The War Nerd: A Brief History Of The Yemen Clusterf*ck, by GARY BRECHER

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DILI, EAST TIMOR — I ought to be familiar with the Houthi, the Shia militia that’s now conquering most of what’s worth taking in Yemen. After all, the Houthis started in Saada Province, just a few miles due south of Najran, Saudi Arabia, where I was living a few years ago.

But the truth is Yemen was totally closed off to everyone in Najran, and no one except a few networks of smugglers and spies who, from what I heard, had a very high attrition rate, dared to cross that border. None of us expat goofs even knew the name of the Yemeni Province across from us. Yemen was that country from whose bournes no traveler returns, unless he’s hoping to get rich from an SUV full of weed—and what with the, you know, beheadings for drug dealing and all, we were pretty much a straight-edge crew in our time there, figuring to make up for lost time when we got home. We knew nothing about what was over the border except that every day there seemed to be a new convoy of car-carriers loaded with brand-new Land Cruisers with the logo of the Saudi Border Patrol rolling into town. The Saudi authorities were clearly nervous about that border, even back in 2011.

There was no road connecting Najran to Yemen. Instead there was a sheer, mile-high mountain wall that marked the Yemen border. The only Yemenis you met were beggars in the streets. One of them rolled up to me while I was waiting for the school van, said in English, as if we’d been chatting for ages, “My friend, eight years I Yemen…and so, you give ten riyals.” I gave him 20. In his spiel, “Yemen” summed it up, verb and noun, sufficient reason for his demand.

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