Yemen: Victory, Not Peace, Is Assured

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May 23, 2016: The April 10 truce is largely holding and the peace talks, despite frequent pauses (of up to a week) as one side or the other sorts out internal disputes, continue. A major reason for the truce was to allow relief supplies to reach millions of civilians cut off by the fighting and nearly 90 percent of the aid is now getting through while the rest has to wait days or weeks for nearby fighting to halt. About a third of the population (over eight million people) depend on foreign aid to survive. The Shia rebels and Islamic terrorists also cause problems by deliberately living and operating among civilians (even when the civilians are hostile to that) and ensuring that there are lots of civilian casualties for the foreign media to feast on when Shia rebels are hit with air or artillery attacks. As a result nearly half the 6,400 dead (since March 2015) have been civilians. The Shia rebels know that a peace deal means they must withdraw to their home areas in the northwest. Negotiations will be about what the Arab oil states will pay (in cash and political favors) to make this happen. Helping generate bad publicity for the members of the Arab coalition is seen by the Shia as a good negotiating tactic.

The truce has enabled government forces to go after the Sunni Islamic terrorists in the south, especially AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) which dominates most of the southeast. The Saudi led Arab coalition, which entered the civil war on the side of the government in March 2015, has over 12,000 troops in Yemen and over a hundred warplanes operating from their own airbases back home. The Sunni coalition is in Yemen to prevent the Iran-backed Shia rebels from taking control. The coalition won’t leave until the Shia threat is neutralized by treaty or force.

Making peace with the Shia rebels is complicated by the fact that a major rebel faction is led by former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who considers the elected president (Abdrabu Mansur Hadi) who followed him to be illegitimate. It’s unclear exactly what Saleh wants. Many (nearly half) of these security forces were very loyal to former president Saleh even after he was deposed in 2012. Saleh used that loyalty to quietly persuade the Shia tribes up north to try and take over the country. Saleh himself is a Shia but always got along well with Sunni politicians and tribal leaders. Because of this many military units sided with the Shia rebels or disbanded when the Shia tribes moved south in 2014. Some remained loyal to the government but they make up only about ten percent of the current government forces. Since late 2015 Saleh has come out of the shadows and admitted he was with the Shia. This was no surprise to most Yemenis as it was Saleh’s ability to assemble and manage a coalition of largely Sunni groups that kept him in power for decades. That coalition fell apart in 2011 and Saleh was deposed in 2012, after he had negotiated amnesty for himself. The Shia and Saleh insist that the elections to select a successor to Saleh were unfair. International observers declared the elections fair (at least by Yemeni standards). Saleh is believed to want more amnesty guarantees. Meanwhile the Sunni majority opposes autonomy or weapons for the Shia up north because those two things have made the Shia tribes a constant source of trouble for centuries. The Sunnis want the man they elected (Hadi) recognized as the ruler of all of Yemen. Meanwhile many Sunni tribes in the south want more autonomy, which some interpret as secession and the creation of two Yemens (as there used to be before the unification wars of the 1990s). Iran admitted its support for the Shia rebels about the same time Saleh did. But Iran has been unable to provide much tangible support because the coalition air and naval blockade has been very effective. Most, if not all, recent Iranian smuggling attempts have been detected and blocked. Cut off from material (as opposed to diplomatic and media) support the rebels are in a bad situation that is getting worse.

One thing that all Yemenis can agree on is the sorry state of their economy and the rampant corruption that creates and sustains the economic problems. The 2011 Arab Spring uprising were partly in reaction to high levels of corruption and little has changed in Yemen since 2011 when Yemenis joined the Arab Spring uprisings and got rid of their corrupt leader Saleh. Unfortunately corruption has become worse in Arab countries since 2011, especially in those that underwent a change of government. For example by 2016 62 percent of people in Arab countries thought the corruption had gotten worse. It varied quite a lot. For example in Yemen 84 percent of the people thought it had gotten worse. In Lebanon it was 92 percent, 75 percent in Jordan, while in Egypt and Algeria it was 26 percent. Only one country, Tunisia, where the Arab Spring uprisings began, saw fewer people feeling that corruption got worse. Corruption is measured each year by an international survey. The results are presented using a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The two most corrupt nations have a rating of 8 (North Korea and Somalia tied at 167th place) and the least corrupt is 91 (Denmark). A look at this index each year adds an element of reality to official government pronouncements. While there is less corruption in the developed countries, in many regions it is very bad. African nations are the most corrupt, followed by Middle Eastern ones. There Yemen currently ranks 154th, Lebanon 128th, Jordan 45th while Egypt and Algeria are tied at 88th. Tunisia ranks 76, is getting better but not fast enough for most Tunisians.

Defeating the Shia rebels won’t end the fighting. There are still separatist tribes in the south who want to partition Yemen. These tribes have put that cause aside until the Shia rebels are eliminated. Then there are the pro-government Islamic conservative militias doing a lot of the fighting. The only thing that separates these groups from Islamic terrorists is militia willingness to operate within a secular government (elected or dictatorship). These groups try to get laws passed to make Islamic law applicable to everyone and are a primary source of recruits for Islamic terrorist groups.

There have been some successes. Since mid-April AQAP has lost control of their most valuable territory in the southeast, particularly the second largest port in Yemen (Mukalla). AQAP is now trying to hold onto two smaller ports (Zinjibar and Shaqra) about 400 kilometers southwest of Mukalla and closer to Aden. While AQAP has been active in the southeast for years once the civil war began in early 2015 the Islamic terrorists were able to gain control of coastal towns and cities in the southeast. Until late April AQAP controlled more territory than the Shia rebels. This included the southeastern port of Mukalla, about 600 kilometers of coastline and much of the surrounding Hadramawt province. AQAP took control of Mukalla in April 2015. For over a year AQAP controlled most of the roads near the southeastern coast. As a result government forces or anyone else was subject to attack or, if armed, a request for a contribution of cash or goods before passing without violence. As a result of this government forces had to move in heavily armed convoys to avoid ambushes or extortion attempts. Aid convoys are also subject to demands for “taxes.” AQAP was trying to operate like a government in the southeast but was hampered by a shortage of money and regular air attacks by Arab warplanes and American UAVs. AQAP obtained most of the cash needed to run its “government” by taxing everything (commercial goods and aid supplies) coming through Mukalla. This income enabled AQAP to pay most of its “government” workers on a regular basis. With the loss of Mukulla that is no longer possible. Now AQAP has scattered to the countryside and is trying to regroup.

In contrast rival ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) has always been scattered in remote locations or urban bases in Aden and subsists on plunder. While AQAP gets weaker ISIL gets stronger, often by recruiting men who have become unhappy with AQAP. This reflects the different strategies of the two groups AQAP believes in slowly expanding while ISIL favors aggressive attacks and boldness. Neither group is doing particularly well although spectacular terror attacks attract some international media attention. Islamic terrorist defeats are not as newsworthy.

May 20, 2016: In the east, near the Saudi border, an American UAV used a missile to kill two AQAP leaders who were travelling in a vehicle.

May 19, 2016: In the southeast (outside Mukalla) government and Arab Coalition forces raided or bombed AQAP hideouts, killing 13 Islamic terrorists and capturing two. Government and coalition ground and air forces are slowly moving through the largely desert southeast to find and destroy remaining AQAP and ISIL groups in Hadramawt province, which is the largest province in Yemen and comprises 36 percent of Yemen.

May 15, 2016: In the southeast (Mukalla) an ISIL suicide bomber got inside a police compound and killed 25 local men assembled there to join the police.

May 12, 2016: In the southeast (Mukalla) an ISIL suicide bomber got close to soldiers who were awaiting the arrival of president Hadi, making his first visit to the port city since it was liberated from AQAP three weeks earlier.

May 11, 2016: In the southeast (Hadramawt province) an AQAP suicide car bomber attacked a general riding in a military convoy. The general survived unhurt but eight of his bodyguards were killed.

Saudi Arabia announced that Arab Coalition and government ground forces had the capital (Sanaa) surrounded and that if the Shia rebels did not soon make peace the Arab Coalition forces could take the city by forces. The Yemeni government would rather not do that as it would get a lot of Yemenis killed and do even more damage (than air attacks had already done) to the city.

May 9, 2016: Saudi Arabian air defense forces shot down another ballistic missile fired by Shia rebels in Yemen. The target or type of missiles was not mentioned. The Shia later announced that the missile was launched in retaliation for recent Saudi air attacks on the Shia which were in retaliation for Shia forces violating the April 10 truce. The Saudis were particularly annoyed at the Shia continuing to fire ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia. None of these missiles have hit anything of value mainly because Saudi anti-missile systems (U.S. Patriot PAC-3 missiles) were able to shoot down missiles that were headed for a populated area. The Shia rebels captured a number of SCUD and SS-21 ballistic missiles when they moved south in early 2015. Many army units joined the rebels, including troops who knew how to operate these missiles.

In the southwest (Taez province, inland, near the Red Sea coast) government forces and Shia rebels exchanged artillery and mortar fire, each accusing each other of violating the truce.

May 6, 2016: The U.S. revealed that it had sent some Special Forces troops to Yemen in early April and these American troops played a role in the recent UAE (United Arab Republic) led offensive that drove al Qaeda out of the major port of Mukulla. American special operations forces had left Yemen in early 2015 when the Shia rebels captured al Anad airbase, the largest airbase in the country and where American UAVs and special operations troops were stationed. The recently arrived American troops helped by supplying aerial surveillance of AQAP forces. The U.S. troops had equipment with them that could provide real-time video of what was going on beneath American UAVs. The U.S. also said it had resumed air strikes in Yemen, apparently using UAVs, and four of these attacks had been carried out between April 23rd and 28th.All targeted AQAP personnel.

 

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