Yemen: Iran Facing An Embarrassing Defeat

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September 6, 2015: Pro-government troops, led by the Arab Brigade, are within a hundred kilometers of the capital (Saana) and preparing to go after the capital and then the Shia homeland in the north. The coalition has called for and received thousands of local volunteers for a new brigade to assist in the final battles with the Shias. Up to 5,000 of these volunteers will receive weapons, pay and a week or so of training. Most of these men know how to use weapons and the training is mainly to make sure the volunteers are physically fit for combat and know the basic rules (mainly to avoid friendly fire).  The pro-government forces are rapidly retaking Shia held territory in large part because of some troops from neighboring countries, which sent in a mechanized combat brigade (about 3,000 troops and over a hundred armored vehicles). This unit has come to be called the Arab Brigade because about half the brigade consists of UAE (United Arab Emirate) troops, including many UAE men with family ties to Yemen and knowledge of local dialects and customs. The rest of the brigade is largely Saudi. This brigade has an additional advantage in that they can quickly call down smart bomb attacks from Arab jet fighters overhead.

The U.S. and some other Western countries have been quietly helping with intelligence, training, air operations and most visibly UAV missile attacks on Islamic terrorist leaders in the southeast. But the less obvious assistance has been the most useful. This is the first major solo Arabian military operation with modern equipment. Arab states took part in the 1991 campaign to liberate Kuwait and learned much from that. Now the Arabs are largely on their own and so far are doing an effective job using a lot of complex technology. This is a big deal for most Arabs because the primary defense against the threatening (and more numerous) Iranians is this Western technology.

Nearly 5,000 have died since the civil war began in late March. About 40 percent of the dead have been civilians. The Shia rebels and Iran (their primary ally) make much of all the civilians killed by the Arab Coalition air strikes but the reality is that the Arab warplanes are using smart bombs and missiles and often attacking rebel forces who are using civilians as human shields. The Arabs are not as concerned about killing human shields as Western nations and believe that this encourages civilians to avoid being used as human shields. Most the 26 million Yemenis apparently want to be free of Shia occupation, if only because this means food and other essential supplies can reach them. In late March the Arab Coalition imposed a land/sea/air blockade that halted most traffic with Shia occupied areas. The fighting and general chaos made it difficult for foreign aid groups to get needed food and medical supplies from government controlled areas to Yemenis desperate for such aid. The Arab Coalition nations are making a large and very public effort to obtain the needed aid and quickly get it to the ten million Yemenis who need it the most.

Defeating the Shia rebels may be the easy part of all this because the Arab Coalition is going to be less interested in helping out with the separatist Sunni tribes in the south and the thousands of Sunni Islamic terrorists based in the southeast. There, mainly in 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 the northern portion of Hadramawt 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 most 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 has largely lapsed. The only ones fighting the Sunni Islamic terrorists are the Iran-backed Shia rebels and the Americans.

There are a lot of angry parents in the UAE (United Arab Emirate) because their sons have been killed in combat in Yemen. UAE customarily hires foreign mercenaries whenever possible but times have changed and some families have not adapted. The UAE adopted conscription in 2014 in order to maintain the strength of its armed forces. This was not popular with many UAE citizens, but given the growing threat from Iran it was seen as a necessary evil. But now the UAE government has a public relations problem because hundreds of these conscript soldiers were sent to fight in Yemen and nearly a hundred have been killed and many more wounded. Families complain that their conscripted sons, none of whom have any combat experience, should not have been sent to war zone. The parents are told that the only way to gain combat experience is by being in combat and that’s why their sons were conscripted in the first place. Moreover most emirates understand that the Shia rebels in Yemen are openly backed by Iran and this is just the sort of situation that conscription was instituted to deal with. But the grim consequences are another matter.

September 4, 2015: From somewhere near the capital Shia rebels fired a Russian SS-21 ballistic missile at an ammo storage site in a Marib province airbase the Arab Brigade had captured and used as a base. The SS-21 has a range of about 70 kilometers and can land within 75 meters of its aiming point. The SS-21 has a half ton high explosive warhead and this detonated much of the stored ammunition causing a series of explosions that caused about 200 casualties among the Arab Brigade troops. Several dozen armored vehicles were destroyed or damaged. At least 45 UAE soldiers were killed along with ten Saudis. Normally troops would not be allowed near an ammo storage site in a combat zone. At first the Arab Coalition reported the explosion as an accident. The base occupied by the Arab Brigade is only 170 kilometers east of Saana, the Yemeni capital that the Shia rebels occupy. It is still unclear why so many troops were that close to the ammo storage area. It may have been bad leadership or just bad luck (a large convoy was passing by when the ammo exploded). In any event the Shia rebels are celebrating this as a great victory while the Arab coalition appears to be out for revenge. This means the final battles will be bloody.

In 2011 Yemen had about four SS-21 transporter/launcher vehicles and over a dozen SS-21 (also called OTR-21) missiles. The Shia rebels were known to have captured some of the SS-21 vehicles and missiles. Some Yemeni Army troops with knowledge of the SS-21 operations were also believed serving with the Shia rebels. The Arab coalition later reported that they had destroyed some of the rebel SS-21s.

Bahrain announced that five of their soldiers were killed today while helping guard the Saudi border with Yemen. There has been constant shooting (of rifles, machine-guns, mortars, rockets and ballistic missiles) across the border since March and the Arab Coalition shoots back and launches more air raids. Since March at least sixty Saudi and allied soldiers and civilians have died in this violence. Shia losses are believed to have been higher because the Saudis have more firepower.

September 2, 2015:  ISIL took credit for two bombs going off in a Shia mosque in the capital. At least 32 were killed and nearly a hundred wounded. ISIL used a suicide bomber inside the mosque along with truck bomb that was detonated as aid workers and civilians rushed in to help the victims of the first bomb. This is the fifth such ISIL mosque attack in the last two months. The Shia rebel response has been more raids on neighborhoods known to be anti-Shia, looking for Islamic terrorists and their bases (where bombs are made or stored along with weapons and ammo). Some arrests are made, but mostly this just makes the anti-Shia majority in Saana more anti-Shia.

September 1, 2015: AQAP assassins killed two southern separatist leaders in Aden.

The Red Cross reported that two of their employees were killed on a road north of Saana by unknown gunmen. The two victims were travelling in a vehicle clearly marked as belonging to the Red Cross.

In Libya the government banned Yemenis, Iranians and Pakistanis from entering the country. Too many people from those countries have been encountered fighting for Islamic terror groups in Libya. The government had earlier banned Sudanese, Bangladeshis, Palestinians and Syrians for the same reasons. This ban does not keep these people out but makes it more difficult for them to get into Libya and move around there freely.

August 30, 2015: In Aden AQAP death squads killed the deputy governor of Aden as well as the director of security over the last two days.

In the Shia controlled north (Hajjah province) an air strike hit a water bottling plant and killed 36 people. The Arab Coalition said the plant had been turned into a bomb making workshop by the Shia, who were using foreign Moslems as suicide bombers.

August 26, 2015: For the second time since June Shia rebels in Yemen launched a SCUD ballistic missile against a major Saudi Arabian base. For the second time the Saudis used Patriot missiles to intercept the SCUD. These ballistic missiles are from North Korea and have been in Yemen since the late 1980s. But as recently as 2002 there were only about twenty of them. Since then Yemen has obtained more and was believed to have (in 2014) six mobile launchers and about 30 missiles. Several missiles and launchers survived the Saudi led aerial bombing campaign. The Yemeni SCUDs are believed to be older models with a max range of 300 kilometers. This means these missiles cannot reach the Saudi capital or the major oil fields. The Shia rebels got these missiles because most of the Yemeni armed forces remained loyal to former president Saleh, who took good care of the military and that was one reason Saleh rule lasted for three decades. If pro-Saleh forces didn’t provide crews to launch a SCUD, Iran could have. For Iran these SCUD intercepts are disappointing because it means the Arab anti-missile forces are competent and Iranian ballistic missile forces are not as scary for the Arabs as they once were. Moreover the Arabs have some missiles and Iran does not have any anti-missile defenses. Older Iranians remember the terrible times during the 1980s when Iraqi SCUDs regularly hit Tehran.

In the southeast (outside the port city of Mukalla) five AQAP men were killed by an American UAV missile strike on the house where they were meeting. Since early July about 40 AQAP men have been killed by these UAV attacks.

August 25, 2015: The Red Cross suspended operations in Aden because of numerous (at least ten) attacks on its personnel this month.

August 22, 2015: UAE commandos found and rescued a British citizen who had been held captive by Islamic terrorists for 18 months. This was one of the few times the UAE admitted publicly that it had a SOC (Special Operations Command) and commandos capable to finding and rescuing someone held captive by Islamic terrorists. The UAE has been particularly secretive about its special operations force.

At least a hundred AQAP Islamic terrorists entered Aden and established a base in a residential neighborhood. When security forces responded the AQAP men were all gone (left the city) by the next day. It is believed that the AQAP men left to avoid a battle with the pro-government forces, which have so far left AQAP alone in the port city of Mukalla to the east.

In the southeast (outside the port city of Mukalla) four AQAP men were killed by an American UAV missile strike.

August 20, 2015: In Aden an ISIL bomb went off outside the governors’ office building, killing five people.

August 16, 2015: Pro-government forces have driven Shia rebels out of Taez, capital of Taez province (inland, near the Red Sea coast).

 

 

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