Yemen: Going Through The Motions

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March 8, 2016: Government forces are fighting on the outskirts of Sanaa but most of the action is now in the negotiations with the Shia tribes that have always lived in the “tribal belt” around the national capital. These Shia tribes are not as political or unpredictable as the Shia tribes in the far north that started and still lead the rebellion. The Sanaa Shia did not fight the Shia rebels but they have not been staunch supporters either. The government is offering the Sanaa Shia tribes and the rebels are trying to counter that. The government offer is more likely to be accepted as it is clear that the rebels have lost. At this point it’s just a matter of what kind of surrender terms can the rebels get.

In the north (Jawf province) pro-government Sunni and rebel Shia tribes continue fighting for control of territory and the pro-government Sunni forces continue winning. Since the Sunni tribes gained air support from the Arab coalition and access to training and supplies (weapons, ammo, medical) in early 2015 they have been able to drive Shia tribesmen out of most of Jawf. To the west of Jawf is Saada province, the Shia tribal homeland. North of Jawf is Saudi Arabia. Going into Saada will be a much more difficult fight but the Sunni tribes want revenge for several years of heavy fighting with the Shia. So far this year the Shia resistance has been more determined but the pro-government forces are still taking back control of towns and areas containing key roads.

The UN sponsored peace talks, begun in December and scheduled to resume in January are stalled. This comes after a December 15-January 2 ceasefire deal was regularly violated by both sides. Discussions to resume the peace talks are not making any progress but several senior rebel leaders and supporters are seeking to make deals for themselves and their families. This is the way wars end in Yemen. The UN is paying more attention to dealing the growing aid crisis. Food and medical supplies are still at risk of attack by rebels, Islamic terrorists, bandits or Arab coalition warplanes. The peace talks meant to deal with that but the rebels demanded too many concessions, mainly a ceasefire.

There are other aspects of this conflict that the UN would rather stay away from. For example the war in Yemen can be described as a four sided religious civil war. On one side you have the Yemeni Shia rebels who are fighting Both AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) and ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) who are each fighting to establish their own version of a religious dictatorship in Yemen. Opposed to these three groups are the various separatist Sunni Yemeni tribes. At the moment most of the Sunni tribes are allied alongside the government (some Shia but mainly Sunni Yemenis) aided by a Sunni Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia. This coalition is composed of largely conservative Sunni Moslems who consider Shia, AQAP and ISIL heretics. The Shia rebels are aided by Iran and Shia from the Iran-backed Lebanese Islamic terrorist group Hezbollah.

Another foreign faction is the United States which contributes warships for the government blockade and aircraft to track and attack Islamic terrorist leaders from the air. The U.S. shares intel on the Islamic terrorists with the Arab coalition. One reason for this is that at the moment AQAP controls more territory than the Shia rebels. Since late 2014 AQAP has controlled the southeastern the port of Mukalla and much of the surrounding Hadramawt province. In contrast ISIL is scattered in remote locations or urban bases in Aden. This reflects the different strategies of the two groups AQAP believes in slowly expanding while ISIL favors aggressive attacks and boldness. Neither approach has had much success in over a thousand years of use but both remain popular with Islamic radicals.

AQAP territory is largely thinly populated desert which the Islamic terrorists have used for bases since 2009, when AQAP was created. That was an aftereffect of al Qaeda being driven out of Saudi Arabia. That defeat was after a bloody terror campaign against the government triggered by the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. In 2009 al Qaeda ordered its remaining members in Saudi Arabia (several thousand full and part timers) to move to Yemen. The newcomers merged with the al Qaeda organization already there to create AQAP. The new organization also benefitted from hundreds of Iraqi al Qaeda members who arrived after the defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq in 2007-8. Many of the al Qaeda men who stayed behind in Iraq went on to later create ISIL.

By 2011 growing unrest in Yemen (against a long-time dictatorship) enabled AQAP to recruit more freely and take over several towns in the south. In response the government launched a major counteroffensive that hurt AQAP very badly. That offensive continued until 2013 when the Shia rebellion became a larger threat to the government. During this period there was growing use of American UAVs in Yemen in part because after 2013 there were few other places for defeated al Qaeda men to flee to. The sanctuary in Mali was destroyed in early 2013 by a French led offensive. The sanctuary in Pakistan (North Waziristan) was hostile to al Qaeda and mainly for local Islamic terrorists. Surviving al Qaeda men were increasingly operating in isolation and under heavy attack. Sometimes, as is happening now in Syria, they attack each other. ISIL is most active in Aden where it regularly carries out suicide bombings and assassinations.

March 7, 2016: An Australian warship on anti-piracy patrol stopped and searched a fishing boat 300 kilometers off the coast of Oman and found over 2,000 weapons, most of them AK-47s. It was unclear if the weapons (which seemed to be from Iran) were headed for Somalia or to Shia rebels in Yemen.

March 4, 2016: In the south (the port of Aden) a group of ISIL gunmen attacked an old age home run by an Indian charity. The Islamic terrorists killed 16 people (including four elderly Indian nuns) and kidnapped an Indian priest. AQAP promptly denied any involvement but ISIL said nothing and there were soon rumors that ISIL had the Indian priest.

March 3, 2016: The GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council, the Arab oil states in the Persian Gulf) declared the Lebanese Shia militia to be a terrorist group. The rest of the world has long identified Hezbollah as an Islamic terrorist organization but the GCC did not because it was (and still is) popular in Arabia to try and support any group that is fighting Israel. Hezbollah and Palestinian groups like Hamas are the only ones doing that actively. In 2013 the GCC criticized Hezbollah for supporting the Assad dictatorship in Syria and Iran accused the Arab of taking orders from the United States and Israel.

February 29, 2016: In the south (the port of Aden) an Islamic terrorist suicide car bomber attacked a checkpoint, killing six soldiers and wounding five.

February 28, 2016: The United States revealed that it had halted an Iranian arms shipment to Shia rebels in Yemen.

February 23, 2016: On the Saudi border Shia rebels fired from Yemen at a Saudi patrol, killing one of the Saudi soldiers.

February 22, 2016: In the south (the port of Aden) Islamic terrorist gunmen killed the commander of an army brigade outside the compound of an influential tribal leader the officer had just visited.

February 19, 2016: Saudi Arabia is suspending military aid to Lebanon largely because the Lebanese government has been unable to curb Iranian use of Hezbollah fighters in Syria and Yemen and refused to condemn the attacks on the Saudi embassy in Iran. The $3 billion in weapons and equipment is being supplied for by France, paid for by Saudi Arabia and was arranged back in 2013. Deliveries began in early 2015 and were to have been completed by 2018. Training and maintenance services were to continue into the 2020s.

 

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