Yemen: Amateurs Drag It Out


December 8, 2015: 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 city and the province around it the Arab coalition launched a major offensive. But hard fighting over three weeks has not forced the Shia rebels back 250 kilometers to Saana (the national capital). Once that is done there will remain the effort to get the rebels out of the capital itself. The Taez offensive is advancing on several roads towards the Taez city and so far the Shia rebels have been able to slow down but not stop the advance. The rebels are using mines, ambushes and snipers to slow down the advance. This works because a lot of the attackers are tribal militia, not trained troops. That form of warfare is also used by pro-government militia against the Shia rebels in the many areas where there are no front lines and raiding parties can move around to ambush or harass the enemy. All the rebels and most of the pro-government forces are tribal militia. Without a lot more trained and well equipped (with armored vehicles) professional troops the war is going to drag on.

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 wanted 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. Meanwhile over four months of fighting in Taez have left over 1,500 dead and thousands more wounded, many of them civilians who did not flee the city. About a quarter of the casualties since the civil war began in March have occurred in Taez.

In the north several hundred Shia rebels crossed the border into Saudi Arabian province of Jizan starting on December 1st with the intention of doing as much damage as they could. Saudi ground and air forces responded but after over a week of fighting some of the Yemeni Shia gunmen are still north of the border. The Saudis claim to have killed over 200 of the invaders so far.  

The fighting drags on because the Shia tribes are much more united than the more numerous Sunni ones. This chaos allows the Islamic terrorists to take control of more towns and villages. The two major players here are 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. 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.

UN organized peace talks between Iran backed Shia rebels and the Yemen government will finally begin on December 15th. 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. The scope of the Arab involvement in Yemen 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. Iraq is pretty much depending on Iran and the West to defeat ISIL for them.

December 7, 2015: In the north (Jawf province) pro-government Sunni and rebel Shia tribes have continued fighting for control of territory. Since the Sunni tribes now have air support from the Arab coalition and access to training and supplies (weapons, ammo, medical) they have been able to drive Shia tribesmen out of most of the 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.

December 6, 2015: In the south (Aden) the governor of Aden was killed, along with seven of his bodyguards, by an ISIL roadside bomb. This was one of the boldest Islamic terrorist attacks yet and reminded everyone that once the Shia rebels were taken care of, the next priority should be ISIL and AQAP. Islamic terrorism has been a nuisance in Yemen since the 1990s and most Yemenis are done with it.

December 5, 2015: In the south (Aden) Islamic terrorist gunmen murdered a judge and his four bodyguards. The judge had proved immune to bribes and threats and was considered a major threat to captured Islamic terrorists.

Pro-government forces seized several tons of Iranian weapons and ammo be hidden in six trucks carrying commercial goods. The drivers picked up the weapons at a small coastal town in southern Yemen where the shipment had apparently gotten past the Arab/U.S. naval blockade, probably using fishing boats of the numerous small wooden coastal transports. That blockade has been largely, but obviously not entirely effective. The weapons were headed for the Iran backed Shia rebels.

December 2, 2015: In the south (Abyan province) AQAP fighters briefly occupied the towns of Zinjibar and Jaar. Both these towns are about 50 kilometers east of Aden. This sort of thing forces the pro-government forces to devote a lot of men to garrisoning towns in areas where Islamic terrorists are active. This means most of the southeast.

December 1, 2015: In the north Shia rebels clashed with Saudi troops on the border in several incidents. The Saudis reported three soldiers died in the southwest (Jizan province). So far this year about 80 Saudis, mostly military and police, have died in this border violence.

November 28, 2015: Off the south coast Arab coalition warplanes attacked and destroyed a cargo ship carrying weapons for the Shia rebels. There have been several attacks like this recently as Iran continues its efforts to smuggle weapons to the Shia rebels. Iran know that if you offer a high enough fee smugglers will take extraordinary risks to deliver the goods. A growing number of these ships are not getting through, but some still do.

November 26, 2015: The UAE sent 400 men from its mercenary brigade to join the fighting in Yemen. These are combat experienced professionals who are apparently getting a hefty bonus to speed things up in Yemen. The UAE brigade dates back to 2011 when the UAE formed a battalion of 800 troops composed of Western contractors who were already combat veterans. This force was recruited from men who had combat experience and were then trained as a counter-terrorism and rapid reaction force. This “contractor” battalion was but a small portion of the many foreigners already serving in the UAE armed forces. Hiring foreign mercenaries, to ensure that the rulers are protected by troops who are the most skilled and reliable, is an old custom in the region. Actually, it used to be a widespread practice. Some Western nations, like the Vatican, still retains foreign mercenaries. In this case, it's the Swiss Guards, which the popes have been using for over 500 years ago, because the locals were too often unreliable.



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