to cut off the Huthis’ access to the sea and to customs revenues from the port. The UAE and Saudi Arabia believe that the loss of territory and a valuable revenue stream will force the rebels to make significant concessions. They may also hope to shift the moral burden for the humanitarian catastrophe to the Huthis: once the Saudi-led coalition controls the port, they say, any hindrance on humanitarian access will be due to the Huthis’ actions, not their own.

The UAE says its campaign is meant to force the Huthis to adopt a more realistic position at the negotiating table. But there are indications that it is intent on capturing Hodeida’s port regardless of the outcome of talks, and possibly the city as well, viewing such a seizure as a key, indispensable step in changing the Huthi’s outlook and the overall balance of power. UAE policymakers openly state that they expect the talks – which they claim are the Huthis’ “last chance” before they push toward Hodeida port – to fail.

The Huthis’ fourteen-year history of armed insurgency suggests that the coalition’s logic is flawed. If they lose Hodeida, the Huthis are unlikely to surrender. Nor would they be entirely dispossessed of revenue streams: they could levy taxes on trucks passing from Hodeida into the north west of Yemen. Finally, they will blame the coalition for the humanitarian catastrophe that would ensue, given that it will be their decision to take the port (notwithstanding the Huthis’ agreement in principle to hand the port over to the UN) that would have caused it. They are confident that much of international public opinion will agree.

What impact might the talks have on Yemen’s humanitarian crisis?

For international actors, finding a way to end the conflict has become increasingly urgent. The war has caused what the UN says is the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. More than 22 million people, out of a population of 28 million, require some sort of assistance. Some 14 million are severely food insecure, living in what the UN calls “pre-famine” conditions. About 10,000 people contract cholera every week; there have been more than 1.2 million cases of the disease, and more than 2,500 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. Save the Children estimates that 85,000 children may have already died of hunger and preventable diseases since the civil war evolved from an internal power struggle into an internationalised conflict in early 2015. Millions of Yemenis are one economic shock from starvation. But there is still a chance to prevent worse. The consultations in Sweden could be an important first step to that end.

What will be the main sticking points in this new attempt at talks?

The Huthis and the Hadi government will arrive in Sweden looking to advance their respective agendas. Getting them to align on even basic issues is likely to be difficult. A recent agreement on swapping prisoners was a good step forward, but had been the subject of UN-mediated and back-channel negotiation for months before these talks. Reopening Sanaa airport or coming to an accommodation on Hodeida is likely to be much harder work, as neither side will be inclined to give anything up to the other.

As the Hadi government sees it, it shouldn’t have to make any concession at all. It believes it should be restored to power under the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 2216, which calls on the Huthis to lay down their arms and for Hadi – named as the “legitimate president” of Yemen – to return to the capital and oversee the completion of the transitional process that ran from 2012 until the Huthis took over Sanaa in September 2014. The fact that this resolution continues to frame the mainstream debate allows the government to approach negotiations as if it were deciding the terms of a Huthi surrender. While the Hadi government has said it will allow the Huthis to participate in future governments in some capacity, it wants a future deal to affirm its legitimacy and sanction the Huthi “coup”.

The Huthis, meanwhile, describe their coup as a people’s revolution, and argue that the war they are fighting is not against the Hadi government but against the Saudis and Emiratis (as well as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State). For this reason, they argue that the war began in March 2015 when the Saudi-led coalition entered the fray, not the preceding September when they took the capital by force. They frame the negotiations as an opportunity to stop Saudi-led “aggression” and argue that talks should be held between them and the Saudi government.

How are the Hadi government and the Huthis currently faring?

Although the Hadi government is presented as a major party to the conflict, in reality its position is relatively weak. Nominally, Hadi oversees a large array of groups, generally described as the National Army and National Resistance; in reality, the groups fighting the Huthis on the ground are deeply divided and often mutually antagonistic. Hadi doesn’t spend much time in Aden, the city that he named temporary capital in 2015, because many districts are controlled by UAE-backed fighters who have developed a rivalry with forces loyal to Hadi.

The Huthis themselves are not in a very strong position.

Hadi is currently in the U.S. for treatment of a heart condition, triggering speculation as to what might or should happen if he were incapacitated or died. Elections are not a possibility and the uncertain process of appointing of a new president would likely prompt a government reshuffle and a change in negotiating strategy; it could also trigger a new conflict among anti-Huthi groups. Southerners, for example, are unlikely to accept the authority of the current vice president, Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who under constitutional rules would take over from Hadi for a two-month period in the event that he died, because of his role in Yemen’s 1994 civil war over the south’s attempt at secession.

The Huthis themselves are not in a very strong position. After killing their erstwhile ally Saleh in December 2017, they swiftly consolidated their control over Yemen’s north-western provinces. But they are being squeezed economically and gradually losing territory. That said, they have repeatedly demonstrated an ability to sustain the destructive grind of what has become a war of attrition. They know that any future military gains by coalition-backed groups are likely to come at a high human cost that they can pin on the coalition and the Hadi government; they plan to maintain pressure on the coalition by attacking urban centres in Saudi Arabia and the UAE with drones and ballistic missiles.

So as we go into talks, the old maxim rings true: Hope for the best, plan for the worst.