Yemen: A Particularly Costly Defeat For Iran


November 2, 2015: The Shia rebels are not getting much help from their main supporter; Iran. While things are going well for Iran in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq the pro-Iran Shia rebels of Yemen are facing defeat. This comes despite help from Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah smugglers and military advisors. The worst aspect of all this is that the foreign intervention was all Arab (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain), using their modern Western weapons. The Arabs are succeeding, which does not bode well for Iran which has long (at least in the last few centuries) relied on its superior military capabilities to intimidate their Arab neighbors.  What’s going on in Yemen is diminishing that threat quite a bit. It makes Yemen a particularly costly defeat for Iran.

Nevertheless the Arab support in Yemen is not without problems. Most of the pro-government forces in Yemen are tribal militias. The Yemeni military has fallen apart since the unrest began in 2011. Back then the security forces contain 150,000 men. There were 80,000 troops in the armed forces, plus 70,000 in paramilitary forces (50,000 police and 20,000 in tribal militias that are on the payroll, an effort to keep them loyal.) Many (nearly half) of these security forces were very loyal to former president Saleh who was deposed in 2012 and played a role in persuading 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. As a result 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. There are somewhat more foreign troops and the bulk of the pro-government forces are tribal militias. Many of the Sunni tribes, especially in the south, have not sent men to fight the rebels yet and the government is working to persuade more tribes to do so. Cash helps but the Arab allies are wary of giving the government too much cash since Yemen has long been notorious for its high levels of corruption, even during a national crises. Nevertheless more tribes are sending contingents (from a few dozen to a few hundred men) to join the fight. A growing number of volunteers are coming from areas where the Shia rebels are fighting, and attacking civilians in the process. The Arab coalition offers some brief training for these volunteers, if only to improve communications and help prevent friendly fire, but some tribesmen refuse the training and are allowed to join the fight anyway. The Arab coalition has also persuaded (with cash and other favors) three more African nations (Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan) to send troops to join the coalition. Most of these (about 12,000) will come from Sudan. Eritrea is sending about 400 troops and Somalia is sending a token number of troops but is mainly allowing the Arab coalition to use Somali territory and air space The coalition needs more professional (and disciplined) troops to augment the often undependable and unpredictable tribal militias. Senegal has already agreed to send about two thousand troops. The Sudanese forces have been arriving over the last few weeks and are apparently already in action in Ibb and nearby provinces.

The UN has tried to arrange a peace or at least a ceasefire but the government insists that the Shia rebel fighters withdraw to their tribal lands (Saada province) in the far northwest first and the rebels refuse to consider that. So the fighting continues, even if the rebels lose more territory each week. The UN estimates that about 5,000 have died since March (when the heavy fighting began) and about half of those dead were civilians most of them victims of air attacks. Both sides have not given up completely on negotiations and the UN expects talks to resume by mid-November.

Pro-government forces continue to battle Shia rebels in Taez, capital of Taez province (inland, near the Red Sea coast). The Shia rebels continue to block roads and survive constant air attacks. As a result the population of Taez city is in bad shape because problems (with rebel roadblocks and ambushes) makes it difficult (but not impossible) to get supplies through. This has driven up prices in the city and caused shortages. The population of Taez is suffering.

The UAE has donated three AT-802 single engine turbo-prop patrol aircraft to the Yemeni Air Force and is training more pilots and maintenance personnel to operate these light bombers. There are already some Yemeni (or UAE) pilots operating the Yemeni AT-802s. These aircraft can use GPS and laser guided bombs.

Northeast of Taez the rebels are also holding out in Ibb province and northeast of Ibb there is a similar situation in Marib province. All this is part of a rebel effort to hold on to the capital (Saana) and force the government forces and their foreign allies to offer better surrender terms. That has not been successful and the leader (Saudi Arabia) of the Arab coalition backing the government forces believes that the Shia rebels will break and be defeated soon. Government forces have regained a lot of lost territory in nearby Baida province.

A lot of the economic damage has been from declines in illegal activities. For example there are fewer refugees coming across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia. This year is appears that only about 70,000 refugees will land, which is down nearly from over 100,000 a year in 2012. Another factor reducing the flow of refugees is the Saudi crackdown on illegal migrants. Over a million have been sent home since 2012, many to the countries that most of the refugees landing in Yemen come from. Yemen is still hosting over 500,000 refugees from Africa, most of them brought over by Yemeni smugglers (most get to Yemen via Somali and other African smugglers). About half the refugees are from Somalia. Hosting all these people is an economic burden, even if foreign aid is used to supply most of the refugee needs. But with worsening water shortages and growing unemployment, even the foreign aid does not solve all the problems the refugees cause. Yemen has been unable to get other countries to provide more help, in part because a lot of the aid is stolen by Yemenis. Many coastal communities are obviously suffering from the loss of income from the people smuggling. This despite the fact that the smugglers have picked up some business from Yemenis willing to pay to be smuggled to Africa.

ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) and AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) are spending more time attacking the government than each other or the Shia rebels. These Islamic terrorist groups are seeking power in the Sunni south, where they can recruit and have some allies among tribes seeking to create a separate Yemen state in the south. This is all widely known and accepted in the south. Yet Iranian media pushes the idea that the Saudis are flying ISIL Islamic terrorists in from Syria to help with the fight against Shia rebels in the north. This sort of paranoia plays well throughout the Middle East and is regularly used against enemies local and foreign. For example many Moslems (Sunni and Shia) believe that ISIL is the creation of the United States and Israel. Meanwhile many southerners are fighting the Shia rebels only until the Shia are pushed out of the south. After that these southern tribesmen want to fight the government forces who oppose the partition of Yemen.

The UN is increasing its efforts to eliminate the continued use of “child soldiers”. The latest UN effort is in Yemen where it has documented that about a third of the gunmen fighting for the Iran backed Shia rebels are, by UN definition, “child soldiers.” At the moment the rebels are vulnerable to UN pressure as they are losing and their patron Iran is pressuring the rebels to do what they can to placate the UN.  That won’t be easy because the Arab tribes in Yemen and elsewhere have been using “child soldiers” for thousands of years and in the last few decades that has gotten even easier.

November 1, 2015: On the Saudi border a shell fired by Shia rebels inside Yemen killed a Saudi border guard. The Saudis quickly fired back but the mortar team probably moved quickly after firing. Saudi border defenses are formidable, including a lot of electronic gear (like radars that can track where a mortar shell came from). While the attacks from Yemen have diminished over the last few months they have not ceased and probably will not until there is a peace deal.

October 31, 2015:  Islamic terrorist death squads killed two intelligence officials in the southern port of Aden in two separate attacks. A third attack failed to kill a prosecutor. The Islamic terrorists see the intelligence forces as a primary foe as without the ability to hide among the population the Islamic terrorists would soon be found and killed.

October 28, 2015: In the southern port city of Aden a college was bombed by two men riding past on a motorcycle. There were some broken windows but no casualties. The college had been warned by Islamic terrorists to stop allowing men and women to attend classes together. Islamic terrorists are largely operating in the south, in areas under government control. The northern Shia areas are more hostile to these Sunni Islamic terror organizations (ISIL and AQAP).

October 26, 2015: In the south (Aden) a suicide bomber attacked tribal militiamen manning a checkpoint outside the city and killed two of them.

In north, an ISIL suicide bomber attacked a Shia mosque across the border in the Saudi town of Najran. Several died and over a dozen were wounded. It is unclear if the bomber was from an ISIL group in Saudi Arabia or Yemen. ISIL took credit for the attack. There was a shooting attack on Saudi Shia on October 16th in the northeast, far from Yemen. Most Saudi Shia live in the northeast but several hundred thousand live near the Yemen border and share the same form of Shia beliefs as the Yemeni Shia rebels. These Saudi Shia have remained loyal to the Saudi government so far. 

The Shia rebels again claim to have sunk a third Arab coalition ship off the Yemen coast using Chinese or Iranian anti-ship missiles. The Rebels made their first such claim in early October but it is doubtful they actually did any damage. The rebels have not been able to provide any proof, other than some vague videos. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to hide the fact that a naval or commercial ship took a hit like that. No one has come forward with any pictures or video of a ship that has been hit.

October 25, 2015: In the south (Aden) about thirty Islamic terrorists stormed into a supermarket to protest the practice it allowing male and female employees to work together. The gunmen also demanded that the women working or shopping there cover their heads and faces. This was said to be the final warning before the Islamic terrorists took violent action. As security forces approached the armed men got into their four vehicles and drove away. There are not enough soldiers or police in Aden to keep out large groups of Islamic terrorists, who are now trying to establish control of some neighborhoods and eventually take control of the city. The Arab coalition is assisting the Yemeni government to build a counter-terrorist force to battle the increasingly assertive Islamic terrorists from AQAP and ISIL. 

October 23, 2015: In the north (Saana, the capital) Arab coalition aircraft hit the home of a Yemeni government official who is now working for the Shia rebels. The attack came while a meeting between senior Shia rebel officials and Iranians was taking place. The Arab coalition claims that nearly a hundred people were killed, including some senior people. There were about fifty wounded. The Shia rebels have a problem in Saana as many of the locals are pro-government and keep quiet about it. This enabled the government to build and operate an informant network. 

October 21, 2015: The UAE has brought in police training experts to run a short course for 6,000 Yemeni men selected to be policemen in the southern city of Aden. The lack of police has led to an increase in crime and Islamic terrorist activity. Some of the police trainees would be flown to UAE for more specialized training.

October 20, 2015: Despite Iranian protests Sudanese troops continued to arrive in Yemen. Sudan is doing this because Sudan is largely Sunni and its president had been indicted as a war criminal for backing a war against black skinned Sudanese (who are Moslem) in the west and Christians in the south. This made Sudan an international pariah but Arab states stuck by the Sudanese president, in part because he was championing Arab culture. His internal war perpetuated hostility of the Arab speaking Sudanese against those who looked the same, were Moslem but not culturally Arab. The Christians in the south were infidels and dealt with accordingly. For decades Iran has also supported the Sudanese government with weapons, military assistance and whatever else their Sudanese allies needed. But in the end the Sunni-Shia rivalry turned out to be more important. The fact that Saudi Arabia has more money to throw around played a part as well. The Saudis also help persuade countries where the Sudanese president wants to visit to ignore the UN arrest order.

October 19, 2015: Sudan announced that it will send another 450 soldiers to fight in Yemen. The government expects the force to participate in an offensive to retake the town of Taiz.

October 17, 2015: In the southwest (Taez, on the Red Sea) coalition aircraft bombed pro-government tribesmen, killing 30 and wounding 40. This is a major problem when working with a lot of tribal militias. Most of these gunmen and their leaders are inexperienced about working with professional military forces, especially air support. Most of the tribal fighters are untrained and many are teenagers) and the professional Arab troops go to great lengths to avoid friendly fire incidents. In general coordinating operations that involve the militias is difficult and slows things down. And sometimes the precautions are not enough.

In the south (Aden) an Islamic terrorist assassin killed an aid worker from the UAE. The Arab Gulf oil states have been the main suppliers of foreign aid to Yemen for years.

October 16, 2015: In the central Yemen “Sheba region” (Marib, Baida and Jawf provinces) Shia rebels drove pro-government forces out of Baida province after weeks of bloody fighting. Fighting continues elsewhere in the Sheba region. The pro-government tribes have been far more numerous and active in Marib, where the oil and natural gas is. Marib is also the gateway to Saana, the rebel held national capital. The fighting in the Sheba region is mainly carried out by tribal militias who are technically the equal of the Shia rebel tribesmen but have been bested in Baida by Shia reinforcements and the Shia ability to keep moving despite the frequent air attacks.

In the west (Hodaida) AQAP suicide bombers and gunmen attacked an intelligence facility and killed ten of the soldiers guarding the place while losing two of their own. The attack failed.

October 15, 2015: For the third time since June Shia rebels in Yemen launched a SCUD ballistic missile against a major Saudi Arabian base. This one was not intercepted and landed near the air base in southwest Saudi Arabia. There were no reports of damage to the base. The Shia rebels said this SCUD, apparently launched from near the capital Saana, was in retaliation for many air attacks on Saana. Later in the day the Saudis carried out several more air strikes on Saana. For the first two SCUD attacks the Saudis used Patriot missiles to intercept. There were apparently no Patriots operating in southwest Saudi Arabia. The Saudis see Iran as their main foe and have most air defense systems deployed to deal with attacks from Iran. These Yemeni SCUD 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.



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