The Mess in Yemen

The Guardian has a very good account of what's happening in Yemen among the various factions. (For a backgrounder on the Houthis, see this Guardian analysis.)

Many are saying Yemen is on the brink of an all-out civil war, which would have repercussions for the entire region, and as in Libya, give ISIS a toehold to grab onto and spread. The Guardian says:

The fear is that the Houthi advance will drive a fresh wave of militarisation and radicalisation in the Sunni-majority Yemeni heartland, acting as a recruiter for jihadis. Western intelligence already considers the local al-Qaida faction – al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) – the world’s most potent franchise, a growing threat seeking to exploit regional turmoil to widen its scope.


The situation is so bad that yesterday the U.S. pulled all military personnel, including special forces, from Yemen.

The fight against the advance of the northern Houthi rebels into other areas in Yemen is being led by Sunni tribal militias. These Sunni tribal militias are now competing with both AQAP and ISIS for young jihadi recruits. ISIS is using the opportunity to denigrate AQAP and make gains among potential local recruits.

A local jihadi who has close links to Ansar al-Sharia (an AQAP local franchise) was open in his criticism of al-Qaida.

“Al-Qaida failed in protecting the Sunnis in Yemen. Where are they? Why are they allowing Houthis to advance?” he asked. “The attack-and-run methods had failed, we need to establish a state, like in Iraq and Syria to have land and borders so we can defend it.”

Some local tribal fighters echo those anti-AQAP sentiments. One young tribal fighter who studied abroad says that when he returned, he hoped the tribal system would be replaced by a modern state. But, he says, the revolution failed and since there is no modern state, he sees the tribes as the best leadership alternative. So now he's fighting the Houthis.

But he said his biggest enemies were not the rebels from the north but the radicals in his own midst, particularly AQAP.

“I can’t make a deal with AQ because they have no brains. I wish the Houthi would get into politics. If they come here as the elected authority no one can say anything. But if they come as a militia of course we will fight.”

...“The best thing the Houthis did was to bring us together

The tribes have a different perspective than soldiers.

“There is a big difference between the tribesman and the soldier. The tribesman will never hand over his weapons: if he surrenders he shames not only himself but his whole tribe and loses his honour. They would prefer to die a hundred times. I know those men around me will never leave – they are my cousins, we are connected by blood and honour.”

The Government used to rely on the southern Sunni tribes as a sort of auxiliary military, providing it with weapons. Now, that's backfired.

“Because of the blood feuds and tribal wars we train our children to use weapons even before they go to school,” said [a tribal leader called] the Cat. He laughed and nodded towards the dunes. “Now my men are training on tanks we captured from the army last month.”

So Yemen is falling apart, but it's not a case of ISIS vs. al Qaida, but tribe vs. tribe.

Understanding Houthi motives is complicated by the fact they have been supported by Iran, largely as a way of annoying Tehran’s regional rivals and Yemen’s larger neighbour, Saudi Arabia. But experts argue the conflict is fundamentally a political and tribal one rather than sectarian – in a country which has no tradition of Sunni-Shia animosity.

Between blood feuds, tribal wars and terrorists, Yemen is a mess. Factor in Iran, which is backing the Houthis, and Saudi Arabia, which doesn't want Iran to succeed, and it gets worse. I'm glad the U.S. left. The Yemenis and those living in other countries in the region need to figure this out for themselves. If only we had the same sense to stay out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

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    The Panther (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by BarnBabe on Mon Mar 23, 2015 at 01:35:32 AM EST
    OK, I am very aware that one does not get their information from a fictitious novel, but a few years ago when I was hospitalized for a long period of time, I read Nelson DeMille's book The Panther. It is a very very long book but it gave me a tremendous insight into Yeman. I figure all of his books have a bit of some actual truth within all those pages. When I was done I knew how the State Dept people traveled in their 4 SUV Toyotas. Carefully with 2-4 actual travelers and the rest were CIA and Marines. At that time the Predators were just coming into their own and every little convoy had one flying with it also. With a Hellfire ready for use. Nothing was safe. The Hotels were not safe. And as you and your little group traveled through out the dessert you came to little encampments where the road ran through them. It reminded me of Blazing Saddles and the toll road because you would have to make a deal with the local tribal leader if you get my drift. Well, the purpose of my rattling on is that it is 2AM and I am wide awake. And in the book it was the first time I was reading about AQAP. And a few days later Hillary was talking about them. I found myself wondering why Yeman had escaped the war over there. Well, except the USS Cole. So if you are bored some night, you might want to read The Panther. And if visiting that area of the world, please make sure there is not a big red X on the roof of your white SUV. Sweet dreams. I am heading to la la land.  

    Not making light (none / 0) (#3)
    by BarnBabe on Mon Mar 23, 2015 at 01:39:52 AM EST
    BTW, I am not making light of the situation over there. It is all very serious and very frightening. I do wish I had the answer.

    Just about everything... (none / 0) (#10)
    by unitron on Tue Mar 24, 2015 at 08:26:22 AM EST
    ...DeMille writes is pretty good.

    I've Said it Before (5.00 / 2) (#5)
    by RickyJim on Mon Mar 23, 2015 at 08:54:36 AM EST
    and I will say it again. The US can't determine whom to support in Lebanon and couldn't change the outcome even if it knew whom it preferred. If Secularists were a third potent force in the Middle East, besides Sunni and Shia, than maybe it would be worthwhile to get involved.

    Obviously I Meant Yemen (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by RickyJim on Mon Mar 23, 2015 at 10:19:56 AM EST
    Even though following what I said would have prevented some tragedies in Lebanon.

    Not obvious... (none / 0) (#11)
    by unitron on Tue Mar 24, 2015 at 08:28:29 AM EST
    ...because Lebanon is another good place for us to wade into the quicksand.

    What?? Try and impose (2.00 / 2) (#6)
    by jimakaPPJ on Mon Mar 23, 2015 at 10:01:35 AM EST
    a Pax Romna on a part of the world that is busy killing each other as a warm up to attacking the west and turning it into a caliphate?

    How logical of you.


    Yes Jim (5.00 / 4) (#7)
    by FlJoe on Mon Mar 23, 2015 at 10:14:46 AM EST
    How dare they kill each other. "Logically" we are the only ones permitted to do the killing.

    Telling line for the article (none / 0) (#1)
    by Politalkix on Sun Mar 22, 2015 at 09:45:12 PM EST
    Telling line for the article...

    "I am very pessimistic towards the Saudi money," he added. "No country benefited from Saudi money anywhere in the Arab world, not in Syria, not in Iraq."

    And the Saudis are pumping money all over the place to fight proxy wars...

    The Saudis created big problems (5.00 / 2) (#9)
    by Militarytracy on Mon Mar 23, 2015 at 10:42:51 AM EST
    For themselves, and they are beginning to get it too.  The Kingdom is right now spending an incredible amount of money arming itself.

    I think the current messages they are receiving from the West is that we can't and won't easily inject ourselves into ME civil war situations.


    Bummer (none / 0) (#4)
    by stonecutter on Mon Mar 23, 2015 at 01:45:50 AM EST
    Libya?  WASS

    Site violator (none / 0) (#13)
    by oculus on Wed Mar 25, 2015 at 01:45:52 AM EST