Saudi Coalition Renews Attack on North Yemen’s Lifeline
The war on Yemen, which has been ongoing for three years, gets way too little mention in “western” media:
The reason for inattention is obvious: The United States bears real responsibility for the crisis. A quote from a Yemeni doctor found in PBS reporter Jane Ferguson’s piece sums it up:
“The missiles that kill us, American-made. The planes that kill us, American-made. The tanks … American-made. You are saying to me, where is America? America is the whole thing.”
The war is also complicate and difficult to explain. The alliances are opaque and make little sense. Individual events conceal the big picture.
The Saudis started the war after a Zaidi Shia movement from Yemen’s northern highlands, the Houthi, pushed the Saudi proxy-government under the former president Hadi out of the capital Sanaa. The exiled Hadi government is still internationally recognized but under complete Saudi control.
The Saudis want to control all of Yemen. While Yemen is geographically smaller and dirt poor it has an equal number of citizens and some valuable resources. The Saudis have for decades financed Wahhabi preachers to proselyte in Yemen. But Yemen has its own milder style of Islam and the Wahhabis were generally not welcome. There are also plans for a Saudi pipeline to Yemeni ports which would allow Saudi exports to bypass the Strait of Hormuz. For their war on Yemen the Saudis allied with the United Arab Emirates.
Both have hired Yemeni tribal proxies and foreign mercenaries to help in their campaigns. The Saudis have allied with the Yemeni Islah party which is part of the international Muslim Brotherhood. The UAE allied with some southern Yemeni tribes who strive for independence from the north.
The U.S. supports its Gulf “allies” and sells them lots of weapon. It is also interested in keeping al-Qaeda in Yemen down.
All these aims are conflicting with each other.
Ahmed Muthana, a former Yemeni diplomat based in Washington DC, explains why, for example, al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP) can not be eliminated from Yemen:
The reason why it’s impossible to defeat al-Qaeda in Yemen today is the deep coordination on the ground between AQAP and Al-Islah, the Muslim Brotherhood’s party in the country. Al-Islah is a crucial part of the Yemeni government.
The links between Al-Islah and Al-Qaeda go far back, and senior Al-Islah leader Abdul Majeed al-Zindani played a vital role in the bridge between the two parties. In 2004, the U.S. government labeled him as “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” for his ties with al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden. When the Yemeni army was about to start an offensive against al-Qaeda in Abyan in southern Yemen in 2012, Al-Zindani called for a halt. The Al-Islah leader is a close ally of President Hadi.
According to Mareb Press, a news outlet loyal to the government, Hadi met with Al-Zindani in 2018 and described him as “the heir of the Prophet.” During the meeting, Hadi insisted for Al-Zindani to play a more prominent preaching role in Yemen, which would generate more violent thinking in the region.
One of Hadi’s military leaders, General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, is also an al-Qaeda ally:
In 2005, the U.S. embassy in Yemen raised a red flag about Al-Ahmar’s trips to Afghanistan and meetings with Bin Laden in the 1980s. In the U.S., Al-Ahmar is believed to have played a key role in the relocation of large groups of al-Qaeda fighters from Afghanistan to Yemen. Al-Ahmar resettled many terrorists that were banned from going back to their countries in Yemen.
That an individual with a long history of friendship with AQAP is leading the country’s army, makes it is no surprise that terrorist group is not defeated in the north yet.
The Saudis are (again) using al-Qaeda for their purpose while the U.S. is (again) trying to keep it down. But both also want the former president Hadi to regain his position in Sanaa.
The troops of the United Arab Emirates in Yemen, officially allied with the Saudis, have become one of al-Qaeda’s main target:
1st formal claim from #AQAP #Yemen in 2 weeks: Jihadists ambushed #UAE-backed Rapid Reaction Forces 11am today in al-Mahfad, Abyan. 4 soldiers killed, commander seriously hurt, 2 vehicles destroyed. Follows reported gun battles last night between AQAP & military in al-Mahfad city
— Elisabeth Kendall (@Dr_E_Kendall) August 3, 2018
Yemen has no air force and no air defenses. The Saudi coalition has been bombing the Houthi held parts of the country for three years and destroyed much of its infrastructure. It is killing indiscriminately. The UN and the media have downplayed the number of casualties by citing an estimate of 10,000 killed that has not been updated since mid 2016.
Last year a Moon of Alabama piece found that the real casualty number is likely much higher:
Up to July 2017 the U.S.-Saudi coalition had flown more than 90,000 air-sorties over Yemen. Most of those will have involved weapon releases.
100,000 dead civilians caused by the war so far is a more likely number than the never changing 10,000.
The U.S. media is slowly waking up to this:
For almost two years, a figure — 10,000 people — has been frequently cited by journalists and relief agencies to describe the number of civilian deaths in the conflict.
But in public discussion of the conflict, the number has never been revised, even as the war has retained its ruthless intensity.
But despite that insight the Washington Post piece is still using a low balled number:
Data collected by ACLED, a group that studies conflicts, puts the death toll at nearly 50,000 people in the period between January 2016 and late July 2018.
That number includes combatants but excludes people not directly killed during the fighting — thousands of civilians who have died of malnutrition or cholera, for instance. Last year, Save the Children estimated that 130 children were dying every day because of “extreme hunger and disease.”
The Saudi coalition blockades the Houthi held parts of the country. 70% of the available food comes through the port of Hodeidah which the Houthi still hold. If the Saudi coalition manages to catch the harbor it could put the Yemeni highlands under a complete starvation siege. The Houthi would have to give up.
In June a UAE led ground and sea operation attempted to take Hodeidah from the Houthi. The attack along the southwestern coast had reached the border of the airport south of the city when Houthi forces managed to cut its supply line.
The UAE led attack has since stalled. The UN envoy to Yemen is negotiating with both sides over control of the port. Losing, or respectively winning the port would likely decide the war.
Hodeidah has been under Saudi air attacks despite a local ceasefire. Following recent air strikes the UN warned of a human catastrophe:
On 26, 27 and 28 July, airstrikes occurred near a reproductive health centre and public laboratory in Hodeidah and hit and damaged a sanitation facility in Zabid and a water station, which supplies the majority of the water to Hodeidah City.
“Cholera is already present in neighborhoods across the city and governorate. Damage to sanitation, water and health facilities jeopardizes everything we are trying to do,” said Ms. Grand, [the Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen]. “We could be one airstrike away from an unstoppable epidemic.”
The targeting of civilian installations is not a mistake, but the Saudi coalition tactic to put pressure on Yemen’s population. Yesterday a double tap strike hit the fishing docks of Hodeidah port where hundreds of fishermen, peddlers and buyers were haggling over the daily haul. An hour after the first strike the Saudi coalition hit the entrance of the nearby al-Thawra hospital. More than 70 were killed and more than 150 were wounded. For lack of food, medical and financial resources many of the wounded are likely to die in the next days. Local sources say that all of the casualties were civilians.
Authorities in Hodeidah said these air attacks “were largely unexpected because both the Houthi fighters and the Saudi-UAE alliance had announced that they were going to cease hostilities in and around the port of Hodeidah to give UN peace efforts a chance”.
The only report of the deadly strike on the New York Times website is a Reuters piece which blames the Houthi.
Pictures and video from the ground show that at least one of the strikes was not by air but by British made mortars which came in from a southern direction. The targeted area, marked red, is within mortar firing range of the UAE forces south of the airport.
The UAE recently send fresh material and soldiers to the area. It is building up the force to renew its attack.
These coalition forces have little respect for the life of Yemeni civilians.
Iona Craig, one of the few “western” on the ground reporters in Yemen, recently got her hand on some intelligence report which describes a Saudi night bombing of some tents in the desert:
Unbeknown to the Maswadahs, Royal Saudi Air Force drones had been hovering for 45 minutes over their dwellings at the edge of the wide plain walled by mountains. Saudi duty officers more than 550 miles away watched the family’s tents on their screens, along with two “hot spots” likely created by the body heat of people and animals inside.
[They] observed “no personnel or vehicles visible, nor any other intelligence information about the location,” according to the report.
At 9:25 p.m., the absent general issued the order [by phone] to strike the tents.
The family inside the tent, which included nine children, was lucky. The bomb hit the backside of the small hill their tent stood next to. But the strike was clearly indiscriminate.
The UK government admitted that British officers supervise the Saudi targeting process. U.S. officers are likewise in the Saudi operations centers and at least observe the Saudi targeting. They obviously don’t intervene against the indiscriminate strikes:
As the intelligence report shows, the U.S. maintains a significant presence in the Saudi operations center. It also sells munitions and aircraft to the coalition and provides maintenance, training, targeting assistance, and mid-air refueling for fighter jets carrying out bombing runs.
Last week a large Saudi crude oil carrier was allegedly hit by a rocket while sailing through the Red Sea’s Bab al-Mandeb strait. The Saudis allege that Houthi forces did it and try to sell it as a reason to hit Hodeidah. The Houthi have no navy. Hodeidah is some 300 kilometer north of the straits and the coast next to it is under UAE control.
Nevertheless the Saudis stopped their tankers from passing through the Red Sea. Not because of the potential danger, but to increase pressure on the United States, Britain and others to help to invade Hodeidah:
Analysts say Saudi Arabia is trying to encourage its Western allies to take more seriously the danger posed by the Houthis and step up support for its war in Yemen, where thousands of air strikes and a limited ground operation have produced only modest results while deepening the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The suspension of Saudi shipments – with the implied threat of higher oil prices – may also be aimed at pressuring European allies, who have continued to support the nuclear deal with Iran following the U.S. withdrawal in May, to take a stronger stance against Tehran’s ballistic missiles program and support for armed groups across the region.
There was no official confirmation that the move was coordinated with Washington but one analyst said it would be astonishing if it were not, given the strategic alliance between the two countries.
After the Saudi ship was hit the British government sent 20 British Special Forces to an unnamed “Red Sea Port” and dispatched a frigate to the area.
The Saudi claims, that Iran is involved in the war and is smuggling ballistic missiles through Hodeidah to the Houthi, is false. All larger ships going to Hodeidah get searched and inspected. The Houthi may receive some material support smuggled from Oman through the Saudi coalition lines but that is clearly not big stuff or in a decisive amount. The biggest source of weapons and ammunition they use comes from raids on the Saudi coalitions’ supplies or are bought from Saudi proxy forces.
Hodeidah is not relevant for smuggling but it is the lifeline for Yemen’s besieged northern highlands. More than 10 million lives depend on the food that comes through the port. If the Houthi lose control over the port, to the UN or the Saudi coalition, their people will starve and they will lose the war.
The plan behind the current Saudi tactic of bombing Hodeidah’s water supplies and markets is to push the population out of city to make it easier to attack and occupy it. It city is the Houthi’s jugular and the Saudis want to go for it.
The U.S. and other “western” military and governments know this. If they allow the Saudi coalition to take the port they will be complicit in the genocidal famine that will follow.