Yemen: No Peace Anytime Soon

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August 10, 2016: The civil war has turned into an endurance contest. Peace talks have collapsed and are supposed to resume sometime in September somewhere. The Shia rebels and their Iranian backers believe the Arab coalition will grow tired of the expense (over a billion dollars a month) of supporting the elected Sunni government against the Shia minority rebels. The rebels are demanding complete amnesty and a permanent role in the government plus other privileges to protect the Shia from increasingly hostile Sunni conservatives like AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) and ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). The Shia are seeing signs of war weariness among Yemeni Sunnis as well. Wealthy Sunnis who have helped finance Sunni militias are withdrawing their support and often leaving the country.

The Arab coalition has not disclosed its losses but there have been several hundred dead so far as well as more than a dozen jets and helicopters (crashed or shot down) and more than twenty tanks (mainly American M-1s) and even more less well protected armored vehicles destroyed or damaged beyond repair. The Saudis have about 400 M-1s in Yemen and the Saudis and other coalition states have more than a thousand other armored vehicles there as well.

UN investigators found that one reason for the Shia rebels have refused to leave the capital was because being there gave them enough control of the Central Bank to divert over $100 million a month from the national reserves to finance their rebellion. The rebels have managed to get more than $3 billion this way since late 2014. The UN investigators also found ample evidence of the rebels deliberately using civilians as human shields. But the investigators found the Arab coalition ignored the human shields and carried out artillery and air attacks anyway. The UN investigators also found that the rebels and Islamic terrorists (AQAP and ISIL) had enough cash to entice smugglers to get some weapons shipments through the blockade. The investigators also found evidence that some of the smugglers were working for, and controlled by, Iran.

August 9, 2016: The Arab coalition resumed their air attacks on the rebel held capital (Saana). There had been no attacks since May as several rounds of peace talks were held. The negotiations failed. The air strikes on Saana were at night and hit rebel military bases as well as an industrial compound that was long used by the military. That had changed and now there were some industrial operations and in once case a night shift. Thus 14 civilians were killed, which Iran and their allies Russia and China heavily publicized as a deliberate atrocity by the evil Arabs.

August 8, 2016: In the south the Arab coalition continues clearing Islamic terrorists from towns and villages they have been using as bases (for bomb building and training fighters and suicide bombers). Today AQAP was driven out of the town of Azzan in Shabwa province. This is just north of Hadramawt province and Mukalla (the largest city in the province). This year ISIL and AQAP became temporary allies because since early 2016 the Arab coalition has been going after Islamic terrorists in the southeast. In April AQAP lost control of their most valuable territory in the southeast, particularly the second largest port in Yemen (Mukalla). 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. This included 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. Since April AQAP and ISIL have spent more and more of their time evading attack.

August 7, 2016: The UN sponsored peace talks in Kuwait have collapsed. Several weeks ago Kuwait told everyone involved that they have until August 5th to reach an agreement because if they don’t everyone will have to find somewhere else to hold the talks. The deadline was extended a bit but it did little good. The peace talks have been going on for months without much progress. There was an “indefinite ceasefire” agreed to in April but that has been regularly violated in several areas. There was also an agreement to release all prisoners and this was only partially fulfilled. Meanwhile many senior officials in the Yemen government and in the Arab nations providing military assistance and troops are saying that the fighting will be over by the end of the year. President Hadi, the last elected leader of Yemen and the one the Shia rebels ousted in early 2015, talks openly about how the Saudi led coalition is assembling a large enough force to take the capital, Sanaa, back from the rebels. Since June more armored vehicles and artillery have been reinforcing the coalition forces surrounding Sanaa. The Saudi led coalition also has enough airpower to hit all known or suspected rebel targets in Sanaa, but this would do enormous damage to the city. Yemen is so broke (even before the rebellion) that it would take decades to rebuild the capital.

The only real progress since the peace talks began in April has been several agreements to exchange prisoners (over 700 so far) and allow safe passage of relief supplies. The Shia rebels don’t believe Arab coalition is willing to risk the losses necessary to take Sanaa. 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. Yet the Saudis cannot afford to leave a hostile Iranian-supported enclave on their southwestern border and it appears the Saudis feel they have to do whatever it takes to prevent the Iran backed Shia rebels from remaining active. Meanwhile Iran continues to back the rebels, especially when it comes to propaganda. Iran and its allies Russia and China are all using their state controlled media to make the Yemen rebels look more successful than they actually are. Iran continues trying to smuggle in weapons and military supplies. Some of those efforts appear to be succeeding.

Some 6,500 have died since March 2015 with over hundred killed in July as Shia rebels and Islamic terrorists fight each other in several parts of the country. The coalition uses air strikes and the rebels’ rocket and mortar attacks that kill a lot of civilians as well as some armed men. The rebels also use gunfire and rockets (and an occasional missile) to attacks soldiers and civilians on the Saudi side of the Yemen-Saudi border.

The peace talks are deadlocked for lots of reasons. Mainly the Shia rebels don’t trust the government to keep promises and refuse to surrender their heavy weapons. This includes artillery and armored vehicles seized from military bases as well as ballistic missiles that have been fired at targets in Saudi Arabia (so far unsuccessfully) as well as government held areas in Yemen. Some of these ballistic missile attacks did succeed inside Yemen but by the end of 2015 the Arab coalition had moved anti-missile systems south to defend their forces inside Yemen. A lot of these heavy weapons were actually turned over to the rebels by commanders still loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. The rebels are in debt to Saleh for things like that and insisting that there be no retaliation against the pro-Saleh commanders and tribal leaders 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. The agreement to allow safe passage of relief supplies was seen as crucial for both sides. Over 70 percent of Yemenis are now dependent on foreign food aid and that includes a lot of pro-rebel civilians. So both sides generally allow the aid convoys to pass, although sometimes trucks are stopped and searched for items (like weapons and military equipment) they are not supposed to be carrying. The rebels also refuse to accept the government that was elected after former “president-for-life” Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced out in 2012. This new government is much less tolerant of Shia than Saleh, who is Shia but trusted by a lot of Sunnis.

August 6, 2016: In the northwest near the border and the Saudi Arabian province of Jizan a shell fired from rebel territory at a Saudi border patrol killed one Saudi soldier.

August 4, 2016: In the south (Shabwa province) an American UAV fired missiles at a checkpoint manned by AQAP men and killed three of them. Earlier the United States revealed that it made two UAV missile attacks on AQAP targets in Yemen during July. The attack on July 8th killed one Islamic terrorist while the one on the 16th killed six and wounded one.

August 1, 2016: In the northwest near the border and the Saudi Arabian province of Jizan a shell fired from rebel territory into a Saudi town near the border killed four people and wounded three. The Saudis retaliate with artillery or air strikes and this has become part of an endless cycle of retaliatory attacks.

July 30, 2016: In the north Saudi forces intercepted a large force of Shia rebels trying to cross the border and in the subsequent fighting seven Saudis and over twenty Yemenis died from ground combat and air attacks.

July 29, 2016: In the southwest (Taez city) a group of Sunni Islamic conservatives allied with AQAP blew up a 500 year old mosque because it was founded and run by Sufi Moslems. This is a sect that is more mystical, and much less violent, than most. More violent and conservative forms of Islam, like those al Qaeda and ISIL believe in, consider Sufis heretics and often attack them and their mosques.

July 27, 2016: In the southwest (Taez province, inland, near the Red Sea coast) government forces pushed Shia rebels from another road outside Taez City. This made it easier for government forces a shorter route to Aden and other major areas held by government forces. In Taez City Shia rebels continue to hold some neighborhoods. The Shia resistance continued in Taiz because the province has a lengthy Red Sea coastline which enabled smugglers to bring in weapons and other aid for the Shia rebels even though the rebels gradually lost control of most of the Taiz coast. This made smuggling operations along the Red Sea coast more difficult but obviously not impossible. There are Red Sea smugglers who will (for a much larger fee) get stuff in although the naval patrols have become more intense in an effort to halt all aid to the rebels. Since early 2015 over a third of the nearly deaths in the Yemen civil war have occurred in and around Taiz city. Apparently some of the smuggling efforts are succeeding.

July 25, 2016: In the north, on the Saudi border, Saudi border guards detected several armed groups trying to cross into Saudi Arabia. There were several gun battles over an eight hour period. All the intruders were driven off but five Saudi troops were killed as well as an unknown number of intruders (who took their dead and wounded with them as they retreated).

Elsewhere in Yemen a Saudi AH-64 helicopter gunship crashed in Marib province (east of Saana) because of bad weather. Both crewmen died.

July 24, 2016: 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.

 

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