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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US weapons given to UAE and Saudi Arabia are diverted to al-Qaeda-linked groups

Shabwani EliteWeapons supplied to the Saudi and Emirati governments by the United States and other Western nations are ending up in the hands of al-Qaeda-linked Sunni militias in Yemen, according to two separate investigations. The weapons are being supplied to the militaries of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates by the West on the understanding that they will be used in the war in Yemen. The war has been going on since 2015, when a alliance of rebel groups from Yemen’s Shiite communities formed the Houthi movement, which quickly seized control of much of the country. The Houthis effectively toppled the government, prompting a reaction by a coalition of Sunni Arab states, which see the Shiite movement as an Iranian front. In an effort to restore Yemen’s Sunni-dominated government, Western countries have supplied Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates with more than $5 billion-worth of weaponry.

However, a report published this week by Amnesty International alleges that some of that weaponry, including machine guns, mortars and even armored vehicles, are being deliberately diverted to Sunni militia groups in Yemen. Among them are three militias that are known to be supported by the government of the Emirates, namely the Giants, the Security Belt and the Shabwani Elite. These groups, says Amnesty, have been seen using Western-supplied weaponry in the field of battle and in their compounds throughout Yemen. In its report, the human-rights group says that these groups are not accountable to any government and have been linked to serious war crimes against civilians. Meanwhile, a separate investigation aired this week by CNN claims that American-manufactured weaponry and materiel given by Washington to the Saudi and Emirati militaries is ending up in the hand of Salafist militias in Yemen. The report names the Sunni Abu al-Abbas Brigade, which is closely linked to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The CNN report also claims that some of the American weaponry has fallen in the hands of Houthi fighters.

On Wednesday the BBC quoted a senior American general who said that the Pentagon plans to investigate whether American and other Western-supplied weapons are being illegally diverted into the hands of non-state Sunni militias in Yemen. The government of the United Arab Emirates has not commented on the reports. As intelNews reported last August, an investigative report published by the Associated Press claimed that senior AQAP commanders were on the payroll of US-backed Sunni militias in Yemen and that its fighters were being recruited to fight against the Houthis. The report also argued that Washington was privy to the secret agreements between Yemen’s Sunni militias and AQAP.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 February 2019 | Permalink

US-backed alliance in Yemen war bribes, recruits al-Qaeda warlords, report finds

Al-Qaeda in YemenYemeni militias backed by Saudi Arabia, the United States and the United Arab Emirates are actively paying off al-Qaeda-allied factions to abstain from the fighting, and are recruiting al-Qaeda members to fight against Shiite rebels, according to a new investigative report. Ever since 2015, when the civil war in Yemen broke out, the US, along with its Arab allies UAE and Saudi Arabia, has supported Sunni troops in their war against Shiite Houthi rebels. The latter are believed to be supported by Iran, and the US-backed coalition is engaged in an effort to curtail what it sees as Iranian expansionism in the Middle East.

But Iranian-supported fighters are just one of the many well-armed factions involved in the Yemeni Civil War, which Washington is ostensibly against. Another such faction is Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Peninsula (AQAP), believed to be the strongest surviving branch of the group that carried out the attacks of September 11, 2001. For several years now, the US-led coalition in Yemen has argued that its forces have severely limited AQAP’s strength and ability to fight, and that the group’s territorial control has been shattered. But a new investigative report published on Monday by the Associated Press argues that the reason why AQAP’s activities appear to have decreased in Yemen, is that its commanders are being bribed by US-backed Sunni militias and that its fighters are being recruited to fight against the Houthis. As strict Sunni Salafists, AQAP members view the Shiite Houthis as apostates and enemies of Islam. They are therefore “effectively on the same side as the Saudi-led coalition” in Yemen, note the editors of the Associated Press report. Citing “interviews with two dozen officials, including Yemeni security officers, militia commanders, tribal mediators and […] members of al-Qaeda”, the report’s authors say that US-backed Sunni militias “actively recruit al-Qaeda militants […] because they’re considered exceptional fighters”.

The Associated Press report also claims that the Sunni coalition has struck a series of secret agreements with AQAP, under which it paid off its fighters to abandon several Yemeni towns that were under their control. Upon leaving, these AQAP fighters were allowed to take with them tons of military equipment and valuables, including cash. In one case, AQAP was bribed to abandon the port city of Mukalla, Yemen’s fifth-largest urban center, and its fighters were allowed to keep their weapons and up to $100 million in looted cash deposits, said the Associated Press. In another case, AQAP militants were paid off to leave several towns in Yemen’s Abyan province, and 250 of them were incorporated into the so-called Security Belt, a Sunni militia backed by the government of the UAE. The AQAP fighters reportedly told their Security Belt commanders that they would “unite with the devil [himself] in the face of Houthis”.

The Associated Press notes that there is no evidence that funds supplied to Yemeni Sunni militias by the US have ended up into the hands of AQAP. Additionally, the US government has repeatedly denied accusations by Russia, Syria, and others that it supports various al-Qaeda factions. However, the Associated Press argues that the US Pentagon has been privy to the secret agreements between the Sunni militias and AQAP, which some say may end up strengthening al-Qaeda’s most formidable local branch anywhere in the world.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 August 2018 | Research credit: M.A. | Permalink