The Shia rebel offensive has slowed down, but not stalled, in its advance south. This is because the appearance of the Shia rebels has mobilized many Sunni tribesmen who have joined militias to oppose the Shia. AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) has been reinvigorated by more support from the Sunni tribes. Some army units in the south have halted operations against AQAP and stepped aside to let the Shia rebels and Sunni tribes fight it out. This may take a while, unless the Shia rebels back off and make a compromise deal. So far that is not a popular option with the rebel leaders.
Meanwhile Yemen has other, even more serious, problems. For over a year now foreign aid analysts have warned that over half of the Yemeni population needs economic help in the form of food and other essentials. This is partly the result of a high birth rate, which is largely the result of ancient customs and religion. The impact of conservative forms of Islam also means there has been little economic or educational improvements, at least compared to the non-Islamic world, for a long time. The economy is primitive and unproductive. Water, food and power shortages, as well as growing unemployment make life miserable for most Yemenis. This is also the fault of the enormous oil wealth in the rest of the Arabian Peninsula. A major malignant side effect of the oil wealth has been the skyrocketing demand for the leaves of the Khat plant. This did major damage to the economy and fueled growing violence in Yemen along with causing a devastating water shortage. Most of the water consumed is used for growing Khat, which only contributes a few percent of the GDP. Khat is a plant that has grown in Yemen for thousands of years. Khat leaves when chewed give you more of a buzz than caffeine or nicotine, but less than stronger drugs. It is addictive and until the 1950s was grown by farmers for their own personal use as a stimulant. Khat was used like that long before anyone figured out how to use coffee beans to produce a stimulating liquid. One thing that kept Khat local was the fact that the leaves quickly lose (a few days after being picked) their potency. In other words, Khat did not travel well while coffee beans and tea leaves did. That all changed after World War II when roads, trucks and air transport became widely available. Suddenly Khat had an international market for those who could afford to pay and had a taste for it. Yemen was the one Khat growing area that was close to affluent Khat consumers; namely people in the Arab oil states of the Persian Gulf. The other area where Khat grew easily was Ethiopia, which was deep in Africa surrounded by poverty and far from anyone able to pay for Khat. Yemen was the only Arabian state without a lot of oil but with the largest population. Khat was suddenly a way to make a lot of money. Despite the fact that many nations (including most of those in the Middle East) outlawed Khat (because of its unfortunate side effects, especially the addiction) the stuff was very popular with those who grew up with it. This included many people in Yemen. With all that oil wealth came a demand in the Arab oil states for workers. The pay was good and Arabs were preferred. This led to millions of Yemenis going off to the Arab Gulf States to work. Some got rich and nearly all sent money home. So much money was being sent back that by the end of the 20th century such remittances comprised over a quarter of the Yemeni GDP. That began to shrink after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990 and threatened Saudi Arabia. Many Yemenis backed Iraq and Islamic terrorism and the Arab oil states took this as an unfriendly act and fired a lot of their Yemeni employees. It did not go unnoticed that the bin Laden family came from Yemen and made their fortune in Saudi Arabia. These days the remittances are less than four percent of GDP. But before the collapse in remittance income during the last two decades many Yemenis developed a taste for Khat, and so had many Saudis, even though Khat was illegal in Saudi Arabia. Thus the demand for Khat increased, but mainly for export. The oil money may be gone, but the curse of Khat remains and most of it is now smuggled into Saudi Arabia.
The U.S. and the Sunni Arab Gulf States (particularly Saudi Arabia) see the recent changes in Yemen as an Iranian ploy to gain greater influence, if not control, there. This is being done with the help of deposed (in 2012) president Saleh (a Shia) who obtained immunity from prosecution (for past crimes) in return for leaving peacefully. But Saleh still had many allies, including many in the security forces. A purge of the security forces did not change this as much as the new government thought. Saleh has kept his head down as the Shia rebels took control of the capital and the government in October, but his influence is difficult to ignore. On the plus side the current (nominally Sunni dominated) government and the Shia rebels agree on the need to destroy AQAP and the Islamic terrorists are losing ground as the Shia forces move south. But once the Shia take Aden, they will have a more difficult time in western Yemen, which is largely desert, Sunni and thinly populated. Lots of hiding places and a difficult area to control, for anyone. Iran has not actively intervened in Yemen and the Sunni Arab states that border Yemen are not willing to invade to thwart the Shia rebels. This is because it’s not just Iran and the Shia rebels who are the problem but all the factions there. The Shia are only a third of the population but they are united while the Sunni majority is split into numerous factions.
Yemen suffers a lot of Islamic terrorist violence and is in the top ten countries suffering from such violence. A recent terrorism survey (Global Terrorism Index) found that five nations (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria, in that order) accounted for 80 percent of all terrorism related deaths in 2013 and even more in 2014. Four Islamic terrorist organizations (ISIL, al Qaeda, Boko Haram and the Taliban) account for nearly 70 percent of all terrorist deaths. Many of the lesser terror groups are also Islamic. In fact, of the top ten nations by terrorist activity (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Syria, India, Somalia, Yemen, Philippines and Thailand) only India and the Philippines had a significant minority of terrorist deaths that were not carried out by Moslems. In those two countries the minority terrorists were leftist rebels who had not noticed the collapse of radical socialism in 1989. Meanwhile the rapid growth in Islamic terrorism violence caused the total number of terrorist acts to increase 44 percent in 2013 over 2012.
December 11, 2014: In the south (Lahij province) AQAP Islamic terrorists fired rockets, without effect, at the major airbase there. This base (al Anad) is believed to have American personnel stationed there to help with American UAV operations in Yemen as well for training Yemeni specialists.
In the southeast (Ibb province) AQAP Islamic terrorists attacked and killed five Shia rebels.
December 10, 2014: In the capital bombs went off at the homes of five pro-Shia men, leaving eight wounded. Two more bombs were found and disabled.
December 9, 2014: President Abdrabuh Mansur fired and replaced the head of the military. This is apparently because the military leadership has failed to stop the Shia efforts to conquer the country. The Shia also promised to pull their gunmen out of the capital but keep making excuses to explain why they have not done so. The Shia have succeeded because many soldiers and officers are still loyal to former president Saleh or to commanders who still back Saleh (even though most of these officers have been forced out of the army). The new president has been seeking, without success, a new commander of the military who can solve these loyalty problems.
In the south (Hadramout province) two AQAP suicide car bombs went off while trying to get into an army compound. The explosions killed five and wounded eight people near the base entrance.
December 6, 2014: In the south (Shabwa province) Yemeni and American commandos raided an AQAP hideout to rescue two captives (an American and a South African). The operation was succeeding until a dog woke up and started barking, alerting the guards who, before they themselves were killed, murdered the two captives. AQAP had threatened to kill the American hostage “soon.” The American was a journalist kidnapped in Yemen in late 2013 and this was the second commando operation in the last two weeks to rescue him. The main purpose of the raid was to free the American before the Islamic terrorists could kill him. It later turned out that the family of the South African captive had secretly negotiated a deal to get him released the day after the raid. But the negotiations were kept secret from the Americans and the family refused to blame the U.S. for the hostages being killed.
On the Saudi border Saudi border guards encountered armed Ethiopian smugglers trying to bring in drugs and alcohol. A gun battle followed that left two smugglers dead and three wounded (and arrested). Four police were also wounded. The penalty for drug smuggling in Saudi Arabia is death by beheading. This year about 200 Saudis and foreigners a month were arrested on drug charges. Using and selling drugs does not lead to beheading but to prison for Saudis and, for many foreigners, expulsion instead of prison.
December 3, 2014: In the capital an AQAP suicide car bomber attacked the home of the Iranian ambassador (who was not at home) killing three and wounding 17 guards and civilians outside the residence. Many Sunni Yemenis hold Iran responsible for the success of Shia rebels in Yemen.
In the southwest (Taiz) an army colonel who worked with local officials was shot dead by gunmen. AQAP later took credit and accused the victim of secretly working for the Shia rebels.
December 1, 2014: In the south (Abyan province) AQAP roadside bombs were used in two attacks that left four soldiers dead and three wounded.
November 30, 2014: In the south (Aden) a separatist demonstration in the port city turned violent and police opened fire, killing one rioter and wounding three others.
November 29, 2014: In the south (Hadramout province) AQAP ambushed an army patrol using RPGs and killed three soldiers.
November 27, 2014: In the capital AQAP detonated two bombs near the American embassy, killing or wounding several security personnel and civilians.
November 26, 2014: The oil pipeline to the Red Sea was bombed again, halting flow of oil and much needed income for the government. The 320 kilometer long pipeline extends from oil fields in Marib province to the Red Sea export terminal. Elsewhere ten were killed in fighting between Sunni tribesmen and Shia rebels.
November 25, 2014: In the northeast, near the Saudi border, American and Yemeni commandos attacked an AQAP hideout and freed eight prisoners, including a Saudi. But the raid was really after two foreign (American and British) hostages who had been there but were moved, along with three others, hours earlier.
In the south (Lahij province) a major Islamic school has lost 400 of its foreign students who have decided to return home rather than get involved with the growing Sunni-Shia fighting in Yemen. Many of the students are being forced to leave by the military because of fears they have been radicalized and will join AQAP.
November 24, 2014: In the east (Marib province) the three most powerful tribes in the province united and worked out a peace deal with the approaching Shia rebels. In essence the deal guarantees the safety of Shia in Marib and in return the Shia rebels will not try to enter Marib and take over. The three tribes in Marib are powerful and have a reputation for being determined fighters. The Shia rebels may come back later, but for the moment they don’t have to worry about being attacked by the Sunni tribes in Marib. Twice this year the Shia rebels have made similar deals and soon reneged and conquered the tribes involved.