Yemen: Game Of Thrones

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June 22, 2014: President Hadi fears a coup by former president Saleh. Hadi replaced Saleh in early 2012. Saleh was forced out of office and was supposed to leave the country. That didn’t happen. Saleh's corrupt allies were at risk of losing their lives, liberty and fortunes without their savvy and ruthless leader; so Saleh stayed. The new president, Hadi, was Saleh's deputy for 17 years and got that job for helping Saleh end the 1994 civil war. Hadi and Saleh still belong to the same political party which Saleh is still head of. Hadi is a southerner and more low key and conciliatory than Saleh. Despite his long association with Saleh, most Yemenis saw Hadi as a potential solution to many of Yemen's problems. But this has been difficult with Saleh still around and demanding protection for his allies in the government and some tribes. This loyalty is admirable, but it threatens the new president. Many Yemenis still see killing Saleh as the solution. But killing Saleh would not destroy his faction, which has grown rich and powerful from decades of corruption. Saleh's allies include leaders of powerful tribes and wealthy families. People like this have their own private armies. It's all very medieval in Yemen, and that's a big part of the problems. Weakening the former president has proved difficult. Saleh's relatives had control of the security forces taken from them in 2011 but that only removed the immediate threat of Saleh using force to regain power. Since 2012 Saleh’s loyal tribal militias have remained loyal. Hadi sees that as a threat.

Worse yet Saleh is still up to his old political tricks. Saleh held onto power for over three decades by playing the many factions against one another and carefully cultivating a coalition that was loyal to him personally. Yemen's economic and social (corruption) problems were not addressed by Saleh and none of those who replaced him have come up with a viable plan either. Yemen remains a place too many people want to leave, not reform.

Hadi inadvertently made Saleh more of a threat by proposing a federal form of government that gave the southern tribes more autonomy. Some northern factions (mostly those loyal to the former Saleh government) are not willing to back more autonomy for the south. This is all about economic power and who controls key parts of the economy (like the oil fields) and the government budget. The Saleh supporters were doing very well during the decades of Saleh rule and suffered major economic losses when Saleh was forced out in 2012. After that many Yemenis demanded that Saleh be forced to give up the money and assets he and his cronies stole and that amnesty deals be revoked. While Saleh is no longer president, he is still leader of a powerful political party and has many supporters, including thousands with guns. Saleh and his friends are working hard to hang onto their loot. The new government consists of Yemeni politicians not much different than Saleh and friends. The new crew expected to plunder Saleh's property as that's what those in power do in Yemen. But Saleh has held onto most of his wealth and much of his unofficial power.

Many Yemenis want a more honest and efficient government, like those that exist in the West. Vested interests in Yemen are opposed to that, knowing that Westerners prosecute corrupt officials and put a lot of them in prison. That is not the Yemeni way and many armed Yemenis are willing to die to preserve Yemen's ancient traditions. Hadi blames Saleh for many of the problems during the last two years, but the fact is that those problems (al Qaeda and separatist tribes in the south and separatist Shia tribes in the north) have been a problem for centuries. Saleh was better at making deals with the separatists and al Qaeda but eventually Saleh promised more than he could deliver and his house of cards came down. Hadi has not been able to undo the mess Saleh created.

Pro-Saleh demonstrations have been more common in the capital this year and Hadi responded by recently shutting down a Saleh owned TV station and besieging the Saleh Mosque, where Sahel himself and many of his powerful allies worship. This is backfiring. The soldiers sent to shut down the Saleh TV station trashed the place and removed key equipment, but forgot that the security cameras were still working and Saleh supporters captured most of that video and made it public. This made Hadi appear like a paranoid bully and enraged Saleh supporters even more. In effect Hadi’s moves against the feared Saleh coup made such a coup even more likely.

Meanwhile the army is seeking to crush remaining al Qaeda cells in the south. AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) suffered major setbacks during April and May. In addition to losing their last few major bases and over 500 armed members they have also lost the support of most of the southern tribes that have provided sanctuary, new recruits and much else. The tribesmen have found AQAP to be a costly ally.

The constant presence of soldiers and the growing use of American UAVs over the last few years has disrupted life for the tribes and been nothing but trouble. Traditionally the tribal leaders controlled the rural tribal territories. Police, soldiers or government officials entered only with permission. Forcing your way in meant you were suddenly at war with several thousand armed, angry and unpredictable tribesmen who had, as far as they were concerned, a license to kill interlopers. For a long time this gave AQAP men lots of protection, but then came the UAVs and more aggressive police and soldiers.  As a result AQAP has had far more defeats than victories lately. Worse, the growing number of foreign AQAP members are often insensitive to tribal customs and dangerous to be around (because of the threat of army or UAV attack.) While the April offensive changed the attitudes of tribal leaders towards AQAP, the Islamic terrorist recruiters still find many young tribesmen willing to help. Unemployment and generally poor economic conditions leave many young Yemeni men with few viable choices. They can emigrate, but that costs money. Joining AQAP provides one of the few paying jobs around and the death benefits include guaranteed entry into paradise.

In the last week fighting with the rebellious Shia tribes up north has left over a hundred dead. Nearly a third of those casualties occurred in the last two days. The Shia gunmen are again trying to advance on the capital. That’s because the Shia tribes have been successful against the pro-government Sunni tribes up north and are again free to advance on the capital. The Shia accuse the northern Sunni tribes of supporting Islamic radical preachers and teachers that back the use of violence against Shia “heretics.” The Shia tribes are also hostile to the proposed new federal form of government because they believe this would mean a smaller cut of government income for the Shia. The Sunni tribes in the west have also cut off the electricity supply of the capital and the Shia tribes have made most of the roads into the city dangerous to use. This has caused shortages of fuel and food inside the city. Some army patrols on the outskirts of the capital have been attacked by Shia gunmen.

The country has a lot of problems but one of the biggest ones, that few locals want to talk about, is a culture of entitlement that makes it impossible to keep everyone peaceful and content. There is a sense of entitlement that has too many Yemenis feeling that they are not getting what they deserve. Since nearly all adult males in Yemen own a gun it doesn’t take much for a bunch of disgruntled and heavily armed men to take action to rectify the injustice they believe they are suffering. President Saleh was a genius at exploiting this culture of entitlement but eventually too many Yemenis saw themselves coming out at the wrong end of these deals and turned against Saleh. President Hadi watched Saleh in action and thought he could operate the same way. He has since found that he has not got the same skills as Saleh.

Another problem with the culture of entitlement is the difficulties foreign aid efforts encounter. Not only do greedy and armed tribesmen make it difficult and expensive to deliver aid, but occasionally some dissatisfied tribesmen will kidnap an aid worker to get what they feel entitled to. These kidnappers know they can depend on fellow tribesmen to protect them from any government retaliation. About half the Yemeni population is dependent on one form of foreign aid or another and the disruptions to aid flow caused by entitled tribesmen makes life miserable for all concerned. Most of the aid dependence can be traced to overpopulation and the weak economy (which is also crippled by corruption). But the constant actions by entitled and angry armed tribesmen also forces a lot of people to flee their homes when there is large scale fighting, as happened recently in the south (because of AQAP) and the north (the rebellious and aggrieved Shia tribes).

June 21, 2014: The air force carried out at least eight attacks on Shia tribesmen advancing on the capital. Some of those Shia tribesmen are only 15 kilometers north of the city.

In the capital AQAP hit men killed an army general.

Al Qaeda websites displayed an official al Qaeda denial that most of the AQAP fighters in Yemen were foreigners. Back in April the government made much of the fact that a third of the recently killed AQAP were foreigners.  Fear of foreigners is often a major reason why some Moslems embrace Islamic terrorism in the first place. But increasingly it’s not just the presence of foreign soldiers that inspires Islamic terrorists to kill, but the presence of foreign Islamic terrorists who are seen as unwelcome rivals and worthy of death for coming to where they are not welcome. This is not a new problem but it is becoming more common. This sort of thing not only creates internal problems for Islamic terrorists but the governments that Islamic terrorists are fighting often accuse the terrorists of bringing in a lot of foreigners and pointing out that is a bad thing. Yemen recently accused the al Qaeda organization in Yemen of being 70 percent foreigners. Al Qaeda denies the 70 percent figure but not that they have a lot of foreigners in countries where they operate.

June 20, 2014: In central Yemen (Baida province) an army colonel visited his home village where he argued with his brother, who had joined al Qaeda. The colonel shot dead his brother over this and before the colonel could depart his brother’s sons showed up and killed their uncle the colonel.

June 18, 2014: Shia rebels are advancing on the capital again and are now 40 kilometers north of the city. Shia gunmen are also attacking from west of the capital. Elsewhere in the capital an al Qaeda death squad shot, but did not kill, a senior intelligence officers who specialized in tracking Islamic terrorists.

On the Red Sea coast (Hodeida province) police arrested a senior al Qaeda leader (Abdel Rahman Shoueib).

June 17, 2014: In the north warplanes bombed Shia villages where tribal militias were gathering.

June 15, 2014: The eleven day old truce with the northern Shia tribes ended as Shia rebels and government forces began firing on each other again.

In the south a gunman opened fire on a bus carrying medical personnel to the military hospital in Aden and killed eight of the passengers.

President Hadi ordered artillery stationed on hills surrounding the capital removed because he feared that some members of the artillery units were still loyal to former president Saleh.

June 14, 2014: President Hadi ordered troops loyal to him (from the Presidential Guard) to surround the Saleh Mosque complex. Built at a cost of over $100 million by former president Saleh it is believed to be where (according to Hadi) Saleh is planning a coup and cited a recently discovered tunnel from the Saleh Mosque to the presidential palace as proof. Hadi had not known of the tunnel until recently.

In the south (Abyan province) a suicide bomber attack left four soldiers dead.

June 13, 2014: In the south (Shabwa province) five Islamic terrorists died when an American UAV fired a missile into the car they were riding in.

June 12, 2014: In the south (Shabwa province) four Islamic terrorists died when their base was attacked by warplanes and ground troops. Several vehicles were also destroyed and a number of weapons captured. This was part of a larger operation against suspected al Qaeda bases in Abyan and Shabwa provinces.

June 11, 2014: In the south (Lahj province) al Qaeda attacked a checkpoint, killing a soldier.

June 10, 2014: In the east (Marib province) angry tribesmen bombed electrical transmission towers and ambushed repair crews. This blacked out most of northern Yemen and eventually most of the country. The tribes will also regularly bomb the pipeline to the Red Sea, halting the flow of oil for export and the source of 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 in 2013. Tribesmen loyal to deposed president Saleh are often blamed. President Hadi caused some bad feeling in Marib when he cut cash payments going to pro-Saleh tribal leaders and instead gave it to those he trusted more. The tribesmen who had their income cut responded in the traditional way, by attacking the assets of those they saw as responsible; namely the oil fields and pipeline. The main electrical power plant is in Marib and is fueled by natural gas from nearby gas wells. When the pipeline is too well guarded, irate tribesmen go after the power transmission lines. AQAP has been popular in Marib because the Islamic terrorists will hire local tribesmen and promise a larger share of gas and oil income for the local tribes once AQAP takes control of the country. 

In the south (Lahj province) soldiers carried out several raids in an effort to capture the Islamic terrorists who attacked the provincial head of security on the 8th.

June 9, 2014: There were two al Qaeda attacks on the electricity transmission towers which brought darkness to most of northern Yemen. The army killed two of those responsible and wounded another six. This did not stop the attacks.

June 8, 2014: In the south (Lahj province) al Qaeda ambushed a convoy carrying the provincial head of security. A bodyguard was killed and the attackers were driven off. In the provincial capital al Qaeda gunmen attacked a government compound and were repulsed.

June 5, 2014: In the south (Shabwa province) AQAP gunmen attacked an army checkpoint killing 14 soldiers and one civilian.

In the east (Marib province) three AQAP men died when an American missile fired from a UAV hit their vehicle.

June 4, 2014: In the north the army and the rebellious Shia tribes agreed to a truce so that both sides could enter into UN sponsored peace negotiations. In the last two days over a hundred have died in the fighting up north, plus several hundred more wounded. This level of violence may have made both sidres more amenable to a truce.

June 1, 2014: AQAP posted a video showing the execution of four Yemenis who were accused of placing tracking devices on AQAP vehicles in 2012 to make it possible for American UAVs to find and attack the vehicles with missiles.

 

 

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