Yemen: Defeating Iran Here Is A Big Deal


November 20, 2015: Iran has been urging the UN to get peace talks going and with it a ceasefire. The UN keeps talking about getting a peace conference started this month but that does not seem to be happening because both sides are haggling over details. The UN believes 32,000 people have been hurt since the war began in March. Nearly 17 percent of those casualties were fatal. Most of the casualties have been civilians. The chaos has cut off over a third of the population from regular food supplies and even more no longer have access to healthcare.

The Arab coalition is being forced to deal with many of the problems that caused the civil war in the first place. The biggest problem is controlling the dozens of major tribes, many of them demanding more money, weapons and attention than the Arab coalition members are willing or able to provide. Then there is the corruption. The Arab coalition works through the tribal leaders, who are often corrupt, even with their own people. Giving payroll cash to tribal leaders to pay their militiamen often causes problems as the money mysteriously disappears and the tribal leaders blame the Arab coalition or anyone else. Then there are the local rivalries as well as the separatist (divide the country in two) sentiments among many southern tribes. Of course, the separatists want to have the oil, which is in the middle of the country. Meanwhile long-standing tribal feuds often cause pro-government tribes to refuse to follow orders or get distracted actually fighting with a rival tribe. Then there’s the issue of unity, or lack of it. The fighting drags on because the Shia tribes are much more united than the more numerous Sunni ones. Finally there are the Islamic terrorists. This is mainly about ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) and AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula). These two groups 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. Then there the many widely believed myths. 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 major problem for the government forces is a shortage of trained soldiers. The pro-government militias are undisciplined and often unreliable as well. The militias rarely have people who can handle clearing landmines, which the Shia rebels are using a lot to slow down the advance. This includes anti-vehicle as well as anti-personnel mines. The Shia rebels also use roadside bombs, as do the Islamic terrorists. Yemen signed the international treaty banning landmines and destroyed its own stocks in 2002. The Shia are using black market mines from smugglers. These mines are Cold War surplus from East European stocks. Many East European nations had their many Cold War arms warehouses looted when communist rule collapsed in 1989 and most of those weapons ended up on the black market.

The Arab coalition is trying, with mixed success, to get tribesmen to join paramilitary units. This would mean better pay, wearing uniforms (as members of the security forces) and following orders. That last item discourages most potential recruits. That’s mainly because tribesmen are being asked to go into battle led by some stranger. Moreover there is a shortage of qualified NCOs and officers for these new units. Nevertheless the program continues and at least trains a lot of tribesmen on how to perform more effectively in combat.

Adding to the chaos is a generally hostile attitude by everyone towards journalists, especially foreign ones. Every faction wants to drive away journalists who will not write favorable stories about them, no matter what. Also there is a generally accepted belief that most foreign journalists, in addition to writing stories that make Yemen look bad, are also collecting data for foreign intelligence agencies. As a result of this most of the news from Yemen comes via military briefings and these tend to be very biased and often inaccurate. Fortunately there is still some telephone and Internet access inside Yemen and it is possible to get some reliable witnesses to report what they have seen.

The port city of Aden has become particularly difficult to run as local militias refuse to cooperate with the national government (which is temporarily housed in Aden) and the situation is so bad the Islamic terrorist groups can freely drive around, with weapons, in many parts of the city. This reached the point where one group of Islamic terrorists drove into the campus of Aden University several times demanding that male and female students do not mingle, even in class. At one point the Islamic terrorists even took control of the main gate until driven off by troops.

Meanwhile Kuwait and other Gulf oil states are providing the cash to take care of nearly 100,000 Yemeni refugees in northern Somalia (Puntland). That’s how desperate many Yemenis have become, fleeing to Somalia for sanctuary.

Pro-government forces continue to battle Shia rebels in Taez, capital of Taez province (inland, near the Red Sea coast). As part of an effort to get the rebels completely out of Taez the Arab coalition is four days into a major offensive to drive Shia rebels back to the Saana (the national capital) and then out of the capital itself. This offensive is advancing on several roads towards the capital and so far the Shia rebels have been able to slow down but not stop the advance. Northeast of Taez the rebels are also holding out in Ibb province and northeast of Ibb there is a similar situation in Marib province. Government forces have regained a lot of lost territory in nearby Baida province. The coalition wants the rebels to concentrate a large defensive or counterattack force that can then be torn apart by air attacks. So far the rebels are not cooperating. Apparently the rebels are trying to delay defeat until there are peace talks and the Shia tribes of the north can get an acceptable long-term deal. That has not been successful so far and the leader (Saudi Arabia) of the Arab coalition backing the government forces believes that the Shia rebels will break and be defeated soon, or at least eventually.

For most Gulf oil states the war in Yemen is more important than the fight against ISIL in Iraq and Syria. That’s because the Arabs see Yemen as a bold Iranian attempt to seize control of the most populous, but poorest, country in the Arabian Peninsula. The Arabs were shocked at how close Iran came to succeeding, But unlike Syria the Iranian prospects in Yemen are less promising. The pro-Iran Shia rebels of Yemen are facing defeat and Iran has been unable to do much about it. The Yemen rebels have not been able to obtain much support from Iran because of the Arab air and naval blockade. The U.S. is helping with this but it is the Arab forces who are doing most of the work and these efforts have been effective. 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. The Yemen rebels still hold the capital and areas around that city but without some military assistance from Iran the Arab coalition will eventually win, and Iran will very publicly lose.

The scope of the Arab involvement can be seen by the fact that for the first time since 1991 these Arab states have sent their regular troops (as opposed to a few commandos) into combat. Although these Arab states publicly sent their warplanes to join the American led coalition bombing ISIL in Iraq and Syria, soon after the Arab coalition aircraft began attack Shia rebels in March the Arab warplanes began disappearing from Iraq and Syria and now all are devoted to attacking targets in Yemen and keeping an eye on Iran. For the Arabs Iran is, and always has been, the most dangerous foe and defeating Iran in Yemen is a big deal.

November 18, 2015: In the capital the Shia rebels freed three Americans (two of them UN employees) they had been holding prisoner. The three left by air.

November 17, 2015: President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi returned to Aden. He left in October after Islamic terrorists bombed the hotel where he and other government ministers were working and living. But now he will live and work in a refurbished presidential compound guarded by Arab coalition troops (including some commandos). The presidential compound had been damaged during the fighting in to expel Shia rebels from the city. The rest of the government officials will soon return to Aden as well as soon as facilities to safely house them are ready.

November 16, 2015: Arab coalition and pro-government militias launched a major offensive to drive Shia rebels out of Taez city, capital of Taez province. The rebels have led the city since September 2014 and it is astride a main road to Saana, the national capital.

November 8, 2015: The Shia rebels moved reinforcements towards Damt, a town southeast of Ibb province and held by pro-government tribesmen. The tribesmen retreated and it took a while for sufficient forces to be assembled to push the rebels out of Damt. Pro-government forces had driven the rebels out of Damt in early October.

Another 400 troops from Sudan arrived in Aden. These will join the 500 who arrived on October 19th. The Arab coalition persuaded (with cash and other favors) Sudan, Senegal, 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 agreed to send about two thousand troops.

November 3, 2015: There was a gun battle in Aden between guards at the presidential palace and pro-government militiamen angry about not being paid on time. 

November 2, 2015: The UAE sent 30 armored trucks for the pro-government fighting inside Taez city against Shia rebels. The UAE also announced that it was adopting the Western practice of rotating combat troops and replacements have been trained and were about to move to Yemen to relieve the UAE troops that have been there for seven months. Western forces have used this rotation policy, using tours of duty ranging from three to twelve months. Six months appears to have been the optimal period of combat before being relieved. The UAE rotation is expected to be completed in a week.



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