Britain’s covert war in Yemen

Vice News reports: In a rural valley in southern Yemen lies Wadi Rafad, a collection of farms 50 miles from the provincial capital of Ataq. Amid an arid landscape dotted with lemon orchards and cornfields, villagers were used to the peace being disturbed by the buzzing of US drones flying overhead. But on the afternoon of May 6, 2012, something changed.

Around 4.30pm an aircraft came into view, its white fuselage clearly visible against the stark blue sky. Rather than overfly the valley, the CIA drone fired Hellfire missiles straight at Fahd al-Quso, who was working his land. He was killed instantly — but shrapnel from the blast also engulfed Nasser Salim Lakdim, a 19-year-old student who had just returned home to tend his family’s plantation. Nasser’s father came rushing back to the farm to find his son in pieces. “It was horrifying, I can barely describe it,” he told VICE News.

The strike was among the foremost successes of the US counterterrorism effort in Yemen. Al-Quso, its target, was a senior field commander in al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). He had participated in the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 and had threatened to attack American embassies.

It was also an example of successful cooperation between British and American intelligence agencies. The US had hunted al-Quso for half a decade, and the intelligence that led to this strike came from a British agent working for the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) — commonly known as MI6 — who had infiltrated AQAP.

Far from being a one-off tip, a VICE News investigation can exclusively reveal that this was a high point in systemic collaboration between SIS and the CIA to degrade AQAP through a combination of special forces operations and drone strikes.

A former senior CIA official responsible for operations in Yemen told VICE News that “the most important contribution” to the intelligence for the strike came from “a very important British capability.” The UK agent provided the CIA with al-Quso’s position, allowing a drone to track his car. “That was quite unique,” the former official explained, “it was something we didn’t have.”

The use of drones in Yemen has long been characterized as a unilateral US policy. In response to a 2014 parliamentary question on Britain’s role in the US drone program, UK Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hugh Robertson said: “Drone strikes against terrorist targets in Yemen are a matter for the Yemeni and US governments.”

However, following interviews with more than two dozen current and former British, American, and Yemeni officials, VICE News can reveal that the UK played a crucial and sustained role with the CIA in finding and fixing targets, assessing the effect of strikes, and training Yemeni intelligence agencies to locate and identify targets for the US drone program. The US-led covert war in Yemen, now in its 15th year, has killed up to 1,651 people, including up to 261 civilians, according to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. [Continue reading…]

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Cash, candy, and ‘collateral damage’: An anatomy of a CIA-MI6 drone assassination

Vice News reports: “I was on my way to play football with my friends when the airstrike hit,” Amin Ali al-Wisabi told VICE News, recounting the day when a CIA drone struck his hometown of Azzan in Yemen. “We had stopped to sit down and plan the match when all of a sudden an explosion hit a passing al-Qaeda car.”

Recovering from his shock, 13-year-old Amin realized he had been hit by shrapnel. “Blood was pouring from my leg.”

Next to Amin, his friend Hamza Khaled Baziyad lay unconscious. In total, five children aged between 10 and 14 were injured as they gathered close to the local mosque.

Though the number of people injured in covert US strikes is not officially recorded, they play a crucial role in the struggle for hearts and minds across Yemen’s southern hinterland. Bystanders and family rushed the children to a local clinic, where Hamza awoke while shrapnel was extracted from his chest. All of the children survived. [Continue reading…]

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Two ways the war in Yemen is turning into a disaster for the U.S.

Ishaan Tharoor writes: Two significant reports last week illustrated the awkward role of the United States in the ongoing conflict in Yemen, which has claimed thousands of lives, seen the virtual collapse of the fragile Yemeni state, and sparked a grim humanitarian crisis in what was already the Middle East’s most impoverished nation.

An investigation by Human Rights Watch published on Wednesday alleged that at least two deadly airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition last month used munitions supplied by the United States. The attack, which hit a town in northwestern Yemen, killed at least 97 civilians, including 25 children.

Last month also marked the anniversary of Saudi Arabia’s entrance into the civil war on its southern border — an intervention that has seen Riyadh and its allies get bogged down in a difficult battle with the country’s Houthi rebels, who still control the capital Sanaa and much of northern Yemen.

Separately, a Reuters special report raised the possibility that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the terror group’s influential Yemeni wing — long the target of U.S. counterterror operations — has gained ground in the shadow of the Saudi-led war, exploiting Yemen’s security vacuum to consolidate its position in a string of coastal cities while building up an impressive treasury of plundered wealth. [Continue reading…]

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How Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen has made al Qaeda stronger – and richer

Reuters reports: Once driven to near irrelevance by the rise of Islamic State abroad and security crackdowns at home, al Qaeda in Yemen now openly rules a mini-state with a war chest swollen by an estimated $100 million in looted bank deposits and revenue from running the country’s third largest port.

If Islamic State’s capital is the Syrian city of Raqqa, then al Qaeda’s is Mukalla, a southeastern Yemeni port city of 500,000 people. Al Qaeda fighters there have abolished taxes for local residents, operate speedboats manned by RPG-wielding fighters who impose fees on ship traffic, and make propaganda videos in which they boast about paving local roads and stocking hospitals.

The economic empire was described by more than a dozen diplomats, Yemeni security officials, tribal leaders and residents of Mukalla. Its emergence is the most striking unintended consequence of the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen. The campaign, backed by the United States, has helped Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to become stronger than at any time since it first emerged almost 20 years ago.

Yemeni government officials and local traders estimated the group, as well as seizing the bank deposits, has extorted $1.4 million from the national oil company and earns up to $2 million every day in taxes on goods and fuel coming into the port.

AQAP boasts 1,000 fighters in Mukalla alone, controls 600 km (373 miles) of coastline and is ingratiating itself with southern Yemenis, who have felt marginalised by the country’s northern elite for years.

By adopting many of the tactics Islamic State uses to control its territory in Syria and Iraq, AQAP has expanded its own fiefdom. The danger is that the group, which organised the Charlie Hebdo magazine attack in Paris last year and has repeatedly tried to down U.S. airliners, may slowly indoctrinate the local population with its hardline ideology.

“I prefer that al Qaeda stay here, not for Al Mukalla to be liberated,” said one 47-year-old resident. “The situation is stable, more than any ‘free’ part of Yemen. The alternative to al Qaeda is much worse.” [Continue reading…]

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Yemen: U.S. bombs used in deadliest market strike

Human Rights Watch: Saudi Arabia-led coalition airstrikes using United States-supplied bombs killed at least 97 civilians, including 25 children, in northwestern Yemen on March 15, 2016, Human Rights Watch said today. The two strikes, on a crowded market in the village of Mastaba that may have also killed about 10 Houthi fighters, caused indiscriminate or foreseeably disproportionate loss of civilian life, in violation of the laws of war. Such unlawful attacks when carried out deliberately or recklessly are war crimes.

Human Rights Watch conducted on-site investigations on March 28, and found remnants at the market of a GBU-31 satellite-guided bomb, which consists of a US-supplied MK-84 2,000-pound bomb mated with a JDAM satellite guidance kit, also US-supplied. A team of journalists from ITV, a British news channel, visited the site on March 26, and found remnants of an MK-84 bomb paired with a Paveway laser guidance kit. Human Rights Watch reviewed the journalists’ photographs and footage of these fragments.

“One of the deadliest strikes against civilians in Yemen’s year-long war involved US-supplied weapons, illustrating tragically why countries should stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia,” said Priyanka Motaparthy, emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The US and other coalition allies should send a clear message to Saudi Arabia that they want no part in unlawful killings of civilians.” [Continue reading…]

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Growing international movement seek to place arms embargo on Saudi Arabia

The Intercept reports: A lawsuit filed last week in Canada is seeking to halt a major $15 billion sale of light-armored vehicles to the government of Saudi Arabia, part of a growing international movement to stop arms sales to the Saudi government over its alleged war crimes in Yemen.

The suit, filed by University of Montreal constitutional law professor Daniel Turp, argues the vehicle sales to Saudi Arabia violate a number of Canadian laws, including regulations on the export of military equipment, which prohibit arms sales to countries where human rights are “subject to serious and repeated violations” and there is a reasonable risk exported equipment “will be used against the civilian population.” Saudi Arabia, which has a deplorable human rights record at home, has inflicted considerable civilian casualties in Yemen as part of its yearlong bombing campaign in support of the contested government of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

“The suppression of human rights in Saudi Arabia and the Saudi government’s actions during the war in Yemen make the sale of these armored vehicles legally unacceptable,” Turp said.[Continue reading…]

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Why it’s wrong to say that the Arab uprisings failed

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Marc Lynch writes: Conventional wisdom holds that the Arab uprisings that began in Tunisia in December 2010 failed. It’s hard to argue with such a harsh verdict. Most Arab regimes managed to survive their popular challenges through some combination of cooptation, coercion and modest reform. Egypt’s transition ended in an even harsher military regime. Yemen and Libya collapsed into state failure and regionalized wars, while Syria degenerated into a horrific war.

But simply dismissing the uprisings as a failure does not capture how fully they have transformed every dimension of the region’s politics. Today’s authoritarians are more repressive because they are less stable, more frightened and ever more incapable of sustaining their domination. With oil prices collapsing and popular discontent again spiking, it is obvious that the generational challenge of the Arab uprising is continuing to unfold. “Success or failure” is not a helpful way to understand these ongoing societal and political processes.

Instead of binary outcomes, political scientists have begun to more closely examine the new political forms and patterns, which the uprisings generated. A few months ago, the Project on Middle East Political Science convened a virtual symposium with 30 political scientists examining how the turmoil of the past five years have affected Arab politics. Those essays, many of them originally published on the Monkey Cage, are now available for open access download as an issue of POMEPS Studies. Those essays offer an ambivalent, nuanced perspective on what has and has not changed in the region since 2011 – and point to the many challenges to come.

The new politics shaped by the Arab uprising can be tracked along multiple levels of analysis, including regional international relations, regimes, states, and ideas. [Continue reading…]

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How Saudi Arabia captured Washington

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Max Fisher reports: There was a moment almost exactly one year ago, in March 2015, that revealed some uncomfortable truths about America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia.

That month, as Saudi Arabia prepared to launch what would become its disastrous war against Shia rebels in neighboring Yemen, the Saudi ambassador in Washington, Adel al-Jubeir, brought a list of “high-value targets” to CIA Director John Brennan. The Saudis were asking for American support in the war; the list was meant as a show of cooperation.

But when US intelligence agencies checked the list against their own information, they found that many of the targets had little or no military value, according to a report at the time by the Wall Street Journal’s Maria Abi-Habib and Adam Entous. Many were civilian structures in or near population centers.

The US warned Saudi Arabia off the targets, and Saudi officials said they complied. But when the air war began, Saudi bombs fell heavily on “hospitals, schools, a refugee camp, and neighborhoods,” according to the Journal.

The US initially held back from the war. But soon, in an apparent effort to purchase Saudi acquiescence to the nuclear deal with Iran, the US substantially increased support for the Saudi-led campaign, providing midair refueling, weapons and supplies, targeting information, and 45 dedicated intelligence analysts.

A year after the war began, it is now a disaster, as detailed in a New York Times account. Half of the 6,000 casualties are thought to be civilians; al-Qaeda’s hold in Yemen has strengthened; Saudi Arabia has failed in its objective to force the war’s end, instead only exacerbating the ongoing violence. The US has helped Saudi Arabia to accelerate the implosion of another Mideast state, with unknown but surely far-reaching implications.

You would think that Washington’s foreign policy community — a close-knit network of think tanks, academic outfits, and other institutions that heavily influence the media and whose members frequently rotate into and out of government positions — would be outraged. That community is overwhelmingly focused on the Middle East, prides itself on high-minded humanitarian ideals and far-thinking strategy, and is often critical of President Obama’s foreign policy.

But aside from a few dissident voices, the Washington foreign policy community has been relatively quiet on America’s involvement backing Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. Instead, this week, much of that community expressed outrage over a very different story about the US relationship with Saudi Arabia: Obama, in an interview, had seemed to deride the Saudi leadership and its influence in Washington. [Continue reading…]

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Explained: How the Arab Spring led to an increasingly vicious civil war in Yemen

By Sophia Dingli, University of Hull

A missile strike on a crowded market in the northern Yemeni province of Hajja has killed dozens of civilians and injured many others. It comes almost a year after a coup by Houthi “nationalists” and the start of a Saudi-led bombing campaign, ostensibly on behalf of the Yemeni government – a devastating war that shows no signs of dissipating.

Since the bombing began in March 2015, there have been at least 3,000 civilian casualties, among them 700 children and a further 26,000 have been injured. Some 3.4m children are out of school, while 7.6m people are a step away from famine. Almost all Yemenis are in need of some form of aid.

In addition to the human casualties, 23 UNESCO heritage sites have been bombed and destroyed along with hospitals, centres for the blind, ambulances, Red Cross offices and a home for the elderly.

The war has been a brutal affair: all sides have allegedly committed war crimes. The Saudi coalition has been using banned cluster munitions manufactured in the US, while the Houthi rebels have been laying landmines. Child soldiers have been used by both the Houthis and government forces.

The world beyond the Middle East has struggled to mount an appropriate and united response to the conflict. The US and the UK have been supporting the Saudi war effort, while the EU parliament has called for an embargo on arms sales to Saudi Arabia. All attempts to form a sustainable peace building effort have been met with intransigence by the belligerents and ended in failure.

To understand why this is and to come up with some way of bringing this slaughter, misery and suffering to an end, we must revisit the root causes of the war and the factors that are still getting in the way of any sort of peace process.

[Read more…]

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Yemen conflict: Saudi Arabia to ‘scale back’ military operations

BBC News reports: Saudi Arabia has said its military coalition will scale back operations against rebels in Yemen.

The US-backed coalition of mostly Arab states began air strikes a year ago in support of Yemen’s internationally recognised government.

A Saudi military spokesman said that the coalition would continue to provide air support to Yemeni forces.

The announcement came as the death toll from a strike on a market this week doubled to more than 100. [Continue reading…]

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Saudi Arabia back-tracks on Yemen

By Brian Whitaker, March 10, 2016

After waging war in Yemen for almost a year, Saudi Arabia is gradually beginning to realise what many said at the outset: that military victory is impossible.

A few days ago the Saudis took the previously unthinkable step of engaging in direct talks with the Houthis, their principal foe in Yemen. Yesterday, reinforcing this shift, Saudi foreign minister Adel bin Ahmed al-Jubeir spoke of the kingdom’s “commitment to finding a political solution”.

Even so, an end to the conflict is probably still a long way off and the scope of the Saudi-Houthi talks so far seems to be limited to a few specific issues: cross-border conflict, prisoner exchanges and supplies of humanitarian aid to Yemen. 

[Read more…]

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Iran prepared to send advisers to ‘support’ Yemen’s Houthis

Middle East Eye reports: Iran is prepared to send a team of “military advisers” to support Houthi rebels in Yemen, a senior military commander has said, amid suggestions that forces fighting on the ground could be moving towards a peace deal.

Massoud Jazayiri, deputy head of Iran’s armed forces, told Iran’s Tasnim news agency on Tuesday that the country would consider repeating its actions in Syria, where it is supporting President Bashar al-Assad.

“The Islamic Republic [of Iran] feels very deeply its obligation to help the Syrian government and its people. It also feels very deeply its obligation to help the Yemeni people in any way possible.”

Iran has sent large numbers of military advisers to fight alongside the Syrian army and Hezbollah, as well as footsoldiers thought to include Afghan migrants to Iran who are promised high rates of pay and Iranian citizenship in exchange for fighting.

Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who overran much of the country in September 2014, are already known to have received financial and military support from Iran. [Continue reading…]

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Saudi Arabia’s unholy war in Yemen

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Nasser Arrabyee writes: Since it began its war on the Houthis in March 2015, Saudi Arabia has justified its intervention as a broader holy duty to fight Shia and protect the government in exile. Yet Yemenis increasingly view Saudi intervention more as a campaign—in which they are collateral—to upgrade Riyadh’s own influence and an ill-conceived effort to promote Mohammed Bin Salman as a powerful future Saudi king. As such, Yemenis fail to see any moral or legal justification for the U.S.-backed Saudi war. What is evident to them is the deliberate destruction of people and capital—all to no end, as the war has failed to accomplish Saudi Arabia’s goal of weakening the Houthis. Instead, the airstrikes and blockade that form the core of Saudi Arabia’s strategy have increased anti-Saudi hatred, driving greater numbers of Yemenis to support the Houthis every day.

The war has done particular damage to infrastructure — including reservoirs, airports, electric power stations, bridges and roads, markets, factories, stadiums, and hospitals. The education sector has been hit especially hard, with 39 universities damaged, 810 primary and secondary schools damaged, and another 3,809 closed. About 85 percent of the population of 27 million is in dire need of food, water, medicine, and fuel. Over 2.5 million Yemenis are displaced, and the attacks have killed or injured more than 23,000 civilians — among them thousands of women and children—using internationally prohibited weapons such as cluster bombs, as documented by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. [Continue reading…]

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How arms sales to Saudi Arabia are promoting instability

William D. Hartung writes: According to a report released this week by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), arms deliveries to Saudi Arabia have increased by an astonishing 279% between 2011 and 2015, compared with the prior five-year period. More then three quarters of the weaponry came from the U.S. and the United Kingdom.

There was a time when sales to the Saudis were more about money and politics than fighting actual conflicts. Multi-billion dollar sales from the Nixon administration onward were seen as a way to bolster U.S. weapons contractors and “recycle petrodollars” — earn back some of the funds that flowed out of the U.S. to purchase Saudi oil. It didn’t hurt that Saudi officials frequently skimmed off funds for their own use as part of these mega-deals.

Until recently, the military relevance of sending weapons to Saudi Arabia had less to do with the Saudis using U.S.-supplied arms than it did with cementing ties with Washington. The implicit understanding was that the purchase of large quantities of U.S. armaments was a form of payback for Washington’s commitment to come to the rescue of the Saudi regime in a crisis. [Continue reading…]

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States must stop selling weapons to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen conflict

Amnesty: Campaigners are today calling on governments due to attend the latest round of discussions on the implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) in Geneva on 29 February to set their hypocrisy aside and stop selling billions of dollars worth of deadly weapons to Saudi Arabia being used to attack Yemeni civilians.

In a new report released today, the Control Arms Coalition names France, Germany, Italy, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the UK, and the US as having reported licenses and sales to Saudi Arabia worth more than $25bn in 2015 including drones, bombs, torpedoes, rockets and missiles. These are the types of arms currently being used by Saudi Arabia and its allies for gross violations of human rights and possible war crimes during aerial and ground attacks in Yemen. [Continue reading…]

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