Yemen: Deadline To Deal Or Depart

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July 21, 2016: Kuwait, which hosts the UN brokered Yemen peace talks, has told everyone involved that they have until August 5 th to reach an agreement, because if they don’t everyone will have to find somewhere else to hold the talks. The peace talks have been going on for months without much progress. There was an “indefinite ceasefire” agreed to in April but that has been regularly violated in several areas. There was also an agreement to release all prisoners and this was only partially fulfilled. Meanwhile many senior officials in the Yemen government and in the Arab nations providing military assistance and troops are saying that the fighting will be over by the end of the year. President Hadi, the last elected leader of Yemen and the one the Shia rebels ousted in early 2015, recently announced that the Saudi led coalition is assembling a large enough force to take the capital, Sanaa, back from the rebels. This month more armored vehicles and artillery have been reinforcing the coalition forces surrounding Sanaa. The Saudi led coalition also has enough airpower to hit all known or suspected rebel targets in Sanaa, but this would do enormous damage to the city. Yemen is so broke (even before the rebellion) that it would take decades to rebuild the capital.

The only real progress since the peace talks began in April has been several agreements to exchange prisoners (over 700 so far) and allow safe passage of relief supplies. The Shia rebels don’t believe Arab coalition is willing to risk the losses necessary to take Sanaa. The rebels know that the public support in the Gulf oil states for participation in the Yemen war would rapidly erode if there were a lot of casualties among their troops. So far the rebels have been right about this. Yet the Saudis cannot afford to leave a hostile Iranian-supported enclave on their southwestern border and it appears the Saudis feel they have to do whatever it takes to prevent the Iran backed Shia rebels from remaining active. Meanwhile Iran continues to back the rebels, especially when it comes to propaganda. Iran and its allies Russia and China are all using their state controlled media to make the Yemen rebels look more successful than they actually are. Iran continues trying to smuggle in weapons and military supplies. Some of those efforts appear to be succeeding.

Some 6,400 have died since March 2015 with over hundred killed so far in July as Shia rebels and Islamic terrorists fight each other in several parts of the country. The coalition uses air strikes and the rebels’ rocket and mortar attacks that kill a lot of civilians as well as some armed men. The rebels also use gunfire and rockets (and an occasional missile) to attacks soldiers and civilians on the Saudi side of the Yemen-Saudi border.

The peace talks are deadlocked because the Shia rebels don’t trust the government to keep promises and refuse to surrender their heavy weapons. This includes artillery and armored vehicles seized from military bases as well as ballistic missiles that have been fired at targets in Saudi Arabia (so far unsuccessfully) as well as government held areas in Yemen. Some of these ballistic missile attacks did succeed inside Yemen but by the end of 2015 the Arab coalition had moved anti-missile systems south to defend their forces inside Yemen. A lot of these heavy weapons were actually turned over to the rebels by commanders still loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. The rebels are in debt to Saleh for things like that and insisting that there be no retaliation against the pro-Saleh commanders and tribal leaders who joined the rebel cause. The government and their Arab allies are willing to make compromises on the disloyal officers and much else, but not on the rebels desire to keep their heavy weapons. The agreement to allow safe passage of relief supplies was seen as crucial for both sides. Over 70 percent of Yemenis are now dependent on foreign food aid and that includes a lot of pro-rebel civilians. So both sides generally allow the aid convoys to pass, although sometimes trucks are stopped and searched for items (like weapons and military equipment) they are not supposed to be carrying. The rebels also refuse to accept the government that was elected after former “president-for-life” Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced out in 2012. This new government is much less tolerant of Shia than Saleh, who is Shia but trusted by a lot of Sunnis.

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 dominated most of the southeast for a year. By mid-2016 AQAP had been driven out of the towns and cities it had occupied in the southeast since early 2015. ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) has a much smaller presence in the south and has never controlled populated areas. Both AQAP and ISIL are now reduced to making the occasional (several a month each) attacks in the south.

July 20, 2016: In the south (Aden) an ISIL suicide bomber attacked an army checkpoint, killing four soldiers and wounding six.

July 19, 2016: In the southwest (Taez province, inland, near the Red Sea coast) government forces pushed Shia rebels out of a key area south of Taez City that gave government forces a shorter route from Aden to Taez City, where Shia rebels continue to hold some neighborhoods. The Shia resistance continued in Taiz because the province has a lengthy Red Sea coastline which enabled smugglers to bring in weapons and other aid for the Shia rebels even though the rebels gradually lost control of most of the Taiz coast. This made smuggling operations along the Red Sea coast more difficult but obviously not impossible. There are Red Sea smugglers who will (for a much larger fee) get stuff in although the naval patrols have become more intense in an effort to halt all aid to the rebels. Since early 2015 over a third of the nearly 10,000 deaths in the Yemen civil war have occurred in and around Taiz city. Apparently some of the smuggling efforts are succeeding.

Shia rebels claim to have used two Iranian Zelzal-3 unguided rockets since the 13th. The one fired today was directed at a Saudi military base at Jizan, which is 150 kilometers from the border. It is unclear how the rebels got these Zelzal-3 rockets. If they have them there were apparently in one of the few Iranian smuggling ships that got through the blockade. Zelzal-3 is a 3.9 ton missile based on the Russian Cold War era FROG (Free Rocket Over Ground) rocket. Zelzal-3 has a max range of 250 kilometers and Iran claims it can land within 300 meters of what it is aimed at. The one launched on the 13th hit a military base in central Yemen (Marib province) but only caused a few casualties. The one aimed at the base in Saudi Arabia claims to have killed three Saudi soldiers. No comment yet from the Saudis but if this attack was successful it would be the first successful rebel missile attack on a target in Saudi Arabia. Several other attempts used ballistic missiles that were all intercepted by American Patriot anti-missile missiles.

July 18, 2016: In the southeast (Mukalla, second largest, after Aden, port in Yemen) AQAP suicide bombers attacked two army checkpoints, killing 11 people.

July 17, 2016: In the south (Shabwa province) an American missile from a UAV hit a vehicle carrying three AQAP men, killing them all.

July 15, 2016: In the south (Aden) an AQAP suicide bomber attacked a convoy, wounding three people but missing the governor of Aden, whose vehicle was undamaged.

July 6, 2016: In the south (Aden) two suicide car bombs hit the entrance to a military base near the airport. This was followed by several small rockets landing in or near the base and twenty Islamic terrorists getting into the base. After several hours of fighting all the Islamic terrorists were killed along with six soldiers with several more soldiers wounded. The nearby airport was closed for several hours. It was unclear if ISIL or AQAP was responsible for this attack but ISIL was suspected because this is the sort of attack they have made before.

 

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