Yemen: Iran Quietly Wins One


June 11, 2016: The peace talks continue but are stalemated over rebel refusal to surrender their heavy weapons. This includes artillery and armored vehicles seized from military bases. A lot of these were actually turned over to the rebels by commanders still loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. The rebels are also insisting that there be no retaliation against the pro-Saleh commanders 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. Saudi Arabia is particularly concerned about this, because among those heavy weapons are ballistic missiles that the rebels keep firing into Saudi Arabia. So far the Saudis have been able to shoot down these ballistic missiles with their American Patriot PAC-3 anti-missile systems. The U.S. admits that the anti-missile system is not a hundred percent effective and it is only a matter of time before one of those Yemeni ballistic missiles gets through and hits a Saudi city, oil facility or military base (the usual targets so far). The only real progress in the peace talks has been several agreements to exchange prisoners and allow safe passage of relief supplies. The government threatens to take the capital back by force but the Shia rebels don’t believe that can be done without using a lot of the professional troops from the Arab coalition and 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.

Iran Aid Pays Off

Another advantage the Shia rebels have is the intangible support from Iran. The Arab coalition air and naval blockade has kept out nearly all Iranian efforts to send in weapons or ammunition for the rebels. But Iran has a formidable Information War (propaganda and media manipulation) capability. Using this Iran has successfully made a major international issue of Arab coalition air strikes and the resulting civilian casualties. At the same time Iranian publicists and diplomats have successfully played down the Yemeni rebel practices of deliberately using civilians as human shields. Since the Arab coalition entered the Yemen civil war in early 2015 both sides have accused the other of deliberately attacking civilians. The government forces (and their Arab allies) accuse the rebels of storing weapons and housing troops in buildings also used by civilians. The Arab warplanes are using smart bombs and missiles to minimize civilian casualties (compared to previous wars) but will still attack rebel forces who are using civilians as human shields. The Arabs are not as concerned about killing human shields as Western nations and believe that this encourages civilians to avoid being used as human shields. Perhaps, but a lot of civilians are getting hurt. Saudi Arabia has its lobbyists and diplomats in the West and at the UN working overtime to deal with accusations, especially those sponsored by Iran, that the Saudi led Arab coalition air attacks in Yemen has caused over 60 percent of the civilian deaths in Yemen during 2015 The Iranians have been working this angle as much as they can, along with accusations (mostly false) that Arab forces and their tribal allies are interfering with foreign aid efforts to desperately hungry or sick Yemeni civilians. Iran has been less successful defending the Shia rebels from all sorts of misbehavior accusations. When there is a war between Shia and Sunni things tend to get ugly. It is no secret that Arabs tend to be brutal when fighting each other and regularly treat civilians badly. The Saudis and other Arab states prefer to keep this out of Western media while continuing to operate as they always have. Western governments, although not most Western media, usually cooperate as best they can about Yemen and looking the other way. But a lot of unsavory local practices are getting unwelcome international publicity.

Ugly Revelations At The UN

These Iranian efforts led to the UN putting the Saudi led coalition on its annual list of nations and organizations (like Islamic terrorists or various rebel groups in Yemen and elsewhere) that have been documented as deliberately killing children and other civilians. On June 6th, four days after the report was issued, the head of the UN went public with accusations that the Saudi led coalition was “temporarily” removed from the list because the Saudis had threatened to cut a substantial portion of the cash they provide each other to pay for UN aid efforts for Palestinians and other refugees (mostly Moslems) throughout the region. Saudi Arabia denied the UN accusation and now Iran can count another victory over the Arabs as the Saudis have to spend a lot of money and diplomatic effort to recover from these accusations.


Making peace with the Shia rebels is complicated by the fact that a major rebel faction is led by former president 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).

On The Bright Side

The April 10 truce is largely holding. 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.

In mid-April AQAP lost control of their most valuable territory in the southeast, particularly the second largest port in Yemen (Mukalla). AQAP was able to hold onto two smaller ports (Zinjibar and Shaqra) about 400 kilometers southwest of Mukalla and closer to Aden until early May, when they agreed to withdraw. AQAP still had access to some smaller ports and is still smuggling out oil it pumps from oil fields it still controls in the west. 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.

June 6, 2016: In the south (Aden) about twenty ISIL gunmen attacked one of the heavily guarded access roads to the airport. The attack was repulsed but one civilian was killed in the crossfire. ISIL said there would be more attacks like this unless the government released one of their leaders, an Algerian man who was arrested in Aden on May 28th. Six other suspected Islamic terrorist leaders were arrested at the same time. Since late 2015 government forces in Aden have been trying to force AQAP and ISIL out of the city. During 2015 AQAP and then ISIL were able to take control of some neighborhoods. The port area was particularly important for the Islamic terrorists because they can more easily get smuggled goods in if they have some control there. The government has been trying to clear AQAP and ISIL held neighborhoods but there was not enough manpower for that until early 2016. But the battle moves slowly because most government forces are needed up north fighting the Shia rebels or in the east clearing AQAP out of ports and interior towns they had taken over since 2014. AQAP and ISIL death squads continue attacking key pro-government military and intelligence personnel. There are still some Islamic terrorist attacks in rebel territory but it is more difficult for AQAP and ISIL to operate there because both groups are Sunni fanatics who consider all Shia heretics. It’s not easy hiding that at Shia controlled checkpoints.

June 2, 2016: The United States officially admitted it has been using armed UAVs to attack Islamic terrorists in Yemen recently. The U.S. specifically mentioned four recent attacks, the most recent on May 19th when an American UAV used a missile to kill two AQAP leaders who were travelling in a vehicle near the Saudi border. These UAV attacks generally ret reported by local media. It’s not difficult to identify a Hellfire missile attack. The U.S. also admitted that its special operations troops had returned as well and were assisting government forces.

June 1, 2016: In central Yemen (on the border between Marib and Shabwa provinces) Shia rebels were able to recover some of the territory they had been driven from (or retreated from) in the last two months. The rebels did this by attacking pro-government tribal militias that had less combat experience than the Shia and were known to have poor communications with the Saudi led coalition that provided air support. After three days of fighting, nearly a hundred dead and very little air support the pro-government militias pulled back. Most of the dead and wounded were among the pro-government militias, who blamed their defeat on the lack of air support. The government forces can bring in some of the professional troops it has and use them, and a lot of air support, to retake the lost ground. The problem is the majority of government forces consists of poorly trained and led militias full of largely inexperienced tribal fighters.

May 30, 2016: For the second time this month Saudi Arabian air defense forces shot down a ballistic missile fired by Shia rebels in Yemen. The target or type of missiles was not mentioned but the Saudis claim to have also destroyed the missile launcher using an air strike. 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.

May 23, 2016: In the south (Aden) an ISIL suicide car bomber got killed 0ver 40 local men (and wounded over 60) assembled there to join the army.

In the northwest near the border and the Saudi Arabian province of Jizan a Saudi solider was killed and three wounded when their patrol set off a landmine planted on the Saudi side of the border by Yemeni Shia rebels.




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