Yemen: Iran Backed Rebels In Retreat

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July 29, 2015: In Lahj province (just north of the port of Aden) the pro-government offensive has reached and surrounded the rebel controlled al Anad airbase. Pro-government forces are also fighting their way into the nearby town of Sabr, which controls a road the rebels rely on for supplying their forces in Lahj province. The pro-government tribal militias have become more skilled at calling in air strikes. In part this is because some tribesmen have received military training from the Saudis and returned to their tribal militias. Thus the combination of coalition air strikes, tribal militias and troops loyal to president Hadi are a more effective force than they were a few months ago and that has resulted in growing battlefield losses for the Shia rebels. The Arab pilots have also improved, having gained much from the constant air operations over Yemen. It’s one thing to practice in peacetime, but in a combat situation the enemy on the ground is more of a challenge and the Arab pilots and their commanders and support staff have now adapted to that.

The Saudi led coalition is ignoring international criticism over civilian losses from the bombing. As far as the Arab air force commanders are concerned civilian losses are to be expected when the enemy (Shia rebels) base themselves, and their supplies, in residential areas. Nearly 1,500 civilians have been killed since the air campaign began in March, most of them to air strikes although over a third died because of ground fighting and terror attacks. The Shia rebels have also been accused of firing mortar shells and rockets at residential areas, often just to discourage enemy forces from moving through. But the Saudi coalition has a lot more firepower and can deliver it anywhere in the country in large quantities. The Saudi led coalition appears to be using mostly guided (GPS or laser) bombs and missiles. Total (nationwide) deaths since March have been over 3,500. A larger danger than air strikes is the lack of food caused by the disruptions to road travel as a result of four months of intense military operations. About half the population is suffering growing food shortages and if the transportation disruption continues starvation, especially in rebel held areas, will become a major problem by the end of the year.

The UN has tried to deal with the transportation problem by getting both sides to agree to short truces so supplies can move. These truces always fall apart quickly as one faction or another starts shooting and everyone else follows suit. Thus the latest five day “pause for aid movement” ceasefire, which was supposed to begin on the 26th, never really got started. The Shia rebels complained that the UN did not inform them that the ceasefire was supposed to start on the 26th and that was why Shia forces kept fighting.

Some Yemeni government officials, who had fled to Saudi Arabia earlier in the year as the Shia rebels advanced south, have apparently returned to Aden. They appear to be guarded by Saudi special operations troops. With the port of Aden free of rebel activity aid ships are able to deliver supplies and the food situation in the city is noticeably improved. Over the last few months Aden was where most of the fighting took place in Yemen. There are nearly 10,000 people, most of them civilians, in local hospitals. Supplies for these hospitals are arriving by ship and air.

The Shia rebels claim victories on the Saudi border by firing mortars and rockets at the Saudi bases near the border. Few journalists are allowed near the border so it is difficult to know how accurate these claims (which Iran energetically publicizes) are. The locals on the Saudi side do not mention heavy losses in towns or bases near the border, but do speak of Saudi artillery and warplanes being quick to find and attack any Shia forces who fire across the border. That has been going on for years and does not appear to have changed. Since March the Shia rebels defending their northern homeland area have been active and this apparently leads to a dozen or so casualties a week on the border. At least no one inside Saudi Arabia is talking about a jump in deaths or serious injuries among the security forces. Meanwhile inside Iran it is admitted that in the last few years over 400 Iranians have been killed fighting in Syria and nearly a hundred in Iraq. No mention of losses in Yemen although Iran recently admitted that it had Quds Force operatives there.

In the southeast (Hadramawt province), AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) rebels continue to control the port city of Mukalla and most of the province. The only ones fighting AQAP there are the Americans, via UAV missile attacks. In June one of these attacks killed the number two man in the AQAP leadership (Nasir al Wahishi, a former aide to Osama bin Laden). Analysis of AQAP “chatter” after the attack revealed the identity of the dead, which is common in these situations. The U.S. offered a $10 million reward for information leading to the death or capture of Wahishi. In the northern portion of the province there are some pro-Shia army units that seem to have an unofficial truce with AQAP. The only opposition on the ground are small groups of former AQAP members who have joined ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant).  Islamic terrorists take credit for some of the terror attacks against Shia in the capital. ISIL and AQAP are technically at war with each other but that seems to have been put aside for the moment because of the Shia threat and the open involvement of Shia Iran. Because of this de facto Islamic terrorist help against the Shia rebels the counter-terrorism efforts by government forces (mostly in disarray anyway) and various Sunni tribal militias (who outnumber the Shia but are not united and often at odds with each other) has largely lapsed. The only ones fighting the Sunni Islamic terrorists are the Iran-backed Shia rebels and the Americans. In late June all these attacks up north caused the Shia rebels to withdraw over a thousand men from Aden and send them north to improve security in Sanaa (the national capital). Additional withdrawals from the Aden front may have continued to recent rebel losses there.

July 28, 2015: The Shia rebels, who still control most of northern and western Yemen, announced that they will stop subsidizing low fuel prices. From now on people will have to pay market rates. This doesn’t mean much to most Yemenis because there have been growing fuel shortages in rebel controlled areas and a black market exists for much of what fuel is available.

July 24, 2015: Two Saudi military transports landed at the recently captured (by pro-government forces) Aden airport. The transports carried equipment and technicians needed to repair airport equipment needed to restore the international airport to normal operational capability. This would allow more civilian aviation to use the airport.

July 23, 2015: Shia rebels were still close enough to the Aden airport to fire several unguided rockets that landed near the airstrip and other facilities. No damage was done and pro-government gunmen went after Shia rebels responsible.

July 22, 2015: The first Saudi military transports landed at Aden airport, marking the reopening of the airport after four months of being closed because of the fighting. Nearby pro-government forces killed or captured the remaining Shia rebels defending the presidential palace compound in Aden.

July 21, 2015: A UN aid ship docked in Aden, for the first time since March. This ship carried enough food to feed 180,000 people for a month. Also carried were badly needed medical supplies.

July 17, 2015: The Shia rebels appeared to have lost control over most of Aden. This gave the pro- government forces full control of the largest city, and port, in Yemen.

July 15, 2015: In Iran a former secret police general (Ahmadi Moghaddam) announced the formation of an Iranian humanitarian effort for Yemen. The former general will lead an effort to aid the Shia rebels in Yemen.

July 14, 2015: In an unexpected development pro-government forces quickly took possession of the international airport outside Aden. The Shia rebels were expected to put up a more determined resistance but the cumulative effect of months of increasingly effective air attacks had apparently weakened rebel strength and resolve. The pro-government forces now believe they will have complete control of Aden within a week and that turned out to be an accurate assessment.

The new treaty between Iran and the UN may do much for the Iranian economy but apparently won’t do much for Iranian efforts in Yemen, mainly because there is still a blockade (by Arab and Western warships and warplanes) around Yemen.

July 10, 2015: In the southeast (outside the port city of Mukalla) ten AQAP men were killed by an American UAV missile strike. In the last three weeks at least 23 AQAP men have been killed by these UAV attacks.

July 9, 2015: The UN thought it had gotten Shia and pro-government forces to agree on a Ramadan cease fire that was to start on the 10th. That ceasefire never really got started and the fighting continued.

 

 

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