Saturday, 5 May 2018

The latest from the war in Yemen

Yemen - Massacres and Assassinations Trigger a New Phase of War

4 May, 2018

In mid April some 20+ of Sudanese soldiers were killed in an ambush in northern Yemen. Sudan, which sent up to 10,000 soldiers to Yemen in hope of Saudi money, is reconsidering its engagement. The Gulf states had promised investments in Sudan and the lifting of U.S. sanction in exchange for sending cannon fodder. Neither happened.
The war Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the powers behind them wage on Yemen aims to install a proxy-government that defers to them. The Yemeni people do not want that. They resist against the overwhelming forces of their rich neighbors. Especially the Zaidi people of north Yemen dislike their proselytizing Wahhabi neighbors. Their Houthi movement leads the fight. Yemeni in general regard them as 'monkeys with laptops'.  To overcome the resistance the Saudi launched a genocidal campaign of blockading, bombing and starving the people into submission.
The same week the Sudanese mercenaries were killed, airstrikes by Saudi jets slaughtered dozens of Yemeni civilians:
An airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition hit a wedding party in northern Yemen, killing at least 20 people including the bride, health officials said Monday, as harrowing images emerged on social media of the deadly bombing, the third to hit Yemeni civilians since the weekend.
An airstrike on Sunday night hit a house elsewhere in Hajja, killing an entire family of five, according to al-Nadhri.
On Saturday, at least 20 civilians were killed when coalition fighter jets bombed a bus carrying commuters in western Yemen, near the city of Taiz, which has been locked in fighting for three years.
After the bombing of the wedding one boy, 3 to 5 years old, clutched to his dead father all night (video) and rejected attempts to be taken away. A graphic video taken the next morning shows that the boy is still there and the terrible aftermath of the Saudi massacre. The Oniononly slightly exaggerates when it writes that the Saudi clown prince visited the child to finish the job.
The standard agency reports from Yemen, like the above one, always repeat the UN estimate that more than 10,000 have died in the war. But that UN number is at least two years old, never changes and only hides the ongoing massacre:
Elisabeth Kendall @Dr_E_Kendall - 20:28 UTC - 11 Apr 2018
#Yemen war: Why does the much-quoted UN statistic of 10,000 deaths never seem to increase? @YemenData documents 16,847 air raids by the #Saudi-led coalition from 3/2015 to 3/2018 (with 423 this March) & @MSF received over 97,000 emergency patients in 1st 3 months of 2017 alone
At least 70,000 have been killed by bombing alone. That number does not include the probably one hundred thousand who starved or died from easily preventable diseases. When asked about the real numbers UN officials are evading any sensible response (vid).
The Saudi coalition strikes on civilians are not by accident. The Saudis target infrastructure, all food and people transport, health facilities and any gathering that is deemed suspicious. Other strikes are targeted assassinations.
One recent drone camera video from a United Arab Emirates owned drone, follows a car near Hodeidah port in north-west Yemen and shows a missile hitting it. The video cuts to a second drone camera, filmed from a screen in an operations room, which shows people coming to the rescue after the first strike. A second missile strike kills them all. The people in the operations room are elated.
That 'double tap' strike killed an important man and will prolong the war:
Saleh al-Samad, the president of the Houthis’ Supreme Political Council, was killed in the drone strike, delivering the deathblow to an already stagnant Yemeni peace process. Samad was regarded as a conciliatory figure within the Houthi rebellion and had sought to reach a negotiated settlement to Yemen’s civil war. He was scheduled to meet with Martin Griffiths, the U.N. special envoy for Yemen, on April 28.
A well bribed nephew of the deceased former president of Yemen Ali Abdullah Saleh may help the UAE to kill his dead uncle's allies. I though suspect that U.S. intelligence, targeting mobile phones and alike, or even U.S. boots on the ground are heavily involved:
Tareq Saleh and his men were forced to seek refuge in the UAE, bringing with them a deep knowledge of the Houthis inner workings.
Samad’s death was not an isolated incident. A number of key Houthi figures, who shared close ties to former President Saleh, have been killed recently. Mansour al-Saidi, the commander of Houthi naval forces; Salah al-Sharqai, his deputy; Nasser al-Qaubari, the major general of Houthi missile forces; and Fares Manea, a notorious arms dealer and former governor of Saada, were all killed in airstrikes over the last week.
Killing the leaders of resistance movements is not a successful strategy. Such leaders usually get replaced with smarter or more brutal hardliners who care less about collateral damage:
Samad’s successor, Mahdi al-Mashat, who was appointed Monday, is a hard-liner with extensive links to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Ali al-Bukhaiti, a former senior Houthi figure now based in Amman, Jordan, claims that there is growing puritanism within the movement. “Mashat is the polar opposite of his predecessor: He is tactless, threatens, doesn’t compromise,” he says. “He does not build relationships — he damages them.”
Tens of thousands gathered in the Yemeni capital Sanaa for the funeral commemoration for Saleh al-Samad. Saudi jets flew over the crowd and bombed nearby. The crowd was not deterred. No one ran away but the people got up on their feet (vid) and chanted (vid) Houthi slogans. They are willing to fight and far from defeated.
The United Arab Emirates has its own design on Yemen. It is in for the money. The UAE occupies the Yemeni Sakrota island, the Unesco-protected 'Jewel of Arabia', and is stealing its natural resources.
Aden, in the south of Yemen is also under UAE occupation. The UAE company Dubai Port, now DP World, wants to control Aden's port. But mothers in Aden starve themselves to death to keep their children alive. There is no state, no security and no one gets paid for their work as doctor, teacher or street sweeper. Some food is available on the markets but the people can not longer afford it.
Professor Isa Blumi of Stockholm University argues (radio) that the war in Yemen is not a civil war and not even a war by the local powers Saudi Arabia and the UAE. It is  an imperial war by larger powers with a deep colonial history.
Neither the UAE nor Saudi Arabia could do anything in Yemen without direction and support from Britain (pdf) and the USA:
Thousands of UK and non-UK employees of UK companies work in Saudi Arabia to train, install, maintain and help operate UK-supplied aircraft and other military equipment, including the Tornado IDS fighter-bombers and Typhoon fighters that constitute just under 50% of the in-service combat aircraft of the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF).
[T]he UK has made a blanket commitment to provide RSAF with UK civilian and military personnel to support and arm UK-supplied aircraft used by RSAF in an armed conflict.
UK officials interviewed for this paper, and at least one of the government-to-government agreements governing the supply of UK weapons systems to RSAF, thus suggest that the UK MOD has detailed knowledge about the roles and activities of UK personnel both civilian and military, private and governmental, in Saudi Arabia; as well as about the use of UK-supplied aircraft and their munitions.
IHS Janes recently reported that the U.S. seeks a private company to rescue its soldiers in Yemen:
The US military is looking for contractors to provide personnel recovery, as well as airborne casualty and medical evacuation services, for special forces personnel operating in and around Yemen.
Why would the U.S. need those? And why in these weird places? (And why would the U.S. Special Operations Command ever outsource such a specialized, dangerous and important military task?) So far the U.S. had claimed that a very few of its soldiers are looking for al-Qaeda in south Yemen. These are supposed to be in-hit-out operations with direct U.S. air support.
The U.S. downplays its intelligence and aerial refueling support for the Saudi bombing of the various hospitals and weddings. In reality no Saudi plane would fly without direct U.S. and UK support. Now we learn that U.S. soldiers are also directly involved in the fighting on the ground:
[L]ate last year, a team of about a dozen Green Berets arrived on Saudi Arabia’s border with Yemen, in a continuing escalation of America’s secret wars.
With virtually no public discussion or debate, the Army commandos are helping locate and destroy caches of ballistic missiles and launch sites that Houthi rebels in Yemen are using to attack Riyadh and other Saudi cities.
Along the porous border, the Americans are working with surveillance planes that can gather electronic signals to track the Houthi weapons and their launch sites, ..
They also are working closely with American intelligence analysts in Najran, a city in southern Saudi Arabia that has been repeatedly attacked with rockets, to help locate Houthi missile sites within Yemen.
The U.S. media seem to support the U.S. war on Yemen. In a recent interview on CNN Senator Rand Paul argued to at least debate the war in the U.S. congress. CNN host Wolf Blitzer dismissed (vid) that as "moral issue". He says there are "a lot of jobs at stake" and selling less bombs to Saudi Arabia might cause a "significant loss of jobs and revenues". He wonders why that is "secondary question" to Paul.
I'll leave it to a Yemeni to respond:
Haykal Bafana @BaFana3 - 19:51 UTC- 14 Apr 2018
To whom it may concern: Which part is not sinking into your small-brained thick skull? Your half-fucked fuckery has been one long fuckin' orgy of disastrous self-fucking from start to now. End this humiliating porn. And stay the fuck out of Yemen. Dumb fucks.
The Sudanese seem to have understood. Others still have to learn. After the recent assassination of their leaders the Houthis promised to directly attack Saudi and UAE leaders. This will be a new phase of the ongoing war.  If the war continues for long the people of Yemen turn their eyes towards the imperial powers behind those figures.

Green Berets Are Now On The Ground Assisting The Saudi War On Yemen In "A Marked Escalation"

4 April, 2018

Once again a creeping, years' long shadow war is expanding from indirect proxy intervention to direct engagement, complete with US "boots on the ground" where no American ground forces were previously thought to exist.

And it's not Syria, or Libya, or central Africa where the now familiar pattern played out before, but in the Arabian peninsula where the Pentagon has long claimed to merely coordinate intelligence, refuel jets, and provide logistical support to the Saudis which have been bombing Yemen since March of 2015.

"Spec Ops Magazine: Old photo (in 2017 or prior) of U.S. Special Forces posing for a picture at undisclosed location, which were likely previously engaged in anti-AQ operations in Yemen. Now the mission has shifted to focus on Houthi targets and pro-Iran forces in the region.

On Thursday The New York Times revealed for the first time that US special forces have been on the ground supporting Saudi coalition forces since late last year:

But late last year, a team of about a dozen Green Berets arrived on Saudi Arabia’s border with Yemen, in a continuing escalation of America’s secret wars.

With virtually no public discussion or debate, the Army commandos are helping locate and destroy caches of ballistic missiles and launch sites that Houthi rebels in Yemen are using to attack Riyadh and other Saudi cities.
Details of the Green Beret operation, which has not been previously disclosed, were provided to The New York Times by United States officials and European diplomats.

According to the report, the elite Army operators were sent to assist the Saudis starting in December, weeks after ballistic missiles fired by Yemeni Houthi rebels came close to directly hitting Riyadh's international airport, though the Saudis claimed to have intercepted it - a claim which was subsequently cast into doubt by weapons experts.

At that point, a worried Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reportedly renewed calls for the the United States to send ground troops in order to bolster Saudi-led operations aimed at rooting out the source of the sophisticated Yemeni missile attacks, which have occurred on multiple occasions over the past year of fighting.
Like all administrations going back to 2001, the White House is relying on the the 9/11-era Authorization For Use of Military Force (AUMF) to give legal justification for its actions in the Arabian peninsula. But this time the target is not primarily al-Qaeda, ISIS, or Sunni Islamist militants, but Iran — which the Trump administration has repeatedly accused of supplying Yemen's Shia Houthis with its ballistic missile arsenal.

So it's not just a "Saudi" war. "US Army Special Forces Secretly Help Saudis Combat Threat From Yemen Rebels." 

To underscore the US perception that it is fundamentally in a struggle against Iranian influence in Yemen, the Times quotes Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who stated during a visit to Riyadh on SundayIran destabilizes this entire region.” Pompeo further charged Iran with supporting “militias and terrorist groups" — specifically that it is “an arms dealer to the Houthi rebels in Yemen.”

However, even the usually national security state-friendly New York Times isn't fully buying the "it's necessary to counter Iran" narrative spun by the Pentagon, instead calling the Green Beret presence "a marked escalation of Western assistance to target Houthi fighters who are deep in Yemen."

The NYT further notes that, “There is no evidence that the Houthis directly threaten the United States; they are an unsophisticated militant group with no operations outside Yemen and have not been classified by the American government as a terrorist group.”
* * *
So if we are once again on the slow and creeping path of American "boots on the ground" in yet another Middle East proxy war, how did we get here?

To quickly review, Saudi airstrikes on already impoverished Yemen, which have killed and maimed tens of thousands of civilians (thousands among those are children according to the UN) and displaced hundreds of thousands, have been enabled by both US intelligence and military hardware. Cholera has recently exploded amidst the appalling war-time conditions, and civilian infrastructure such as hospitals and schools have been bombed by the Saudis.

After Shia Houthi rebels overran Yemen’s north in 2014, embattled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi vowed to extract Yemen from the claws of Iran” something which he's repeatedly affirmed, having been given international backing from allies in the West, and a major bombing campaign began on March 2015 under the name "Operation Decisive Storm" (in a cheap mirroring of prior US wars in Iraq, the first of which was "Desert Storm").

NYT: “There is no evidence that the Houthis directly threaten the United States; they are an unsophisticated militant group with no operations outside Yemen and have not been classified by the American government as a terrorist group.” 

Saudi Arabia and its backers fear what they perceive as growing Iranian influence in the region, something considered by some analysts to be grossly exaggerated, and seek to defend at all costs Yemeni forces loyal to UN-recognized President Hadi - who since 2017 appears to be in some sort of house arrest situation in Riyadh. According to Al Jazeera Saudi Arabia's King Salman has denied Hadi's repeat requests to return to Yemen in order to rally forces loyal to him. 

The pro-Saudi coalition goes far beyond US involvement but also includes Bahrain, Kuwait, UAE, Egypt, Sudan, and Britain; and the Saudi initiated war has also received behind the scenes political support from Israel, something recently confirmed by Israeli officials.

Concerning the supposed Iran threat in Yemen, an emergency session of the Arab League held in response to the November 4th Houthi missile attack on Riyadh doubled down on its shared commitment to wage war against Iranian interests after it blamed Tehran for the supplying and advising the attack, which Iran for its part denies playing a role in. 

The attack clearly rattled not just the Gulf allies, but the US itself (concerned chiefly over what it perceived as "Iran's reach"), which is apparently what led to the relatively quick deployment of the special forces to the Saudi border with Yemen. 

* * *
But for all the international powers involved in the anti-Houthi military alliance, the coalition may be dysfunctional and in shambles, at least according one major Middle East Eye investigation published in late 2017. 

The report predicted that the Saudi military campaign is likely to end in total failure as "more than two years into a disastrous war, the coalition of ground forces assembled by the Saudis is showing signs of crumbling" and as the Saudis have become increasingly reliant on foreign mercenaries for its ground forces, such as a huge contingent of Sudanese mercenaries and UAE officers

It is entirely possible and probable that should the coalition suffer continued setbacks, or should at any point Houthis gain in strength and territory, the US would bolster its role by ramping up its current special forces contingent. As recent history has born out — most especially in Syria for example — a tiny "footprint" easily slides into small forward operating bases, and then on to thousands of conventional forceswithout so much as a peep from Congress.

On that note, however, the New York Times reports the following congressional exception:
Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia and a member of the Armed Services Committee, on Thursday called the Green Berets mission a “purposeful blurring of lines between train and equip missions and combat.” He cited the report in The Times and called for a new congressional vote on the authorization for the use of military force — a war powers legislation used by three successive presidents in conflict zones around the world.

And concerning just what the Green Berets have been and will be doing along the Yemeni-Saudi border, the Times continues:
A half-dozen officials — from the United States military, the Trump administration, and European and Arab nations — said the American commandos are training Saudi ground troops to secure their [Saudis] border. They also are working closely with American intelligence analysts in Najran, a city in southern Saudi Arabia that has been repeatedly attacked with rockets, to help locate Houthi missile sites within Yemen.
Along the porous border, the Americans are working with surveillance planes that can gather electronic signals to track the Houthi weapons and their launch sites, according to the officials, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the mission publicly.

In spite of the usual promises to the contrary, we expect to hear of direct US commando and pro-Iranian Houthi clashes any day now. 
And likely, the currently reported number of about "a dozen" US special forces on the ground is perhaps much higher, as Wednesday's NYT report itself suggests: On April 17, Robert S. Karem, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the United States had about 50 military personnel in Saudi Arabia, “largely helping on the ballistic missile threat.”

As we've pointed out the obvious many times before, whether it's the Middle East, Africa, or Eastern Europe, the familiar pattern of American military expansion goes something like this...

First we are promised that US troops are merely in a country for limited "training" missions with "partner" forces; next we are told of "counter-terror" operations which require an increased "footprint"; after which we are assured once again that there are "no boots on the ground" but a "minimal" increase of train and assist missions; finally, US soldiers begin to come home in body bags at which point the 9/11 era AUMF is cynically invoked and Congress passively looks the other way. 

And now it appears the cycle will repeat itself in already war-torn Yemen. 

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