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23 April 2016


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Who wrote this analysis ? This is a fascinating analysis, but I cannot find the name of the author and this doesn't appear to be Col. Lang's writing style.


Liza (and All),

apologies, this is my first time posting and am unfamiliar with the format!



Martin J is a new guest author. practice makes perfect. pl

William R. Cumming

Interesting on how power plays to control or increase opportunities for self-dealing [greed and corruption] now seem to underpin much of the world's problems, even in the U.S.A.


Thank You MartinJ and PL for a post on a much neglected topic.


Interesting theories, but they seem to be based on some pretty questionable assumptions:

"The war does not include ground troops from the Gulf"

Tell that to the dead Saudi, Emirati, etc. soldiers and Colombian mercenaries brought in to fight the Houthi-Saleh coalition.

"There is no siege imposed by the Gulf and allied nations"

There most definitely is a blockade, which is not something to be dismissed.

"Yes, the Gulf coalition does bomb Yemen from the air but there has not been a wholesale destruction of infrastructure. There are not hundreds of civilians dying from Saudi air strikes. "

Even the NYT disagrees: "He added that the indirect consequences of the fighting were taking an even bigger toll, most notably on children, citing the widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, health centers, and electricity and water supplies."


When you get the most basic facts wrong, it makes it harder to take your insights as seriously as I'd like to.


Thanks Martin, I look forward to reading your analyses in the future. I wonder if you could answer two questions:

1) There has been so little recent coverage of Yemen that I need to ask a basic question: which side has the upper hand at this point ?

2) Do the Houthis hold any territory inside Saudi Arabia now ?



Can you provide some evidence for your statements about the numbers of civilian deaths caused by Saudi airstrikes?

The UN Human Rights Commissioner's Office reported in September 2015 that 2355 civilians had been killed since March 2015 and that two-thirds of these were attributed to coalition airstrikes.


After another six months of war at similar intensity, we'd expect the number of documented civilian deaths to be around 5000. In a war where the state is no longer functioning, We'd expect the total number of deaths to be considerably higher than the number of documented deaths, as in the Iraq war where indirect mortality estimates (based on household surveys) were much higher than direct estimates based on documented deaths.

Babak Makkinejad


What is the likelihood of Yemen breaking up into a North Yemen and a South Yemen?


Tidewater to Martin J,

I don't quite understand your point of view towards AQAP and Ansar al Sharia.

My understanding of the situation is that AQAP controlled much of southern Yemen for eighteen months beginning May 2011 and ending in fall 2012, when the Yemeni government, with American support, forced the Islamists out of the towns they had grabbed and pushed them back into the countryside and mountains, and left it at that. AQAP/Ansar al Sharia are now back. They have taken over some 350 miles of southern Yemen, which would include towns in Abyan and Shabwa provinces. They control Zinjibar and Mukalla, the capital of Hadramaut.

The Long War Journal says "AQAP seeks to administer the territory it has recently seized, and is promoting its efforts on social media. [!] Recently, AQAP has highlighted its efforts to provide services as well as put into effect sharia, or Islamic law, in Mukalla, Zinjibar, and Jaar."

Elsewhere I read that the AQAP grand design is to create a proto-state, where it can get serious about building up a system of Gladiator schools. I think they are trying to grow their export model, with an immediate focus on the Northern arenas... ;)

Do your have any opinion about Obock? Isn't that significent, a great big Chinese base now rapidly coming into existence right across the water?

Also, what about Socotra? Are there comings and goings from Socotra to AQAP territory? Say by dhow?

You sound like an old State Department Wallah adept at calming the natives!



There's a thought...today's united Yemen, north and south, only came into being in 1990.

There have been grumblings in Aden too that they'd much prefer seceding. Are those still there, or were they put down?


Col Lang and Martin J,

With how much genuine certainty can it *actually* be said that hundreds of thousands Yemenis have not been killed due to the effects of the US/Saudi blockade, and that we are, thereby, not complicit in genocide?


First of all, there is no genocide. As I argued if there was a real blockade there would be a genocide, but the overall figures are small. The US is complicit in the mess that Yemen has become due to political decisions taken post 2001. It is also complicit in ignoring the systemic problems for even longer. Yes, the US is also actively involved in supplying the Saudis with intelligence and targeting advice, as well as a number of PR companies helping the Saudis to mitigate the media backlash. Blame must also go to the Saudis, the Iranians, the Qataris etc. But Yemen is primarily responsible for its own mess.



AQAP is not an independent entity with freedom to do as it pleases. It is partly a hardcore of jihadi fighters but its current commander, Qasim al-Raymi, has been outed as a stooge of former president Saleh. There is a strong element of organised crime that attaches itself - or advertises itself - as AQ because its a fig leaf for drug smuggling, bank robbing and other such activities. There is strong circumstantial evidence linking northern elements of the security and military to playing a role. How? Well, you take off your uniform, call yourself AQ, and carry on as normal. Who is there from the international media to know the difference? The locals know because they recognise the same faces on the checkpoints but in different uniforms, such nuanced differences escape most external observers.

In this way Saleh is able to manipulate the international media into believing there is this giant beast out there that needs slaying and only he can do it. Of course, he has a price for this. Now, this is not to suggest that there is no jihadi element to all this, I just question the numbers involved. Probably dozens, possibly a few hundred. Out of a population nudging 30 million that's quite a minuscule figure.



The possibility of a breakup of Yemen is greater now than at any time since 1994. I feel that the majority of southerners would easily vote to separate from the north. But now there is the spectre of a larger fragmentation happening with the lowland north seeking to split from the highlands.

I feel that the Saudis are using this prospect to push the Huthis towards the negotiating table.



1) I would say that if we think in strict terms of territory held then its quite clear that Saleh and the Huthis have the upper hand. However the Saudis have a complete stranglehold on the economy. They are busy making sure that everyone understands this basic fact and are then slowly, slowly negotiating from that starting point. I think the Huthis are well aware that there is no real prospect of cutting themselves off the Saudi lifeline, no matter how much they would like to. It means that, IMO, there will eventually be a waning of influence away from Saleh and the Huthis.

2) If the Huthis wanted to Im quite sure they could inflict serious damage inside Saudi Arabia. Some figures close to Saleh recently suggested that they could inflict damage deep inside the kingdom by taking over government buildings and hospitals. Im sure they could but they won't. Saleh (not the Huthis) would have to be very desperate to commit such an act. At this point the Huthis appear to limit their attacks on isolated border posts, film the attack, then run back. The Saudis usually respond with Apache gunships but its a very limited cat and mouse type of game.



there are very few Emirati troops in Aden and they have learned to isolate themselves from everyone. There are some Saudi and apparently Qatari troops in Marib in the northern desert close to the Saudi border. All these troops are playing the role of REMFs. They don't do any fighting. They;re not really fit for that purpose. Where there is combat it is Yemenis fighting Yemenis.

I dismiss the blockade because while there are several navies patrolling the Gulf of Aden, or the sealed border, there is still no shortage of food or fuel inside the country. The siege is to stop weapons coming in perhaps, but not anything else.

Now, there are civilians being killed, quite right, but whether it is 5,000 or 10,000 or more these numbers are insignificant when we think about the possible consequences of stopping fuel or food or support to the economy. Before the war the majority of the population suffered from lack of adequate food intake. The problem was not the lack of food but that most people couldn't afford the food at market prices. If the Yemeni rial was to collapse then food prices would go through the roof and famine rates would go up and people would start dying by the thousands and hundreds of thousands.

The real silent killer would be that famine, not coalition bombs or Huthi shelling of neighbourhoods in Taiz. I am - to be clear - in no way excusing this bombing campaign, I am just pointing out that we are not seeing a war such as that in Syria. It is very limited and, to a large extent, very stage managed by all the actors involved.

Chris Chuba

Is there a reason that the Huthis would find a North / South partition so unpalatable that this would prod them to negotiate? My knowledge of Yemen is extremely limited, would the portion that the Huthis get be especially bad real estate? (I thought that would be the north but you called these lowlands and I thought the Huthis were based in rugged, elevated terrain, shows how little I know)

I don't mean to be argumentative but the reason given for the Saudi intervention was to eradicate Iranian influence and I would think that a partition would consolidate it.

Babak Makkinejad

In what way do Iranians bear any responsibility for the wars in Yemen?

It has been 1500 years since the King sent an expeditionary force to Yemen.


How exactly would the Iranians be to blame for Saudi invasion of Yemen?

This is like saying that the Iranians dual nationals should be banned from Visa Waiver Program, because a Saudi-linked terrorist goes into a rampage in San Berbardino.


To be clear, this is NOT meant as a troll. Yemen was deeply impoverished and food insecure as it was, prior to the blockade, and prior to the targeting of important portions of its infrastructure, including hospitals. Numerous reports have cropped up from time to time in the international media describing the country, during the period of the Saudi/US attacks, as having x-number of millions of people being in an acute condition on the edge of starvation -- then we hear nothing for a while; no follow up. Very hard to believe that most of the "6000" dead are combatants.

Whatever has or hasn't happened, one thing that is for sure is that we (the US) ARE complicit in it, as the KSA's air force would be grounded after a mere handful of sorties without American logistical assistance of various sorts.


Tidewater to MartinJ,

Thank you for your comments. I take your point that AQAP is not that big, not that strong, has some very problematic elements, and they have to be clever to hold on to the areas they have taken control of, at least until the government army and the planes return and they again have to flee and go to ground. Still, in the most recent taking of Mukalla, they had at least four hundred men, two hundred in the area, two hundred drove in from elsewhere in trucks; they released some three hundred more from jail, and I assume many of these rejoined AQAP. They seems to have managed to govern Mukalla by power sharing with other tribals groups/ fronts. They are estimated to have in Mukalla 1,000 fighters. Or am I wrong about this? That's just Mukalla, their capital, of course.

Actually, there seems to be a government move against them starting up in April; some 25 AQAP militants were killed yesterday in fighting around Koud.

What interests me is the problem AQAP presents in a mix with opponents who could destroy it but who are preoccupied. For example, from the port of Belhar, Yemeni LNG has been shipping liquid natural gas to the Distrigas LNG facility at Everett, Massachussetts for a number of years. One ship will do a large part of what do they call it, the Hub, for a winter. That has stopped. (Of course, they can get it from Trinidad. Still, it's sad; this was a major national effort to create.) The fighting between the main players shut the Belhar Yemen LNG facility down, workers were evacuated, and the terminal is in a "preservation mode." Apparently AQAP now controls the area. If true, and Houthi rebels are not there guarding it, I think it is amazing that a terrorist organization could be allowed to take over such an important industrial facility.

After AQAP took over Mukalla and Ash Shihr it began imposing tax and custom tariffs on shippers and traders. AQAP's daily revenue is said to be two to five million dollars a day. The group is the real fuel supplier for this region. AQAP sells to government-run gas stations and the government sells to the public! AQAP has joined forces with certain tribes, and working together they control a large sector of Yemen's oil infastructure. They are plugged right into the Masila oilfields upcountry, which are linked to these ports by pipeline. I assume most of the money goes into the AQAP treasury? Maybe AQAP has a deal with Saleh and other henchmen; so what? Still, there they are, building up a war chest. Making friends. There is the story that they are playing Robin Hood, giving away millions to the impoverished Yemenis. And they have gotten their hands on a bonanza of abandoned government weapons, even some surface air missiles.

Noone seems to be fighting too hard to stop AQAP. They are like the Mafia, if you cross them they remember it, and sooner or later... Regardless, given what is going on elsewhere in the country, there seems to be some general agreement that AQAP, unlike ISIS, is using very good judgment and is doing a pretty good job.

They have thrived on the chaos, and given what is coming when two million people have to leave Sanaa when the water runs out in the next twelve months, I should think they will continue to find enough confusion in which to thrive.

I say this respectfully, but I still don't quite get your assessment of AQAP.


There re several demonstrable false statements in Martin's piece. See Ali above to which more could be added. Like the recent BBC's video evidence that AQ (real ones) is fighting together with Saudi forces.
Did he buy his sunglasses in Riyadh?

The number of civilian death the UN announced is the bare minimum they could count. Nobody knows yet how many died in the year long intense Saudi bombing of towns and villages in the north. Likely a multiple of the UN number. What happened to the millions of refugees?

Also the claim of Iranian involvement. We have seen no Iranian weapons or fighters on the ground. The French bring up an unflagged Dau with some AK-47s that is on its way to Somalia and say so in a press statement. The next day the U.S. and the Saudis claim that the Dau was bringing weapons from Iran to Yemen. Bullshit. Thanks to Saudi weapon drops you can now buy a brand new FN FAL and the like for $1500 in Sanaa. Who would want a rusty AK 47?



There are numerous reasons. First of all the loss of face at having lost half the country would affect the Huthis claims to being fit to lead amongst their own constituency. Secondly most of the natural resources lie in the south. The remaining oil for sure, and arguably the main gas field and export pipe all lie in the south. Without that there is not much Yemen can export.


Babak and Amir

Iran has been involved in Yemen for a number of years. Both with the Huthis and also with a number of politicians representing the south (Ali Salim al-Beidh was housed and protected by Hezbullah in southern Beirut until recently, Ali Nasir, Ba Oum all enjoy financial support too).

Iran has also given various types of training to young media activists, bringing them to Tehran for training much in the same way that the US National Democratic Institute might do for, say, young 'activists' in Ukraine.

I am less interested in Saudi claims of weapons to be honest, Yemenis don't need more weapons.

The net effect has been for Iran to drag Saudi Arabia into a conflict it didn't want to get involved in. And for just a little bit of diplomatic effort, some military training, some statements in Tehran and a few million dollars. What a smart move!

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