The American UAV campaign against al Qaeda in Yemen is crippling the terrorist organization there. The UAVs are a much more effective way to find and attack terrorists hiding out in rural areas among pro-terrorist tribesmen. Going in with ground troops is much bloodier, especially in terms of civilian casualties. The UAVs and more powerful intelligence collection and analysis software make it possible to find the terrorists quickly and accurately. Terrorists have been unsuccessful at defending against these UAV tactics. The best defense al Qaeda has going for it is media ignorance of how the UAV tactics work which has led to some special interest groups pressuring media and politicians to outlaw the use of UAVs like this because they interpret it as a war crime. This requires ignoring the deadlier alternatives, and most editors and politicians realize this and don’t bite. But some, out of ignorance or the need for some media attention, go for it.
There were 53 of these UAV attacks in Yemen last year, compared to 18 the year before. The increase last year was mainly in response to a major al Qaeda offensive that sought to take over most of the towns in the south. This exposed a lot more al Qaeda men to detection and UAV missile attack. The al Qaeda offensive was defeated and the surviving terrorists scattered back to their rural hideouts. While some al Qaeda men have fled to other terrorist battle zones (Somalia, Pakistan, Africa) or sought refuge in Europe, hundreds have stayed in Yemen. Most of these are from Yemen or other countries in the Arabian Peninsula. They feel they have nowhere to go and are prepared to go down fighting. Most Yemenis are willing to accommodate them.
So far this year over 30,000 Africans have been smuggled across the Gulf of Aden and entered Yemen. Last year at least 107,000 Africans arrived that way. This was a record, the last one being in 2011 (103,000). Drought in northeast Africa, and chronic poverty and lack of economic opportunity, has driven more people to leave and the Yemeni and Somali smugglers have been very busy. There are believed to be more smugglers now because many who had switched to piracy are back because the counter-piracy effort has made piracy much less profitable. Most of the people smuggled into Yemen want to keep moving to find work in the wealthy Arab Gulf states, Israel, or Europe. In the last seven years about half a million Africans have made the journey, and Yemeni refugee camps hold about 200,000 of these foreigners who did not move on for one reason or another. The main reason these Africans remain in Yemen is because of the growing efforts by Saudi and Yemeni border guards to prevent smugglers from getting the illegal migrants across the border. While some seek work in Saudi Arabia, many keep going for Israel or Europe.
April 30, 2013: A pipeline near the Red Sea was bombed again, halting flow of oil and much needed income for the government. Normally Yemen produces 270,000 barrels of oil a day and most of it is exported (accounting, with natural gas, 90 percent of export income). The 320 kilometer long pipeline extends from oil fields in Marib province to the Red Sea export terminal. Such attacks cost the government a billion dollars in lost revenue last year. Tribesmen loyal to deposed president Saleh were blamed. The army has been going after the tribal factions believed responsible and the last attack was on April 8th.
In the south (Shabwa province) soldiers discovered and disarmed a bomb placed next to a natural gas pipeline. The gas goes to a liquid natural gas facility on the coast where it is exported.
April 29, 2013: In the east (Marib province) tribesmen loyal to deposed president Saleh damaged the long distance power lines and blacked out most of the province.
April 28, 2013: In the southeast (Hadramout province) an al Qaeda death squad killed another military intelligence officer. This campaign against intelligence personnel has been going on for over a year because al Qaeda sees the Yemeni intelligence efforts as a major source of information on where al Qaeda personnel are. This, they believe, enables the American UAVs to strike.
April 27, 2013: Outside the capital al Qaeda gunmen attacked a checkpoint, killing five soldiers while losing two of their own. Elsewhere in the south (Aden) over 100,000 separatist tribesmen commemorated the 1994 civil war, in which the southern tribes tried to split the country in two. The south failed that time but wants a rematch.
April 21, 2013: East of the capital an American UAV fired missiles at a group of al Qaeda men, killing two and wounding three. This is the third such attack in the last week. Al Qaeda retaliated by attacking a checkpoint, killing two soldiers while losing one of their own.
April 20, 2013: In the south (Abyan province) rival tribesmen clashed, leaving two pro-government and three anti-government tribesmen dead. Elsewhere in the south (Mukalla) an al Qaeda death squad killed another military intelligence officer.
April 18, 2013: In a symbolic move, anti-Saleh demonstrators who had been camped out in the capital for two years took down their tents and left, thus marking an end to the Arab Spring uprising in Yemen. It isn’t really over, as the new government is nearly as corrupt and ineffective as the decades old Saleh rule they replaced. The Yemen Arab Spring demonstrations began in February 2011, and by the end of the year Saleh agreed to go. But then separatist tribes in the south, in conjunction with their al Qaeda allies, tried to take control of the south and establish a separate country. Most of last year was spent putting down that rebellion.
April 17, 2013: In the south (Thamar province) Yemeni warplanes attacked a group of al Qaeda and killed five of them. Outside the capital a U.S. UAV missile attack killed a wanted al Qaeda leader and four of his followers. In the south, tribal elders are trying to negotiate with local al Qaeda bands to get the terrorists to stop attacking repair crews trying to restore electrical power to villages where members of the tribe live.