Yemen: Grinding Out An Expensive Victory

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September 22, 2015: The fighting has been more intense since the September 4 th rebel ballistic missile attack that killed 67 foreign (mainly UAE and Saudi) soldiers. After that the Arab coalition visibly increased their air attacks. Reinforcements were sent and there are now about 5,000 foreign troops in Yemen. This was all to support a ground offensive against the rebel held capital (Saana) finally began on September 12th. While the air attacks quickly blew a lot of things up and killed lots of rebels and civilians the ground offensive moved slowly because of stubborn and skillful resistance by the Shia rebels. The pro-government forces are about a hundred kilometers from the capital.

The rebels quickly lost control of five southern provinces after a late July offensive by Arab coalition backed pro-government ground forces began. Moving out from Aden this force was aided by pro-government tribal militias advancing from the west. Shia rebel forces in the south were hurt, but not destroyed and retreated to central Yemen to defend the capital and the Shia homeland in the north. Thus Shia rebels are still fighting in Marib province and other areas around the capital. The Arab Gulf states have been recruiting and maintaining control over the tribal militias by paying monthly salaries (several hundred dollars, more for leaders), supplying weapons and vehicles as well as ammo, other supplies and medical care. Given the sorry state of the Yemeni economy, this is an attractive deal for these Sunni tribesmen, many of whom would have fought anyway. On the downside most of these gunmen are inexperienced and untrained (many are teenagers) and the 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.

In the east, mainly in Hadramawt province, there also problems with Islamic terror groups. AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) rebels continue to control the port city of Mukalla and most of Hadramawt. In the northern portion of Hadramawt there are some pro-Shia army units that seem to have an unofficial truce with AQAP. These army units may soon be gone via desertion or inability to survive a determined attack. The only opposition on the ground are small groups of former AQAP members who have joined ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant).  Islamic terrorists take credit for most of the terror attacks against Shia in the capital but there have been fewer of those lately. ISIL and AQAP are technically at war with each other but that seems to have been put aside for the moment because of the Shia threat and the open involvement of Shia Iran. Some of these Islamic terrorists are showing up further west. There these small groups of Islamic terrorists try to carry out attacks against Shia rebels and recruit allies from among the Sunni tribal militias. Because of this de facto Islamic terrorist help against the Shia rebels the counter-terrorism efforts by government forces has largely lapsed. The only ones fighting the Sunni Islamic terrorists are the Iran-backed Shia rebels and the Americans (via UAVs). As a result of all this in the southwest (Taiz) pro-government forces have held most of the city for over a month but some Shia rebels continue to hold ground because of  divisions among the tribal militias there and the presence of some Islamic terrorists.

Since this civil war began in March nearly 5,000 have died. Most of the dead are the result of air attacks, which was not news worldwide because the bombs were Arab not Israeli.

September 21, 2015: There were more (than usual) air attacks on Saana as the Shia rebels staged celebrations in the city to commemorate the one year anniversary of their taking control of the city. Back then the government and rebels had recently signed a UN brokered peace deal to prevent this but the Shia rebels decided it was preferable to make an effort to seize control of the government and the country.  The Shia rebels declared September 21st a new national holiday but most of the people in the capital disagree with that. While many Saana residents supported the Shia rebels initially, mainly because of promises to address corruption, most have since changed their minds. The corruption in undiminished and the Shia rebels have brought with them only death, destruction and economic ruin.

In a goodwill gesture the Shia rebels freed six foreigners (three Saudis, two Americans and one British) they had arrested and jailed earlier in the year for no particular reason.

September 20, 2015: In the north two Saudi border guards were killed when their vehicle came under fire from the Yemeni side.

September 19, 2015: Oman, which is not part of the Arab coalition, complained to Saudi Arabia that an Arab warplane had deliberately hit the Oman embassy in Saana. The Saudis denied the accusation and blamed the Shia rebels for using mortars to hit the embassy while Arab warplanes were overhead. The Gulf Arab states in the coalition are not happy with Oman over this. While Oman is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), along with Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, the Omanis have long followed a more independent foreign policy, especially with regard to Yemen and Iran.  A hereditary monarchy, Oman has been ruled by the Saidi family continuously since 1749. Oman is one of the best run nations in the Gulf, suffering little from Islamic terrorism or popular unrest.

September 18, 2015: In the north three civilians in Saudi Arabia were killed and 28 wounded when they came under fire from the Yemeni side. So far this year most of the 70 or so people killed on the Saudi side of the border by this sort of thing and most of the dead have been military personnel. The Saudis fire back with artillery and air strikes and appear to cause even heavier losses on the Yemeni side.

September 16, 2015: More Yemeni government officials arrived from Saudi Arabia where the elected Yemeni government had fled earlier in the year. But now most of the officials who had gone into Saudi exile have returned and established a temporary capital in Aden. The head of this government, president Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, does not appear to have returned yet, but several members of his immediate family have and the president is expected soon.

September 14, 2015: The Arab League backed Yemen government refused a UN offer to help negotiate a peace deal with the Shia rebels. The Arabs believe they can defeat the Shia rebels and want no part of any peace deal that would leave the Shia tribes with control of any territory. Earlier in 2015 Iran confirmed that it had been quietly supporting the Shia tribes in Yemen and the Sunni majority of Yemen believe Iran would continue that support if they had the opportunity.

September 13, 2015: In the north Shia rebels fired across the border and killed five Saudi soldiers. Further north (Taif) a Saudi AH-64 helicopter crashed during training, killing the pilot.

September 11, 2015: Egypt denied news stories that Egypt had sent 800 soldiers to fight Shia rebels in Yemen.

 

 

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