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23 April 2016


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the BBC report was low on facts or explanation. They showed part of the fighting in Taiz. The main body of resistance there are made up of Salafi fighters. They do not call themselves AQ because of the long standing hatred that most Yemenis have for what they view as a tool of Ali Abdallah Saleh.

These guys prefer to call themselves Salafis because they avoid that label. However, like most at SST, I would say there's not much difference between their outlook and that of AQ in Syria. It does mean that the Gulf coalition are fighting with one AQ type organisation in one place (Taiz) and fighting against the official AQ in another place (Aden, Abyan, Lahij and Hadramawt).

As for weaponry, Yemen is awash with small arms and Yemenis are very discerning when it comes to their AK's, they prefer the East German ones, which command the highest price. The Chinese and Egyptian ones are not liked. But the reason that people might not buy an FN is the ammunition. Its expensive enough for an AK round, $1.20 before the war. I imagine a NATO 7.62 would be considerably higher.


What are the Saudi's trying to achieve, and why? They hardly need to double their population of discontented subjects. Is there any prestige in turning Yemen into a Protectorate? If they want to control Aden and the entrance to the Red Sea, do they really need to fight the Huthis?

If Yemen is really so poor, how can they afford all those expensive weapons and munitions? Who cares enough to donate them, and why? Are the women doing the work whilst the men fight or boast?

Is there any significance in this for the rest of the world? Haven't these tribes always squabbled and bickered without bothering outsiders?


Are we perhaps mistaking the nature of the war? Rather than a contest resulting in victory or complete defeat, or even expanding territory and resources, could this be a resumption of the much older pattern; of feuding, cattle raiding, woman stealing, a life where conflict with neighbours is the normal state of affairs, and each chieftain seeks to be acknowledged as superior by the others?



Yemen is a headache for anyone trying to deal with it. Ask the Turks or the Egyptians!

For the Saudis it is all about containment. They need to contain the threat posed by Saleh's ability to project power (Scud missiles, an airforce, connections to AQ etc) or contain the border problems with the Huthis, or contain the extent to which Iran may or may not have influence over the Huthis.

There is no solution to Yemen. 30 million tribesmen there outnumber the combined populations of the entire GCC countries. The biggest 'threat' in many ways would be millions of starving refugees entering Saudi Arabia. That would be a greater threat to the internal stability than a few cross border Huthi raids.

Weapons: Yemen is probably one of the largest arms dealer in the region, certainly in terms of volume. The Somali conflict has been fuelled for years on Yemeni government arms dealers. There are links across Africa, to Libya even. It is state sponsored.



you have been following developments fairly closely I see!

AQ are linked to smuggling, for sure, but the figures of $2 million per day are much exaggerated. In addition the guys involved in this are more connected to Sanaa than they are to AQ. The cliched notion often recycled by international media that they are generous to their constituents by providing services or giving away money is just hogwash. The Yemeni government in Riyadh are paying the money to civil servants (including the military up and down the country) and make sure that electricity and water and mobile comms are all still (kind of) functioning. NOT AQ.

As I have noted before, despite the fact that Mukalla and Hadramawt are the heartland of AQ there have been zero attacks on the international oil sector workers, zero attacks on the oil infrastructure there, zero attacks on the oil export terminal etc etc etc. Funny that, isn't it? Any attacks you might read attributed to AQ in those areas are usually the northern military attempting to coerce protection money out of the IOCs.

The real threat to Sanaa (Ali Abdallah Saleh) is a southern independence movement. He has no sway over them and knows they are a genuine popular social force that he has had to manage with targeted violence since 2007. He has been failing in that. AQ have never represented a popular threat to his rule, nor a clear danger to the military or oil companies there. They are given licence to make videos, take over bits of territory, all as long as they remain on a short leash.

The coalition since last night has given the orders to the Hadramawt tribes to start their offensive against AQ and associated mafia elements, who probably amount to a few hundred at most.

Babak Makkinejad

"...net effect has been for Iran to drag Saudi Arabia into a conflict it didn't want..."

You cannot be serious.

By the same logic, taken to its conclusion, should Iran cease to exist all would be well among Arabs and Muslims.

You have been listening to Arabs for too long...

Babak Makkinejad

His answer reminds me of what happened during that speech by Zarif in New Zealand during the Q&A Period.

He was so exasperated that he stated something to the effect that "we will not commit suicide to convenience you."

Chris Chuba

Thank you regarding your answer about partition, it sounds reasonable.

I'd like to challenge your assertion that Iran was forced the Saudi's hand in the same manner that that the U.S. forced Russia's hand in Ukraine. In Ukraine, there was both vital military installation, Sevastopol, as well as native Russians living within Ukraine who had been disenfranchised by the Maidan Coup who even had reason to fear for their safety.

Let's assume that the Iranians were involved as you say, were the Saudi's really in the same position as the Russians, was their security actually threatened or are they overly paranoid? The cost of the war in the Saudi budget is listed as $700M a month, couldn't the Saudi's bribe, or use the Carrot / stick approach to satisfy any security concerns even under a Huthi controlled govt?

You are making an interesting analogy.


I hope you are right. And I appreciate the rare knowledge of Yemen that you bring to the table, along with that of Col Lang; as well as the time you graciously allot to answering questions.

FB Ali

The other day WaPo had a piece on the vast Saudi PR effort in the US:


This post appears to be part of that 'offensive'. Reading it one would think the poor Saudis have nothing really to do with the tragedy that has engulfed Yemen for the past year; it's just the mad Yemenis fighting and killing each other. In fact, if it weren't for Saudi benevolence, the Yemenis would by now have all starved to death. (I suppose we are supposed to choke up every time we see a picture of the senile King Salman or his oily son, Prince Muhammad!).

And, for good measure, there's hardly any AQ in Yemen, just the usual bandits and outlaws. The US, of course, deserves only a mild tap on the wrist for its role in Yemen.

Total and utter BS!


FB Ali

the Saudis have much responsibility to bear, as does the US. But I am fed up of hearing from Yemenis how they are pawns in a larger conspiracy of the Gulf or that AQ is completely a foreign import, or that Iran is behind everything.

I want to up that level of debate and call out the guilty parties. Yemenis deciding to have 10 children each saying "God will provide", or spending all day chewing qat without thinking they don't have the water for it, or moving all their agricultural production over to qat so they have to import nearly all their food staples - its collective madness. The oil resources since 1994 have just been sent abroad or burnt on subsidised diesel to farm qat. Barely any inward investment.

The Saudis have been lazy and think they can pay off certain sheikhs and control the country. But this is on the back of promoting Wahhabism since the 1970s. In many ways the Huthis are a response to that assault on their history and culture. Now the Saudis chose to fight in order - probably - to boost the new king (Mohammed bin Salman) in his internal ratings.

The US has allowed itself to be fooled into a never-ending drone programme that goes nowhere.

I am attempting to bring my experience of recent history and speaking to all the above players into this debate. The US media, as you rightly point out, are just repeating the PR bullshit from US companies paid by Saudi money. But I equally reject the opposite, that poor Yemen is under bombardment and siege in a war they didn't start.


"Very hard to believe that most of the "6000" dead are combatants."

If you are expecting an answer, it may help if you gave Martin J the time frame and context of the reported 6000 killed.

If I didn't read earlier comments or Martin's contributions closely enough, please forgive. ;)

Babak Makkinejad

I think what MartinJ is saying is that there is a method to Saudi madness.

It reminds me of the way Saddam Hussein used his missiles and chemical weapons against Iranian targets.

There was a method there too.


So then, who did start the war?

This post appears to be part of that 'offensive'.

The "lady" doth protest too much!


Tidewater to Martin J,

"Ah, minister. Good morning! What a pleasant surprise! Quite sensible how the shemagh kafiya does keep the sun off so nicely as we Westerners simply have to learn, don't we, ha ha. And what an elegant thing, Damascus workmanship, no doubt? Perhaps you could direct me to a good gent's shop when we all get back to Sanaa from the long weekend? And how much would it be then for our car-load just to make a little run down to the beach and then back by dark, at the latest, and, old friend, could you please have one of your men make a note of that?"


There's ample information about the demographic and agricultural development of Yemen - the statements in your post above sound more like the chatter of expats at the hotel bar.

"Yemenis deciding to have 10 children each" - the total fertility rate in 2013 was 4.1 children per woman, and falling rapidly.

"moving all their agricultural production over to qat so they have to import nearly all their food staples". FAO figures for 2000 showed that qat accounted for less than 1% of crop area. A joint report of the World Bank and the Yemeni agriculture Ministry in 2013 recommended that Yemen should cease production of irrigated cereals and instead use irrigation to produce crops in which Yemen has a comparative advantage: fruits, vegetables, cotton and qat.

JM Gavin

Quite simply, most of what MartinJ writes is not consistent with my first-hand recent experience in Yemen.


JM Gavin



What agricultural development are you talking about?

In the 1970s Yemen used to export coffee, now it imports it. Back then there was less consumption of qat. There was also more water and less people. The population has now more than quadrupled since then and the country is fast running out of water.

This is a country that doesn't grow food and can't feed itself.

It can't even afford to buy the food it has to import to feed itself.

Yemen is deeply dysfunctional and all surrounding countries plus Europe and the US have long had a negative part to play in that.



you're on to something.

Im trying to suggest that perhaps this strategy wasn't devised in Riyadh but actually in DC.



You're not making an argument. Tell me where I've got it wrong.

Babak Makkinejad

The despised Shia ... you know, the Manichean Evildoers of Muslim world - regardless of they are 4-Imam Shia *Houthis), Seven-Imam Shia, 12-Imam Shia...

Only if those meddlesome Shia and their state backer - Iran - did not exist.

Boko Haram jihadists are on the rampage in Nigeria and the Nigerian Army massacres the Shia protestors.

This must be making sense to someone - it does not to me.


JMG, let us know what exactly. Will you?

What type of "first-hand recent experience" by the way?

JM Gavin

Point by point:

I concur that the war does not pit Sunni against Shia. It pits northern tribes against southern tribes, in the most general sense, but age-old tribal and social alliances trump all.

The war does include ground troops from the coalition.

There is a functional air and naval blockade, although it is spotty at times. Ground smuggling through Oman continues.

There has been widespread destruction of infrastructure. There are hundreds of civilians dying from Saudi air strikes.

There is not an accurate count of casualties, but civilian casualties almost certainly outnumber combatants.

There has been a humanitarian disaster on a large scale.

I concur that AQAP has become a catch-all term, but the core leadership remains, and their goals and aspirations have not changed.

JM Gavin

Recent, first-hand experience in the most literal sense. Being there, recently.

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