Yemen Conflict – Saudi Arabia Backs off, America Steps Up
This week, Saudi Arabia and its “Sunni” and GCC allies announced they were ceasing their air operations against rebels in Yemen. On Tuesday, Saudi forces announced that they had achieved their objectives over the course of Operation Decisive Storm and it would be winding down. But while that operation was ending, Saudi commanders revealed that a new phase of combat operations in Yemen set to commence the next day.
The stated reason for stopping the air war was that it has achieved its objectives and had eliminated the threat the Houthi rebels had posed to Saudi Arabia. Yemeni security officials revealed this week that forces loyal to the nation’s president-in-exile have regained partial control of that country’s coastline.
“Anti-Houthi coalition airstrikes in Yemen removed any threat posed to Saudi Arabia and neighboring countries, the Kingdom’s ministry of defense said on Tuesday,” The Saudi-owned news organization Al Arabiya reported. “Sorties reportedly targeted and destroyed ballistic missiles operated by Houthis and militias loyal to deposed leader Ali Abdullah Saleh, a statement said.”
However, it was obvious that the political price for continuing the air operations had grown. According to the World Health Organization, more than 900 people have died in Yemen since the Saudi led aerial campaign against Yemen began on March 25th. In addition, one hundred and fifty thousand (150,000) Yemenis have been displaced and the number of people lacking food has increased to more than twelve million, 12,000,000. Yemen imports more than 90% of its food—prices for basic food items have soared and there are widespread shortages. In Aden, most of the city inhabiotants of more than five hundred thousand has no access to water. Across the country, supplies of gasoline and gas have been exhausted. Hospitals, which were already struggling to cope with a lack of medicine and supplies, now have little or no fuel left to run their generators. Those patients in Yemen’s Intensive Care Units will likely die as their life saving machines are idled due to a lack of electricity.
Clearly, the air operations were ineffective as the Monitor had predicted a few weeks ago. It is a maxim of war that while air power can destroy, it is the infantryman that must occupy the ground and secure a military and political victory.
Ironically, the failure was even starker when one considers that the military air operations were playing to the GCC’s strengths. It employed the GCC air forces, which are modern and well trained. It also made good use of the American logistics train, which provided it with enough munitions to continue the air offensive without seriously depleting their war reserves.
This failure to win a clear victory result required a new military operation that would meet the political goals of the GCC without the massive manpower investment that a ground invasion of Yemen would entail – something that the 1960s Egyptian intervention of Yemen proved.
The Saudi coalition revealed that a new phase of the war in Yemen dubbed “Operation Restoring Hope” began last Wednesday. The new mission will reportedly prioritize civilian life and include a diplomatic component while continuing to execute combat operations against rebels.
The scope of these new military operations is unknown. However, they probably include support of indigenous forces to take the fight to the Houthi.
While the Saudi 10th Mechanized Brigade is deployed near the border with Yemen, any military activity by the Saudi Army will probably be limited to their special forces. The Saudi Special Forces consist of three companies that have the equipment and training to fight rebels.
The problem is that Saudi and GCC special forces units are much less effective than NATO Special Forces like the Green Berets, SEALS, or SAS. Saudi Special Forces undergo a basic military training that lasts three months, followed by another month of basic security training and an additional specialization that can last for anything from two to seven months. That is no more than the average training given to the average NATO soldier. Western Special Forces soldiers undergo two to three years of rigorous training before being deployed.
If the coalition forces are relying on these forces to push back and defeat the Houthi rebels, they are very likely to fail. This indicates that the Saudis and their allies are relying on Western nations to provide their more highly trained forces to fight the rebels.
One scenario been advance by Military analysts’ close the Pentagon thinking is to rely on US Special Forces for variety of tasks especially since they were stationed in Yemen and it’s likely that many of them are or will be deployed in Saudi Arabia to assist the coalition.
The first step will be to train the Saudis and other GCC special forces specifically in guerilla warfare and training indigenous forces. Since US forces have worked with Yemeni personnel and operated in Yemen, they are highly qualified to do this training.
While training the coalition forces, American SF personnel will infiltrate into Yemen and reestablish contacts that were severed when they were forced to withdraw just before the fall of the capitol. They will be able to assess the level of resistance to the rebels, the level of motivation to carry out attacks on the guerillas, and the quality of the indigenous forces that could be used against the Houthi.
Depending on the results of this incursion, the US Special Forces will begin training of Yemeni forces and help in pinprick attacks against the rebels. As the Saudi and GCC forces complete their training, they will be infiltrated into Yemen to expand the campaign.
Targets in these operations will be key Houthi commanders, supply lines and logistics bases. More conventional operations will have to wait until enough Yemeni forces are trained and equipped to form a credible conventional force under the command of the Yemeni president-in-exile.
The US Navy Moves
The nature of these covert operations explain the movement of American naval assets this week and their currently ambiguous mission.
An American carrier task force is moving into the area and it appears that they are prepared to intercept an Iranian convoy that is believed to be transporting weapons to the rebel Houthi. The Iranian convoy of freighters is escorted by warships from the Iranian military and Revolutionary Guard forces – which indicates that the Iranians are prepared to confront the US force if necessary. (Some news reports suggested withdrawal of Iranian convoy from the area)
The deployment comes after a U.N. Security Council resolution approved last week imposed an arms embargo on rebel leaders. The resolution passed in a 14-0 vote with Russia abstaining.
What’s unusual about the Iranian deployment is that the Iranians are not trying to conceal it, US officials said. Instead, they appear to be trying to “communicate it” to the U.S. and its allies in the Gulf.
The question is, “Why Iran is making the brazen move?” One theory is that the Saudi-led coalition has effectively blockaded any air routes into Yemen and there are no other ways to resupply the Houthi.
Another theory is that Iran is trying to distract the coalition from another ship it has tried hard to conceal that is currently docked at Oman — a potential land route for smuggling arms into Yemen.
Yet another theory is that Iran wants to force a confrontation with Saudi Arabia that it believes it will win, because Iran views the Saudi military as weak and suspects the U.S. lacks the willpower to support its Gulf ally. This theory is reinforced by comments by US officials that the US naval task force has no intention of intercepting and boarding Iranian ships.
It’s possible that Iran thinks Obama is so heavily invested now in the success of the Iranian nuclear agreement that he wouldn’t dare risk the deal by confronting them with military force.
Another possibility is that Obama fears a major military conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran at this point and is calculating that Iran’s navy will be less likely to do something rash if there’s a U.S. carrier group nearby to defend Saudi interests.
By stationing the US naval task force nearby, the hope is that it will keep Saudi and Iranian forces from coming face to face.
There is another possibility. US aircraft carriers have been frequently used as a base for major Special Forces operations (as was seen in 2002 in Afghanistan). Even if the carrier task force doesn’t directly confront the Iranian fleet, it is well positioned to carry out operations to support US, NATO, or GCC Special Forces operations. This would allow the US and members of the coalition to counter Iran and the Houthi rebels without creating a direct confrontation with Iran.
The US knows that the Houthi control little of the coastline, which means any attempt to resupply the rebels by sea is risky. With US assets, including Special Forces based in Saudi Arabia, the US can track any weapons movement and inform either allied Special Forces or rebels supporting the (resigned) Yemeni president to move in and attack the weapons shipment at or near the landing place. Such an attack would be just as successful and wouldn’t involve the politically risky move of intercepting and boarding Iranian flagged vessels.
The carrier task force would also be able to carry out air attacks in remote locations along the Oman/Yemen border, if Iran decides to move munitions along that route.
What’s next for Yemen?
By concluding Operation Decisive Storm, the Saudi led coalition has made it clear that they can’t win merely through overwhelming air superiority and that land operations are necessary either for a military or political resolution.
By not bringing in large land forces from a country like Pakistan, it is clear that the focus will be on a Special Forces backed insurgency, much like that used successfully by the US in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Special Forces will train insurgents and help them carry out targeted attacks against command personnel, supply routes, and logistical hubs. These will be supported by nearby American assets like the US Navy.
The plan according to some experts in Washington is to wear out the Houthi rebels and their Iranian backers with the hope they will seek a political solution. At the same time, the harassment will prevent the Houthi from instigating any guerilla attacks across the border into Saudi Arabia.
Senate’s Iran Nuclear Bill Misses the Point
By Michaela Dodge, Steven Groves, and James Phillips
April 16, 2015
Issue Brief #4387
Two days ago, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) unanimously passed the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, a bill that attempts to bolster the congressional role in the Obama Administration’s negotiations on the Iranian nuclear program. While the effort is well intentioned, the bill sets up Congress to allow the Administration to act as if it had congressional approval while a substantive oversight of the agreement is lacking. The bill paves a path to lifting sanctions and congressional approval of what has emerged as a flawed and dubious deal with a notoriously untrustworthy regime. The bill allows the Obama Administration’s future agreement with the Iranian leaders to go forward unless it is disapproved by enactment of a new law. To halt a bad agreement then, Congress would need to pass a joint resolution disapproving the agreement, which the President could then veto, as a result of which it would not become law unless two-thirds of both Houses of Congress vote to override the veto.
America’s Failed Approach to Chaos Theory
The Complexity Crisis in US Strategy
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
April 16, 2015
The United States now faces a rapidly evolving world filled with new challenges at a time when real-world defense planning is focused on budget cuts, when U.S. “strategy” lacks plans and program budgets, and when talk of strategic partnership lacks clear and specific direction. Far too much U.S. strategic rhetoric is a hollow shell, while the real U.S. national security posture is based on suboptimizing the budget around the fiscal ceilings set by the Budget Control Act (BCA), persisting in issuing empty concepts and strategic rhetoric, and dealing with immediate problems out of any broader strategic context. The end result resembles an exercise in chaos theory. Once one looks beyond the conceptual rhetoric, the reality is a steadily less coordinated set of reactions to each ongoing or new crisis: the strategic equivalent of the “butterfly effect.” To paraphrase Edward Lorenz, the chaos theorist who coined the term, “the present state determines a series of changes and uncertain adjustments in U.S. force postures and military actions in spite of the fact the approximate present does not approximately determine the future.
Yemen and Warfare in Failed States
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
April 22, 2015
It is still unclear what the end of the Saudi-led air campaign that made up “Operation Decisive Storm” or “Determined Storm” really means. The shift to a campaign called “Operation Hope Restore” would seem to emphasize some form of political settlement and effort to deal with the humanitarian crisis caused by Yemen’s civil war, the air campaign, and the deployment of naval forces, but this is still unclear. This raises far broader strategic issues than the immediate nature of military intervention in Yemen. It illustrates far broader strategic problems in fighting counterinsurgency and other military campaigns in failed states. No campaign can succeed that does not blend military action with some form of effective stability operations bordering on nation building. This is a challenge that goes far beyond Yemen and that every headline shows is just as real in cases like Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
Egypt’s Nationalists Dominate in a Politics-Free Zone
By Michele Dunne
April 15, 2015
Egypt’s political scene has changed radically from the vigorous pluralism that followed the 2011 uprising; in 2015 the Islamist and secular groups that won those elections are excluded or marginalized. Nationalists associated with the military or former regime of Hosni Mubarak have retaken center stage, and rivalries within that camp have reemerged. Any parliament elected under such conditions is likely to be fractious—despite the lack of real pluralism—and might have difficulty fulfilling its constitutionally mandated role.
The Authoritarian Resurgence: Saudi Arabia’s Anxious Autocrats
By Frederic Wehrey
April 15, 2015
Journal of Democracy
One of the world’s last remaining bastions of absolute monarchy, the oil-rich Kingdom of Saudi Arabia pursues throughout the broader Middle East and beyond an activist foreign policy that is largely nonideological, realist, and defensive in intent, but negative in its implications for democracy. In the aftermath of the 2011 Arab uprisings, Saudi Arabia has intervened in a number of transitioning states with the aim of countering the challenges posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran, the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Salafi jihadism as embodied by al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. While the intent of such interference may not be explicitly antidemocratic, many of the recipients of Saudi support have been authoritarian and antiliberal. The ultimate effect has been damaging to the spread of democratization and political pluralism.
Saudi Arabia’s ‘Inexperienced Youngster’
By Simon Henderson
April 21, 2015
Earlier today, Saudi Arabia announced that it has ended its airstrikes in Yemen because the heavy weapons and ballistic missiles threatening the kingdom have been destroyed. The fighting had appeared to be stalemated for at least the past two weeks. Although the announced outcome is being depicted as a military success, it is unclear how it fits into a Saudi strategy to reinstate the government of President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, currently in exile in Riyadh, though the statement spoke of a political solution. A key Saudi decisionmaker on the matter is one of King Salman’s younger sons, Prince Muhammad, who was appointed defense minister in January. The outcome of the crisis, which saw the deployment of Saudi naval and army units, could make or break his career and perhaps even define his father’s legacy.
Changing Iran Trends in the Worldwide Threat Assessment
By Marina Shalabi and Ian Duff
April 14, 2015
Each year, the director of national intelligence presents Congress with a “Worldwide Threat Assessment” detailing the range of security threats to the United States, with the latest edition released this February. Below is a list of quotes from past and present assessments discussing Iran’s regional posture and the role of its proxies. “In the Middle East, Iran and its neighbors see a strategic shift: Iran’s influence is rising in ways that go beyond the menace of its nuclear program. The fall of the Taliban and Saddam, increased oil revenues, HAMAS’s electoral victory, and Hizballah’s perceived recent success in fighting against Israel all extend Iran’s shadow in the region.” “Iran remains a threat to regional stability and US interests in the Middle East…Tehran’s leadership seeks to preserve Iran’s Islamic revolutionary government, sovereignty, stability, and territorial integrity while expanding Iran’s influence and leadership in the region and the Islamic world.”
Did the Clintons’ Greed Endanger U.S. National Security?
By Fred Fleitz
Center for Security Policy
April 23, 2015
Although Peter Schweizer’s new book “Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich” will not hit bookstores until May 5, it has already set off a firestorm of controversy that foreign governments bought influence with the Clintons – including when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State – by contributing millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation and paying the Clintons millions in speaking fees. Bill Clinton, according to Schweizer, earned $48 million in speaking fees while Mrs. Clinton was Secretary of State. Although Hillary Clinton claimed she and her husband were “dead broke” in 2000, their current net worth is estimated between $100 million and $200 million.