Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Operation Decisive Strike

September 26th marks four and a half years of the Saudi and Emirati war in Yemen.  With US support!  Below is a link to a piece from April 2015, a month after that intervention started.  Titled US generals: Saudi intervention in Yemen ‘a bad idea’.  Some flag officers at CENTCOM and at Special Ops argued strenuously against supporting the Saudi-led intervention because the "Houthi movement has been an effective counter to Al-Qaeda."  Those Special Ops guys were also clairvoyant in noting that Saudi/UAE intervention was doomed – even as the Saudis were saying it would take a few weeks.  Supposedly some in SOCOM still “favor the Houthis, as they have been successful in rolling back AQ and IS.”  
The Saudis labeled it 'Operation Decisive Strike', a criminal misnomer IMO.  There are 91,000+ dead Yemenis many of them civilians, hundreds of thousands devastated by cholera and malnutrition, three million displaced, 54 months of indiscriminate bombing of marketplaces & funerals & weddings et al, and billions of dollars down the toilet.  Just glad it is Saudi and Emirati dollars, except for the million or two US $$ for refueling flights.  But it looks like the T-Rump is going to increase that by an order of magnitude with this new force package he is sending to protect the House of Saud and their pinheaded prince.

And recently in Aden some Saudi supported factions and Emirati supported factions started killing each other.  Yemen is now looking worse than the goat-rope in Syria.  There are at least five different wars-within-war going on there:  

1] Saudi Arabia and the UAE and their minions against the Houthis and their tribal allies. The minions later included some help from Egypt, Sudan, Morocco, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain.  This is the main fight, and was meant to restore the propped up president, Abdrabbuh Manṣūr Hādī (who like an absentee landlord lives in luxury in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia)  -  and thrash the Houthis who they consider heretical and convert them to a creed more in line with Wahhabi thinking.  

2] Add in Iran support to the Houthis.  Although I don’t believe they were ever outright proxies of Tehran.  Reportedly Iran advised the Houthis NOT to take over the Yemen capitol of Sana’a back four and a half years ago.   But they did anyway.  And after the bombing campaign started Iran gave what support they could.  Undoubtedly there is funding and IRGC connivance in weapons supply.  And probably targeting intel within KSA via the Saudi Shia resistance, which is infiltrated by Iran.  But bin-Salman and bin-Zayed and our neocons seem to believe the entire Houthi movement started at the behest of the Ayatollahs.  I object, but those guys get paid much more than I. .

3] Another conflict is the battle for influence and control between the Saudis and Emiratis.  Both back factions opposed to one another.  Current shoot-em-ups are between the Saudi-supported Yemeni government in exile (Hadi) and southern separatists backed by the UAE (the STC or Southern Transitional Council).  The STC wants a two state Yemen like it was during the period from the early 1960s up until unification in 1990.

4] The fourth war pits al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and/or Ansar al-Sharia against everybody else.  With a few US drone strikes against known or supposed hi-value AQ targets.

5] This one is kinda like the fourth, but it is the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Yemen Province (ISIL-YP) instead of AQ.

As of July.  Houthis in green, Saudi backed govt in exile in pink, UAE backed STC in khaki, AQ in white, IS in gray

Numbers 3, 4, and 5 have been mostly underreported, if reported at all in the western media.   


  1. That island in the Southeast is Socotra, an almost uninhabitable piece of land with a mere 60,000 population and severe fresh water shortage. Just as most of the white terrain is barely if at all inhabitated.
    The gray area requires a magnifying glass.

    The most amazing thing of all in that map is that the Saudis didn't even manage to gain control of a strip of land at their own border. Much of it is green.

    The Saudi military really only has two jobs
    - Be ready and available to quell internal mass dissent.
    - Give princes nice fighter pilot jobs.
    Back in 1991 the Saudis and other Arabs panicked at a border skirmish where they fired barrages of ATGMs at an Iraqi probe.
    Prince Bonesaw was stupid enough to think he had an actual military at his disposal.

  2. The House of Saud is right up there in the race for "Most Fucking Useless U.S. "Ally" In History" with the Israelis. Both are effectively nothing but hair-trigger drunken barflies who will happily jump in on the whole "let's you and him fight" thing that gets the U.S. nothing for its blood and treasure. The very idea of helping these sonsofbitches with their War of Religion in Yemen was idiotic from the get-go, and reinforces my irritation with the Obama Administration for going along with it.

    That said...the Ukraine blackmail makes it look entirely less likely that the Trump Administration will do anything sensible about it. Trump appears to have no actual ideas about what is in the U.S. national interest; it's all "What's in it for me? all the way down. The Sauds have figured out the idiot and will bathe him in flattery and cash and he'll happily keep giving them what they want because that's pretty much all he cares about.

    I'm not sure which is more infuriating; Obama's people getting involved with this because of idiotic delusions of wars on terror, or Trump's people because the mob boss in the Oval Office is getting a little vigorish out of the Wahhabi Mafia...

  3. Sven -

    Socotra Island has a strategic location between the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea. It is the Emirati dream of a stationary aircraft carrier. Or some claim the Emiratis want to build a new tourist paradise there.

    The only gray area signifying ISIS control that I could find was at the village of Khubzah. It lies between the Govt-in-exile troops and the Houthi controlled area. Kind of a no man's land. But they have sleeper cells throughout the country and continue to use suicide attacks against all players. The most recent was just last month against the elite 'Security Belt' military wing of the STC.

    That border area you mentioned is rugged country. Only navigable by fighters on foot, which is NOT a Saudi specialty. And the steepness of the terrain is not conducive to targeting. The Houthis are the mountaineers and it is their home turf, they dominate the area.

    You are right about the Saudi military. Which is why bin-Salman uses mercenaries. He has Sudanese, Columbians, locals and who knows what other mercs in the Yemen. He tried to get Pakistanis and Senegalese also, but maybe they begged off? The only actual Saudi boots on the ground that I know of are a small group of special forces. There is a fun video on Saudi special forces guys on youtube. They look more like stuntmen in a Japanese Ninja movie:

    But they claim to have captured the senior leader of ISIL-YP back in June of this year.

    1. S-A initially used regular troops. There are videos of Saudi M1 Abrams getting shot up in overwatch positions in Yemen, for example.

    2. You're right. According to Wiki, referenced by a 2016 'Defense-One' article by Marcus Weinburger, Saudis had 20 M1s lost in combat during the Yemen war:

      Wiki also claims Yemenis destroyed some older M60s, French made AMX30s, M2 Bradleys, M113 APCs and MRAPs. But they give no reference and no date, Perhaps some were destroyed back in 2007 during a previous Saudi intervention?

      Or perhaps some of the older ones were manned by crews of Yemeni supporters of Hadi? For sure many of the Saudi MRAPs were provided to Hadi militias.

      And perhaps some of the M1s and others were destroyed within Saudi Arabia along the border with NW Yemen? The April 'Intercept' article below by Alex Emmons claims 300 M1s plus AMXs and M2s were deployed along the Yemen border just north of the Houthi controlled areas. And the Houthis have been using "artillery salvos, missile shots, improvised explosive devices, ambushes and infiltrations into Saudi territory.” Makes sense to me that some of those 20 M1s were destroyed within the kingdom of the reckless prince.

    3. My initial thought was that these Saudi troops might have come from the "White Army" of the SANG, the tribal force that is the Republican Guard of the House of Saud. A brief glance through the 'Net suggests that the SANG is primarily a light infantry force, and that no SANG unit operates heavy armor, so, no.

      My general impression of the Saudi ground forces is that, despite being largely equipped with Western (mostly US and French) weaponry, the troop units are largely rubbish; badly led, poorly trained, and with little motivation to risk themselves for King and Country. It doesn't surprise me at all that they would tend to lose tanks and other heavy weapons systems to a better-organized combat-experienced enemy.

      My government doesn't seem to have learned the lessons of Vietnam (and, more recently, Afghanistan) that arming people who have little or no reason to love or trust their "leadership" is throwing good money after bad.

    4. FDChief -

      The link below is a recent history of the SANG. Kind of a pouf piece though.

      There is no mention of their dark history when they were the Ikhwan. And he does not speak of their dark modern role as defenders of the faith keeping the apostate Saudi Shia in servility. And the suspicions (never proven and believed covered up by the Royals) of insider connivance in the 1995 truck bomb that exploded outside the SANG Communications Center in central Riyadh, killing five American servicemen and two Indian police.

      Some were educated in Wahhab madrassas. And many are Wahhab fanatics. The leader of the 1979 Grand Mosque seizure in Mecca was a former(?) Guardsman as were beaucoup of his followers.

  4. FDChief -

    Bad juju that BHO got sucked into that mess. The Houthis were never on our designated terrorist list. Neither were they considered terrorists by the UN, nor by any of our NATO allies, nor by Israel. The only entities to declare Houthis as terroists are Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

    My guess is that the USUK national security line back then was 'support the Saudi backed Govt-in-Exile so we could continue drone attacks on AQAP leadership'. Like under a previous Yemeni president (Saleh I think?). But that's a wild a$$ guess on my part. Or perhaps we were swayed by the argument that the IRGC was behind the Houthis.

    Amazing to me that nobody on our side considered that bin-Salman's very first act as a 29-year old Minister of Defense was to bomb the crap out of his neighbors in Yemen. I suspect his days are numbered though - too many foul ups and too many enemies within the royal house and elsewhere. A shame that all those Yemenis starved or died because of his ego and stupidity.

    1. "...swayed by the argument that the IRGC was behind the Houthis."

      They were. But so what? We had no skin in that game.

    2. Unfortunately I think a lot of this is driven by the reflexive "What's good for Israel is good for the US..." thinking that drives a shit-ton of US Middle Eastern policy.

      The Sauds are one of the few Middle Eastern powers that has reliably stayed bought. They are insulated from the irritating "Arab Street" and have concluded that their survival depends on hanging onto Uncle Sammy's coattails. They've also decided that Israel will be the winner in the "Israel-versus-the-Arabs" fight and want to stay on the good side of the Jewish state.

      They are also, it seems, immersed in the Muslim War of Religion that seems to be smouldering, like a brush fire, through the various state and non-state wars in the region. That, I think, is perhaps the most dangerous over the long term. If the umma ever really breaks open over the Sunni-Shia schism the potential for a new Thirty Years War in the Middle East is...ugh. I shudder to think.

      I think we agree that the US has no goddamn business there other than to buy petroleum, and Iranian gas burns as hot as Saudi. We we stupid and shortsighted to ever step into the British and French colonial shoes beginning in the Fifties, and even stupider to go all-in on Israel. We have no real "allies" there, just interests, and our primary interest is that the region stay quiet and not produce a bunch of angry non-state actors with grudges against us.

      Too bad THAT barn door is wide open...

  5. Maybe bin-Salman is backing off? From the War Nerd:

    But what is a partial cease-fire? And will bin-Zayed's Emiratis follow suit?

  6. The Houthis claim a major victory over the Saudis in the Najran area.

    1. The Ansarullah (Houthi) TV network is also claiming that victory:

      Armed_Forces_Spokesman: "Thousands of mercenaries and large numbers of Saudi army commanders, officers and soldiers captured. Fully destroying and capturing besieged forces, gaining control of hundreds of kilometers after the qualitative operation #Victory_from_God (#Nassrr_min_Allah) in Najran."

      So much for PomPom's arrogant dismissal of Houthi capabilities. Will he now claim that there is an Iranian brigade in the Yemen?

  7. Ael -

    Here is the initial story from Houthi spokesman Brigadier Yahya Saree. He claims:

    "The operation resulted in the complete destruction of three military brigades of the enemy forces, seizure of large quantities of military equipment, including hundreds of vehicles and armored vehicles, capture of thousands of enemy forces, mostly traitors and the beguiled. Hundreds more were killed and wounded in the process as well."

    The traitors and beguiled he mentions would be Yemen militias fighting for the Govt-in-Exile. So the question is how many Saudi troops were killed or captured? The Houthis also claim they captured several Saudi Army officers. If so, bin-Salman's days are numbered. I don't think his father the king can protect him anymore.

    How big are those militia brigades you think?

    1. I would think that they are using "brigade" as an arbitrary sized group of men belonging to a single (feudal-type) leader. Rather than in the modern sense of 3-4 similar sized battalions plus support troops making up a brigade. My guess would be that the "brigades" are really battalion sized units (say 500 troops).

      Still, they do mention thousands of mercenaries and hundreds of vehicles captured, so if it really happened, the brigades could in fact be "brigade sized". Anyway, its gotta really sting the Sauds and shatter the morale of the remaining Saudi hired mercenaries who no doubt will be looking for the next stage wagon out of Dodge.

  8. I suspect many of those captured mercenaries may switch sides. Most were in it for the money. The Houthis won't pay them much, if at all - but three squares and a cot sounds better than prison camp. Except maybe a few diehards poisoned by the Kill-the-Heretics ideology.

  9. FDChief -

    It looks like you are right that the SANG was involved. This is from the Daily Maverick, a South African online newspaper. You have to either disable your ad-blocker, or pay for access:

    "In April 2015, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman ordered the SANG to join the Yemen campaign, which until then had been the preserve of the Saudi air force and the regular army. In 2018, a classified French intelligence report noted that two SANG brigades —‬ about 25,000 men —‬ were deployed along the border with Yemen. Major General Frank Muth of the US military also revealed that a SANG brigade, returning from fighting at the border with Yemen, had 19 of its light armoured vehicles 'shot up pretty badly'. "

  10. Washington Post is reporting the USAF is shifting their Middle East Command Center, the CAOC, from al-Udeid Airbase in Qatar to South Carolina. Temporarily they say? So I'm wondering if they know something about upcoming hostilities in the Persian Gulf, or is this just an abundance of caution?

    It is behind a paywall on the WaPo, but is also being reported on several Arab online news networks.

    1. What Sven says. This may be less of a Fourth Gulf War precursor and more of a Saudi-Qatari Cold War element. Prince Bonesaw is very likely to be pressuring the Trumpkins to abandon any support for his Qatari enemies, and given what Trump's already done for the sonsofbitches this would fit right in.

  11. If the video below is true, it shows much sophistication in tactics by the Houthi/Ansarullah forces.

    The Saudis had complete air superiority yet they were kept from supporting their encircled proxies by ballistic missile attacks on their closest airfields. Ditto for distraction by drone attack on an RSAF airbase in Riyadh. More drones to distract and keep Saudi ground units from reinforcement. Air defense units deployed close to protect against rotary wing gunships.

    These guys are NOT the ragtag Hatfield & McCoys that some want to make them out to be.

    1. OOPS! Here is the link:

      Anybody know what SAM/AAA systems they have?

    2. Well, the First Shock Army these guys ain't. But they don't have to be; they just have to be better than the fucking dross that the KSA and their satellites put in the field against them. They're experienced, they're on their home turf, and they have motivation that the handless Saudi mob doesn't.

  12. Sven & FDChief -

    Re Qatar: I don't think we are vacating. USAF still has a few squadrons at al-Udeid, as does the RAF. Isn't CENTCOM Forward still there? US Army Central has troops there at Camp As-Sayliyah. Turkey has troops in Qatar, much to bin-Salman's chagrin. There is more I'm sure. Although I think most naval assets are at Bahrein?

    But what an eye opener it would be for Donny Boy and bin Salaman if US forces did evacuate and Qatar offered up the vacated facilities to the Ayatollahs? Or to Xi, or Putin?

    1. If they invited the Quds Force the Sauds would invade. It would be war.

      OTOH...the PRC? Now THAT would be interesting...and not in a good way.

      I gotta say, the 21st Century is looking very much like the latter part of the 19th, with the Great Powers jockeying for advantage in the global hustings. The difference being that in 1880 you could just plant the flag and civilize the dusky savages with a Krag. Now you have to use some cash and weapons and a visit from the fleet or two.

      But if I was Xi, I'd have my Foreign Service people very busy in the Gulf region. Very, very busy...