Analysis: Yemen conflict shows small-drone warfare ‘is here to stay’, say experts

DroneThe current wars in the Middle East, especially the ongoing conflict in Yemen, are proof that the use of small drones in insurgencies is now a permanent phenomenon of irregular warfare, according to experts. Drones have been used in warfare in the Middle East for almost 20 years —including by outside powers like the United States. But National Public Radio’s Geoff Brumfiel reports that the wars in Iraq and Syria, and especially the war between the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels, clearly demonstrate that we have entered “a new era of drone warfare”.

The use of off-the-shelf small drones has been increasing since 2010, with the Syrian Civil War having served as a testing ground for military uses of drones by all sides involved in the conflict. Belligerents quickly realized that the use of drones —whether remotely operated from the ground, or guided by GPS coordinates— could provide useful air power “for a fraction of the cost of fighter jets” employed by national militaries, according to Brumfiel. He quotes numerous drone warfare expects who agree that the ongoing Yemeni Civil War provides the clearest sign yet of the proliferation of drones for military and paramilitary purposes. The Houthi rebels have employed drones to attack government targets and targets such as air fields, oil installations and military bases in neighboring Saudi Arabia. Most of these drones, and the knowledge of how to modify them for military use, are given to the Houthis by Iran, according to RAND Corporation expert Ariane Tabatabai, who is quoted in Brumfiel’s article.

Iran has been developing military drone technology since the 1980s, but did not begin to employ drones outside of its airspace until 2015. The change was prompted by the emergence of the Islamic State emerged as a major Sunni threat to Shiite populations in the region. Iranian drones are now everywhere, from Iraq and Syria to Yemen. These drones, including drones used by the Houthis, are major sources of concern for conventional armies, because they are difficult to detect and destroy, according to Center for a New American Security researcher Nicholas Heras. He told Brumfiel that small drones are difficult to locate by radar, and their flight paths are far more flexible than those of airplanes. Additionally, those drones controllers can use GPS systems to “navigate through holes” in air defenses, said Heras.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 30 May 2019 | Permalink

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France seizes ship with ‘hundreds of weapons’ heading for Yemen

Combined Maritime ForcesThe United States says a ship carrying hundreds of weapons, which was captured by the French Navy in the Indian Ocean, originated from Iran, and that the cargo was destined for Yemeni rebels through Somalia. The ship was seized on March 20 by a French warship patrolling the Indian Ocean as part of the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF). The CMF is a multinational naval fleet that aims to implement United Nations sanctions on Somalia. The sanctions are designed to frustrate the activities of al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda-linked Somali militant group, and to put an end to maritime piracy in the Horn of Africa.

The ship carrying the weapons is believed to have been initially spotted by a French helicopter that was conducting surveillance flights in support of CMF’s mission. Soon after boarding the ship, French forces discovered large amounts of weaponry. A statement posted on the CMF website said that the ship was found to be carrying “several hundred AK47 assault rifles, machine guns and anti-tank weapons”. The French Ministry of Defense said that the vessel was not registered to any country and that the crew of 10 was multinational. All crew members were released after being questioned by their French captors.

An assessment of the ship’s capture by the US Department of Defense states that the arms shipment probably originated in Iran and that it was heading to Somalia. However, the most likely final destination of the cargo was not al-Shabaab, but Houthi rebels in Yemen. Iran is known to be supporting and funding Houthi rebels, who are Shiite and are fighting a bitter civil war against the country’s Saudi-supported Sunni government.

It is worth noting that the recent capture of the unregistered vessel is the third such seizure of a large cache of weapons heading for Yemen through Somalia since September. In the previous most recent case, an Australian Navy ship sailing off the coast of Oman intercepted a large cache of weapons being transported to Yemen. US sources speculated that the intercepted ship originated from Iran and was heading to Yemen.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 31 March 2016 | Permalink

Yemen’s Shiite rebels are not Iran proxies: US intelligence officials

YemenBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
American intelligence officials have cautioned against the popular narrative that Yemen’s Shiite rebels are proxies or Iran, noting that Tehran actually counseled them against conquering Yemeni capital Sana’a last year. Known as Houthis, the group formally calls itself Ansar Allah (Supporters of God) and consists almost exclusively of Zaidi tribesmen, who follow an obscure form of Shia Islam. Their denomination, which distinguishes them from Yemen’s Sunni majority, shapes their ethnic identity and has helped fuel their 20-year insurgency against the Yemeni state. In September of last year, Houthi rebels, taking advantage of the chaos caused by the spillover of the Arab Spring into Yemen, marched into Sana’a, which had been virtually abandoned by the government’s security forces, and took it over.

The surprising move caused many in the Middle East to accuse Iran, whose Shiite government maintains strong religious and ideological connections with Yemen’s Zaidi community, of using the Houthis as a proxy army in order to destabilize Saudi Arabia’s southern regions. The latter are also populated by Shiite tribes, who are ethnically affiliated with the Houthis and view Iran as a kind of spiritual homeland. In Washington, the alleged Iranian link to the Houthi insurgency has been pointed to repeatedly by lawmakers opposed to the recent agreement between the Islamic Republic and a group of nations that have come to be known as P5+1, representing the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. The lawmakers argue that, while nominally agreeing to end its nuclear program, Tehran has been secretly conspiring to destabilize the entire Arabian Peninsula.

However, a report in online news agency The Huffington Post said on Monday that American intelligence officials are far from convinced that Iran is actually directing the Houthi insurgency. Citing “American officials familiar with intelligence” operations in Yemen, the New York-based news agency said Iran actively opposed the Houthis’ advance on the Yemeni capital in September of last year, and tried to prevent it. The Houthis, however, simply ignored Tehran’s advice and took over Sana’a. The Huffington Post quotes one unnamed American intelligence official who says that “it is wrong to think of the Houthis as a proxy force of Iran”. The article also quotes Bernadette Meehan, spokeswoman for the United States National Security Council, who says that “it remains [the NSC’s] assessment that Iran does not exert command and control over the Houthis in Yemen”.

If it is accurate, the US intelligence assessment would mean that Tehran is far more interested in promoting its agreement with the P5+1 than commandeering a proxy war in Yemen. Additionally, those who suggest that Yemen’s Houthis are guided by Iran appear to ignore the fact that the Zaidis follow a branch of Shiite Islam that differs markedly from Iran’s. Knowledgeable observers have pointed out that the Houthi insurgency is far more concerned with combatting local government corruption and having a say in the country’s internal power struggles than promoting Shiite Islam in Yemen and beyond.

News you may have missed #888 (CIA edition)

YemenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►CIA said to have bought Iraqi chemical weapons. The CIA, working with US troops during the occupation of Iraq, repeatedly purchased nerve-agent rockets from a secretive Iraqi seller, part of a previously undisclosed effort to ensure that old chemical weapons remaining in Iraq did not fall into the hands of terrorists or militant groups, according to current and former US officials. The extraordinary arms purchase plan, known as Operation AVARICE, began in 2005 and continued into 2006, and the US military deemed it a nonproliferation success.
►►CIA fears enemy will gain control of the weather. The CIA is worried that a foreign power may develop the ability to manipulate the global climate in a way that cannot be detected, according to Professor Alan Robock, a leading climatologist. Robock claimed that consultants working for the CIA asked him whether it would be possible for a nation to meddle with the climate without being discovered. “At the same time, I thought they were probably also interested in if we could control somebody else’s climate, could they detect it”, he said.
►►CIA scales back presence and operations in Yemen. The closure of the US Embassy in Yemen has forced the CIA to significantly scale back its counterterrorism presence in the country, according to US officials, who said the evacuation represents a major setback in operations against al-Qaeda’s most dangerous affiliate. The spy agency has pulled dozens of operatives, analysts and other staffers from Yemen as part of a broader extraction of roughly 200 Americans who had been based at the embassy in Sana’a, officials said. The departures were triggered by mounting concerns over security in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, where Houthi rebels have effectively toppled the government.

Shiite rebels abduct, then release, Yemen’s intelligence chief

YemenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Shiite rebels, who are in control of most of Yemeni capital Sana’a, released the country’s intelligence chief a few hours after abducting him from his home, according to local sources. The chief, Major General Yehia al-Marani, directs Yemen’s Political Security Organization (PSO), and is regularly referred to as the second most powerful security official in the country, after the director of the country’s National Security Bureau. The Associated Press reported early on Thursday that about 20 armed militia members appeared outside al-Marani’s home in Sana’a at daybreak and demanded that the general come with them. The PSO chief ordered his bodyguards to lay down their weapons and then went away escorted by the rebels. Al-Marani’s kidnappers were almost certainly Houthi militiamen, who are members of a Shiite militant group known as Ansarullah. The Houthis, who come from western Yemen, have been engaged in a secessionist armed struggle since 2004 against the Sunni-dominated Yemeni government. Last September, they took advantage of the power-vacuum created by the collapse of the regime of longtime dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh and stormed the Yemeni capital, easily taking control of it within a few days. Their official reason for the takeover was their expressed desire to force President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who succeeded Saleh, to dissolve Yemen’s Sunni-led government, which the Houthis said was closely connected with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). After a period of prolonged negotiations with the rebels, President Hadi dissolved the government and replaced it with a more inclusive group of non-partisan technocrats. But the rebels refused to disband and disarm, and have since intensified their armed campaign, taking over a number of Yemeni cities and several major roads across the country. The Houthi leadership claims that they need to remain armed in order to fight militant Sunni groups operating in the country, and to battle corruption. Al-Marani was released by the rebels late on Thursday, with no explanation given as to his earlier abduction. It is believed that, before his appointment as head of PSO, the General served for 15 years as the Organization’s regional director in Sa’dah province, a Shiite stronghold where the Houthi insurgency has its roots. Some speculate that the rebels intended to settle old scores with al-Marani. Yemen government officials have refused to confirm or deny the reports of the Generals’ abduction and release.