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22 April 2015


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Charles I

Lets hope. The stop/go bombing, the former announced, the latter not, gave me pause, but given the nuclear talks and the Syrian campaign(s) its clear there are open lines of communication with the Iranians to facilitate a Yemen deal.

Which should increase their credibility and at the same time provide more grounds for anti-hegemonic alarms.


Charles: And the Syrians have decided--at long last--to stop pretending that Saudi Arabia isn't the root of the problem. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kV7bR3pdGxA


Hi there. Good article, with good insights as usual. Apart from that, whilst it is trivial, you should change the date from 3015 to 2015.


"On the whole it looks like the Obama Administration is playing this game well. pl"

I hope you are right on this. They have made so many errors over Libya and Syria that it is hard to accept that Obama is playing any of these games well. US foreign policy in the ME seems to be reeling from one crisis to the next without any realization that the problems they are responding to were caused by US policy in the first place.

Maybe this means that Obama/Kerry are really interested in reaching an agreement with Iran and they see this Saudi aggression as a possible obstruction to that end.

Allen Thomson

> On the whole it looks like the Obama Administration is playing this game well.

I lack the expertise to comment on the general situation but, assuming there are somebodies in the Obama Administration who are doing things more or less right, who and where would they be?


Allen Thomson

I understand that a few brave souls who wear or wore uniform got the president's ear on this. pl


Col Lang,

How would you compare the military capabilities of the Houthis with those of AQAP?

Additionally, what kind of anti-air capabilities does AQAP currently possess?



I think the Houthis can defeat AWAP in a stand up fight but cannot hold ground not inhabited by Zeidis except maybe for the area around Aden. AQAP anti-air? No idea. pl



The Houthis bring mostly bodies to the fight only. They are not well trained but they are willing to die for the cause in large numbers. The real forces doing the fighting are actually Saleh's Republican Guard troops. They are well trained (including by US SF among others) and very well equipped. Houthi role is to provide people for check point duty and secure the supply lines once the RG forces have battled their way through an area.

AQAP are virtually irrelevant as a fighting force. Tiny. Mostly they are manipulated by Saleh for false flag operations and as part of his media war. I can't reinforce this point enough that the local people are intimidated by them and do not support them. they have taken only a limited part in the fighting to date. In Aden and most areas in the South they have yet to engage with their supposedly mortal enemies in Saleh and the Zeidi Houthis.

They have managed to take over the port city of Mukalla through negotiation with the military forces there - who are not aligned with Saleh or the Houthis. They are supported by external actors. They do not enjoy anything more than nominal support among the majority of the people in Mukalla. But they outgun the locals.

Patrick Bahzad


Got your mail regarding the Iraq thing. Thx for your reply. We can sue leave it at that, interesting debate though, one worth having. We can definitely agree on some things, and disagree about others, no harm done ! By the way, just to be clear on that, I'm not blaming the 82nd for what happened, I'm blaming the people who put the 82nd in that position we were talking about.

Regarding AQAP AA-capabilities, I would say there a pretty wide consensus to assess these capabilities as low to very low. If you're referring to MANPADS in particular, they're not an issue. Larger SAM-type batteries, even though quite common in the PDRY, haven't made it into AQAP's arsenal either. Besides, they wouldn't know how to operate them anyway.
AQAP was born mostly out of the relics of the beaten-up groups that were active in KSA and were neutralized largely under Prince Muhammad Bin Nayef's anti-terrorism program. Those who managed to get to Yemen linked up with local groups and were later joined by elements sent in from AQ central.

Akthough AA-threat is not major, their capabilities are rated very highly in certain specific areas, which put the group at the forefront of Jihadi technological and combat innovation.
AQAP's effectiveness is mostly the work of an ex-bodyguard of Osama Bin Laden, Yusuf al-Ayeri. He was killed in 2003, but his expertise has been taken on board by those who carried on fighting in Yemen, and was combined with the works of another AQ "strategist", Abu Musab al-Suri.

Over the years, AQAP has emerged as the most attractive and promising of the AQ franchises. Its operational procedures are beyond anything other groups have to offer, especially with regard to the planning of multiple attacks, bombing preselected targets, or producing and using poison, through sometimes very rudimentary means (like producing effective cyanide with certain parts of an apple - won't elaborate).
The other aspect that is worth mentioning about AQAP is that it created Al Qaeda's online magazine "Inspire".
so what we got there is a list of things they're good at, but AA-capabilities don't feature prominently among those.

Abu Sinan

That is the issue here, that the Houthis are going to find it very hard to occupy any area without a significant Zaidi population. Taking the area is one thing, holding it is another. They might be able to hold Taiz, Aden and the areas around them, but for how long? The popular committees there and other ad-hoc groups will make it a pyrrhic victory at best.



I was asked my opinion earlier what the combat capability is of the "Houthis" vis a vis AQAP. It was late at night when I attempted an answer. What I should have said is that the Houthi/Zeidi tribes/ Yemen Army forces loyal to Salih much outweigh AQAP in total capability. Martin J (clearly a Saudi partisan) refuses to acknowledge that for many, many years foreign powers, beginning with the Ottomans have poured weaponry, ammunition and training into what was the YAR. The greater non-Houthi Zeidi population of the north includes many men who previously were trained and experienced with a variety of armor and artillery equipment, most of which was of Warsaw Pact origin. That equipment saturates the country. Importation of more ground equipment is hardly necessary. Saudi Arabia has now learned that air power is not the all conquering force that foreign salesmen sold it as. Saudi Arabia lacks the force or the guts to invade the Zeidi highlands. I would say they have lost their struggle with the Zeidis. pl



The Saudis are supporting the pro to Muslim Brotherhood party, Islah, and Salafis, as well as certain factions of AQ. None of which are currently fighting against Houthi/Saleh forces in the South. These groups I find repugnant. That does not put me remotely in the same orbit as the Saudis.

I agree that the country is saturated with weaponry. However the distribution of that weaponry is far from equal. Northern Zeidi tribes have a disproportionate amount of the Warsaw Pact arms. People in Tihama, Hudaydah, Taiz, Ibb, Hajjah, Hadramawt, Mahra, Aden, Lahij do not have much 7.62mm ammunition never mind Dushkas or more heavy weaponry.

The key pattern is that it is primarily Sunnis that inhabit those areas and that the concentration of weapons and training in Zeidi hands means they have the balance of power. For the Saudis the issue is that what traditionally was always an internal Yemeni affair has been regionalised and internationalised by Iranian involvement.

The Houthis have MANPADS, had Scuds, have allowed Iran to have a foothold on the Arabian Peninsula. Saudi non-involvement in Yemen for years has left this as their own fault. I have little sympathy. The problem is that they will now allow Yemen to collapse under the weight of its own poverty. Millions could die. Let the Houthis and Saleh try and manage that mess, seems to be the Saudi logic as far as I can discern it. Hardly commendable.

Patrick Bahzad

Think the initial question in relation to AA-capabilities of AQAP was raised - I suppose (Fred82 ?)- not so much in relation to the still ongoing airstrikes of the Saudis, but out of concern for civil aviation in the region and for aircraft of the US carrier group in the area.
Again, regarding the AA-threat that AQAP poses, it is very low. Yemen used to be a place with a flourishing black-market for MANPADS. That swamp has been drained.
Regarding the Houthi/Saleh forces, they do indeed have a number of weapons systems of soviet and Warsaw pact origin, as underlined by PL, but they're no threat to civil aviation or to US aircraft.
However, a false flag ops is always a possibility, especially one that would be aimed at dragging the US further into a conflict at a time when the US is trying to deflate the situation.
From a more global perspective, and without taking sides, it seems pretty obvious that any strengthening of the al-Islah groups, the Salafi tribal militias in the Hadramaut or AQAP would be a set-back in the war against islamist radical groups. A territorial expansion and consolidation of AQAP's power base in Yemen in particular would even have a destabilizing effect on KSA.
From that point of view, accepting the houthi/Saleh domination over their traditional areas of influence, possibly extended towards Taiz, is unavoidable.


Martin J

Abu Sinan and I have stressed the idea that the Zeidi forces do not have much chance of long term possession of areas that are not strongly Zeidi. That said, much of the former YAR is strongly Zeidi. BTW, I am unimpressed with talk of Yemen's poverty. Much of the former YAR is excellent farmland. A great deal of effort was made over many decades to make that farmland a significant source of wealth for the country in the export markets. these efforts all failed. The Yemenis, whether Sunni or Shia, would rather grow Qat. pl

Abu Sinan

MartinJ said " For the Saudis the issue is that what traditionally was always an internal Yemeni affair has been regionalised and internationalised by Iranian involvement."

It is hard to take this statement seriously. Saudi involvement, for decades, has made internal Yemeni affairs into an international and regional issue. This started before the 1962 revolution, which saw the Saudis bankroll the very same people they are bombing today. They have a long standing habit of bankrolling and supporting all sides in Yemen, ie the way they have done with the Hamid ad-Deens and Bayt al Wazir, all Sada Zaudis who have historically vied for power.

Of course it wasnt just the Saudis that made Yemeni politics regional and international, the Free Yemeni movement worked with Hasan al Banna and the Muslim Brotherhood in the run up to the 1948 coup.

The Saudis have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in meddling in the "internal affairs" of Yemen and their bankrolled groups, including al Islah, AQAP and ultra-Salafiyah groups that have a played a large role in getting Yemen to where it is today. The "internal affairs" were internationalised long before the Iranians got involved and the Saudis were probably the biggest culprits in that.

There is a good argument to be made that the Saudis were instrumental in the rise of the Houthis and in starting the Zaidi revivalism movement.


Abu Sinan

One thing that gives the Houthis an advantage is the fact that as a group, they are far more united than those who stand against them. I firmly believe that if the groups that oppose the Houthis were able to stand together and fight together the Houthis would not have been able to accomplish what they have. Their opposition is fragmented and much of what people thought might end up being an effective opposition, ie Hirak, have turned out to have little or no impact. The opposition to the Houthis now seems to be more ad-hoc groups formed within neighborhoods and popular committees.


Abu Sinan et al

My experience with North Yemen over the decades tells me that the Saudis have ALWAYS intervened heavily in Yemen with money subventions and outright political manipulation. The Saudis used to laugh to me about it. pl

Abu Sinan

Indeed, that is why I had a hard time with Martin's comment about Iran internationalising and regionalising the issue. The Saudis have a long history of this and it isnt something they have hidden. Is Martin insinuating that the Saudis somehow have a right to meddle in internal Yemeni affairs where as if Iran does it, it is wrong? It is my understanding that Iran under the Shah and Saudi actually had mutual goals in Yemen and there was some level of work together.

Laura Wilson

Toivos, I see the on-going negotiations with Iran as a process of learning for us. Maybe that engagement has encouraged a more realistic view of all of the players. We can hope that is one outcome. Non-engagement "on principal" has not served our national interest well. That change would in itself be a plus for policy.



I do not have details on the economics of growing qat vs. subsistence or export crops, but in Iran, at least as far back as the 19th century, opium was a more rewarding export crop than other agricultural products, the same was true in India. Tobacco paid better than many other crops both in the US south and elsewhere in the world, and coffee and tea were lucrative crops in India, Brazil, etc. Drugs are lucrative, though it is not necessarily actual producers who benefit. Needless to say, the benefits of consumption vary greatly depending on the drug.



Qat is not exported in any significant quantities except to Detroit for the Yemenis community there. It is very nearly universally grown internally by small farmers and consumed locally by people who believe they cannot live without it. pl

Charles I

There are occasional qat busts in the Toronto and Calgary Somali communities. Reported qat seizures are negligible, as is, I'm sure, enforcement focus. Usually one middle-aged ex-pat with a suitcase after a trip home. A minority of Somali youth have been deeply entrenched in the more commercial drug trade in both cities, notable for their high mortality rate.

Charles I

You might want to check out this horrific, if sort of cheeky documentary about vinyl acetate - chewing gum.

"Dark Side of the Chew

Filmmaker and activist Andrew Nisker takes a humourous, in-depth look at the world's second largest form of litter, chewing gum, and the impact it has on our health and environment. The social and economic implications of global gum culture may not be as benign as we think."

I watched it last night. Modelling suggests 10.2 square miles of Toronto's sidewalks had a staggering 718 million wads of gum deposited on them. Something like 275 sticks per capita per annum.

Not a chewer.


Abu Sinan

I have seen qat here in Northern Virginia. I have never tried it, never will. I dislike anything of a similar vein, ie tobacco whether smoked or chewed.

Qat is grown so heavily in Yemen because it is a cash crop. The problem with qat is that it takes a lot of water to cultivate and Yemen has serious water issues. So Yemen has a serious water issue as well as a serious food issue and qat to detrimental to both.

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