Take Two in Marib?

A little over seven years ago, an unmanned US drone killed the head of al-Qaeda in Yemen, Abu 'Ali al-Harithi, and with his death it effectively destroyed al-Qaeda in the country. The organization limped along for another year, but it never represented the same type of threat as it did under al-Harithi.

Now, people in Marib are afraid that they might be about to witness a repeat performance and Mareb Press is running with reports of US drones flying over Marib.

I have already talked about "Take Two in Marib" in a piece I wrote for the CTC Sentinel, comparing the Battle of Marib in 2009 with a similar event in December 2001, but it now appears as though I didn't take the comparison far enough

Here is an excerpt:

"In many ways, the Battle of Marib and the events leading up to it were eerily similar to another series of incidents eight years earlier. In that case, President George W. Bush pressured Salih to arrest three al-Qa`ida members during a November 2001 visit to Washington. The ensuing operation in Marib by Yemeni Special Forces was a disaster. The target of the attack, Abu Ali al-Harithi, escaped along with a comrade, while local tribesmen took several Yemeni soldiers hostage. Tribal mediators later secured the release of the soldiers, but not before the government was warned against a heavy footprint in Marib. Al-Harithi was killed less than a year later by a U.S. unmanned aerial drone.

Yet this is not 2001, and Yemen is less inclined toward seeing U.S. priorities as its own. It has other security problems—a civil war in the north and calls for secession in the south—that it deems more pressing than the al-Qa`ida threat. Moreover, it has learned that the United States and its allies can be inconsistent when it comes to rewarding risk

But to really get into this, I think it is beneficial to look at a side-by-side (well not literally, I'm not that blog savvy) comparison.


November 2001: President Salih travels to Washington to meet with President Bush and to express his commitment to the "war on terror." President Bush gives him a list of names of al-Qaeda suspects in the country and suggests that this might be a good way to demonstrate his committment.

December 2001: The Yemeni military carries out a raid on a village in Marib where two al-Qaeda suspects, including al-Harithi, are believed to be hiding. The battle goes poorly and the two suspects escape out the back, while Yemen loses a number of men killed and captured by tribesmen who offered the al-Qaeda suspects refuge.

October 2002: NY Times reports on US flying unmanned drones over Yemen.

November 2002: US Predator drone kills Abu 'Ali al-Harithi and his companions in Marib.


July 26, 2009: General David Petraeus visits Yemen to announce US increase in aid and to explain that the US is looking for a significant return on its money, which means that President Salih needs to take the fight to al-Qaeda.

July 30-31, 2009: President Salih dispatches his nephew, 'Ammar Muhammad, principal deputy in the NSB to Marib to negotiate with some tribal shaykhs for clearance to go after some al-Qaeda suspects. The military makes some mistakes - one truck gets lost, it bombs the wrong house - and it becomes involved in a fire fight with tribesmen. The military loses a number of men killed and captured - seven of whom later show up in an AQAP video entitled "The Battle of Marib." The al-Qaeda suspect escapes.

December 1, 2009: Mareb Press publishes report on US unmanned drones flying over Marib.


I would like to go into more depth on the similarities but sadly much of the fascinating material on the 2001-02 series of events is already written up for a much longer work that is, as they say, in the works.

But I will add one more thing and that is what I was telling a reporter today during a conversation about a different aspect of AQAP, which is that this is not 2002 and if the US thinks that by taking out al-Wahayshi, al-Shihri or al-Raymi it can do what it did when it killed al-Harithi it is sadly mistaken. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula will survive the deaths of any one of those individuals and possible the deaths of all three.

Lapsed vigilance by both the US and Yemeni governments have put us in the state we are in today and there is no magic missile answer to ending al-Qaeda in Yemen. It is going to be a long, hard slog.

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
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Is this why time speeds up as we age?

We take fewer mental pictures per second.

Photo by Djim Loic on Unsplash
Mind & Brain
  • Recent memories run in our brains like sped-up old movies.
  • In childhood, we capture images in our memory much more quickly.
  • The complexities of grownup neural pathways are no match for the direct routes of young brains.
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Scientists study tattooed corpses, find pigment in lymph nodes

It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)

In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.

Image from the study.

As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

Image by authors of the study.

Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

Climate change melts Mount Everest's ice, exposing dead bodies of past climbers

Melting ice is turning up bodies on Mt. Everest. This isn't as shocking as you'd think.

Image source: Wikimedia commons
Surprising Science
  • Mt. Everest is the final resting place of about 200 climbers who never made it down.
  • Recent glacial melting, caused by global warming, has made many of the bodies previously hidden by ice and snow visible again.
  • While many bodies are quite visible and well known, others are renowned for being lost for decades.

The bodies that remain in view are often used as waypoints for the living. Some of them are well-known markers that have earned nicknames.

For instance, the image above is of "Green Boots," the unidentified corpse named for its neon footwear. Widely believed to be the body of Tsewang Paljor, the remains are well known as a guide point for passing mountaineers. Perhaps it is too well known, as the climber David Sharp died next to Green Boots while dozens of people walked past him- many presuming he was the famous corpse.

A large area below the summit has earned the discordant nickname "rainbow valley" for being filled with the bright and colorfully dressed corpses of maintainers who never made it back down. The sight of a frozen hand or foot sticking out of the snow is so common that Tshering Pandey Bhote, vice president of Nepal National Mountain Guides Association claimed: "most climbers are mentally prepared to come across such a sight."

Other bodies are famous for not having been found yet. Sandy Irvine, the partner of George Mallory, may have been one of the first two people to reach the summit of Everest a full thirty years before Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay did it. Since they never made it back down, nobody knows just how close to the top they made it.

Mallory's frozen body was found by chance in the nineties without the Kodak cameras he brought up to record the climb with. It has been speculated that Irvine might have them and Kodak says they could still develop the film if the cameras turn up. Circumstantial evidence suggests that they died on the way back down from the summit, Mallory had his goggles off and a photo of his wife he said he'd put at the peak wasn't in his coat. If Irving is found with that camera, history books might need rewriting.

As Everest's glaciers melt its morbid history comes into clearer view. Will the melting cause old bodies to become new landmarks? Will Sandy Irvine be found? Only time will tell.

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