Yemen: Some Things Have Been Settled


January 25, 2014: Al Qaeda leaders have quietly launched a major campaign to protect themselves from UAV missile attacks. This involves trying to cripple the intel efforts that identify targets as well as an Information War effort to create political opposition to the use of American UAVs in Yemen. Al Qaeda is putting more effort into its assassination campaign. In the last few months over a hundred 0fficers specializing in intelligence work have been targeted with about 40 killed in the process. Al Qaeda knows that these men are crucial in finding out the identities and locations of key Islamic terrorists. This allows the armed forces to go after the al Qaeda leaders, or provides an opportunity for an American UAV to kill those the army can’t get to in time. Al Qaeda is particularly worried about the UAVs, which watch them and regularly kill their leaders. The UAV attacks are the most worrisome because a bribe cannot be used to try and protect the targeted terrorist leader. Al Qaeda has tried to muster international opposition against these UAV tactics by encouraging local and foreign journalists to investigate real or invented civilian victims of the UAV attacks. Such civilian casualties are rare, but journalists are not known for their statistical skills and only want a good story (“if it bleeds it leads”). The American UAV effort in Yemen has concentrated on killing as many key al Qaeda personnel as possible. Yemen is helping, providing information to confirm who the best targets are. Yemen wants to avoid killing some tribal leaders who are currently allied with al Qaeda but might be persuaded to switch sides. The UAV campaign has been devastating to al Qaeda, making it difficult to move freely and generating a lot of nervousness and paranoia among al Qaeda personnel. That’s because Yemenis are encouraged (by cash rewards) to report on the location of al Qaeda personnel. This, plus the ability of the UAVs and electronic surveillance to confirm this information, has made life very uncomfortable for al Qaeda personnel. Attempts to use human shields has not proved to be completely successful as few women and children volunteer for this duty and civilians will actively avoid being around al Qaeda personnel. But every civilian victim of a UAV attack (real or imagined) is exploited to help save the terrorist leaders. This decapitation (going after the leaders) strategy greatly lowers the effectiveness of terrorist groups. In Israel it halted a Palestinian terrorism campaign inside Israel that began in 2000 and was regularly setting off bombs inside Israel that killed civilians. After five years of decapitation operations there were few (maybe one a year) attacks. The strategy worked in Iraq, Afghanistan and Moslem countries where the local government used this approach. Moslem governments tend to stick by the UAV strategy because the precision and flexibility of these attacks kills more terrorists more quickly and with fewer civilian casualties.

In the last week tribal violence in the north has left over 30 dead. In most of the north the ceasefire is holding. This is all part of tribal disputes that have gone on for decades, ever since the government took away the autonomy that the dominant Shia Bakil tribe long enjoyed up there. Now the government is backing the smaller Sunni (and pro-government) Hashid tribe and that has led to increasing violence with the dominant Bakil. The most recent instance began with a battle over the town of Damaj and a Sunni religious school there. This violence up north has left at least 300 dead and more than 700 wounded since it began on October 30th. Nearly half the casualties have occurred in parts of the north besides Damaj. The Sunni tribes in the north have been fighting the Shia tribes for generations but it has rarely been this bad. Damaj is about 40 kilometers south of the Saudi border and the Sunni religious school has been there since the late 1970s and now has thousands of students, many of them foreign. According to the Shia tribes the school is now producing Sunni Islamic radicals who seek to kill Shia (as Sunni religious conservatives consider Shia heretics.) Damaj has become a battlefield in the struggle over leadership of Islam by Sunni Saudi Arabia (which backs the Islamic conservatives in Damaj) and Shia Iran (which supports the Shia tribesmen of northern Yemen). Since November the fighting has spread beyond Damaj to two other areas up there.

January 24, 2014: In the east (Marib province) an American UAV fired a missile and killed three al Qaeda men.

January 21, 2014: Legislators extended the president’s two year term by one year and agreed to adopt a federal form of government that would give the southern tribes the autonomy they have been seeking. Regular elections under a new constitution were supposed to begin in February 2014 but it was agreed that one more year was needed to complete the transition to the new constitution and a less corrupt democracy.

Elsewhere in the capital a prominent Shia politician was shot dead in a drive-by attack.

January 19, 2014: In the southwest (Taiz) the local police chief was shot dead by a gunman on a motorcycle.

January 18, 2014: In the capital an Iranian diplomat was killed when he resisted a kidnapping attempt. Or it might have just been another drive-by attack as witness accounts differ.  

January 17, 2014: In the south (Dali) separatist tribesmen attacked a checkpoint and killed five soldiers. These tribesmen were still angry at the army for accidentally firing a tank shell at a funeral last December and killing 19 people. The army apologized and paid compensation but the anger lingers and the many checkpoints, meant to hamper terrorist movements, annoy the tribesmen.

January 16, 2014: In the south (Aden) gunmen killed an intelligence officer as he stood on a sidewalk in the city. In the southeast (al Bayda province) al Qaeda attacked a police station killing 10 policemen. At least 12 of the attackers were killed and others wounded in the gun battle. The air force made some air strikes against the attackers.

January 14, 2014: In the south (Hadramout) an army colonel was shot dead in a drive-by attack.

January 12, 2014: In the south (Hadramout) a large number of al Qaeda men and their tribal allies attacked an army base, leaving nine soldiers and one civilian dead. The attackers suffered many casualties but carried their dead with them when they retreated after six hours of fighting. Over 600 civilians fled their nearby homes to escape all the bullets and shells.  

January 11, 2014:  Troops entered areas of the north where Shia and Sunni tribes have been fighting each other since last October.

In the south (Hadramout) local tribesmen attacked an oil installation run by a Norwegian company, killing two soldiers. The tribe warned the Norwegians to get out of the country. The tribes down there want a larger share of the oil income.

January 9, 2014: In the south (Aden) soldiers disabled a bomb found near a checkpoint.

January 8, 2014: The battling Shia and Sunni tribes in the north have agreed to a ceasefire. Most, but not all, of the fighting stopped. The fighting had been particularly intense in the last week, but negotiators managed to convince both sides that no one had an edge and that the fighting would go on for a long time unless some kind of compromise could be worked out.

In the south (Hadramout) an American UAV killed two al Qaeda men with a missile.

January 7, 2014: In the south (Hadramout) local tribesmen attacked an oil pipeline for the second time in two days. Exported oil accounts for about 70 percent of government income. Elsewhere in the south (Aden) a roadside bomb wounded an intelligence officer. In another attack gunmen killed a supply officer.

January 6, 2014: In the south (Abyan province) troops called in an air strike that killed five Islamic terrorists. 




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