The bloody seven-month conflict between Yemeni army troops and Iran-backed Shia-Zaidi Houthi insurgents was interrupted on June 16 by a ceasefire brokered by a Gulf emirate delegation.
Most of the mediators were Qataris, anxious to bring the conflict to an end. Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Salah and his military chiefs never admitted as much, but they felt compelled to accept a truce for three pressing reasons:
- The Yemeni army had failed to dislodge the insurgents under the command of Abdul-Malik al-Houthi from their strongholds around the northern city of Saada, at Al-Hamra, Al-Madawarah, Azan, Al-Sawda, Al-Malaqat, Al-Ahrash, Grayah and Ghubair.
- Army casualties, 600 dead including officers up to the rank of general, had been so heavy that it had been necessary to keep the figures from their tribes and families. This silence generated anxious rumors on the true state of the war. The prevalent assumption that the president and army had failed to overcome the enemy was seriously shaking central government in Sanaa.
- Ali Salah also chose to conceal the fact that the Houthis had take prisoner or abducted a large number of Yemeni soldiers, by informing their families they had died in combat. The rebels then seriously undermined his credibility but informing the families that they were alive.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terror sources reveal that the Houthis used radical Muslim clerics as messengers for bringing the news to the prisoners’ families. This brought a second element after Iran into the Yemeni conflict, on the side of the rebels: al Qaeda.
Al Qaeda resurgent in Yemen
The ways in which President Salah and his army chiefs are managing the insurgency appear totally alien to the American officers and intelligence agents aiding his war against the Shia-Zaidi rebels and their backers, Iran and al Qaeda. Even the Gulf emirate delegates struggling to bring the conflict to an end have found them incomprehensible.
In the event, the ceasefire they mediated, which neither side fully upheld, is about to cave in. The insurgents refuse to surrender their guns or come out of their strongholds, fearing a massacre at the hands of the Yemeni army.
Their leader, Abdul-Malik Al-Houthi, did announce Monday, July 1, that his adherents had evacuated dozens of their bastions around Saada and cleared the area of mines. In fact, far from surrendering, he relocated his forces in a new arena, the Haydan district and the Shalal section of Hajjah, which border on the Hadhramauth tribal lands and are rife with adherents of Osama bin Laden.
In other words, instead of withdrawing, the rebels have redeployed under the protective wing of Yemeni tribes in bin Laden’s ancestral region.
This development provides the backdrop to the public unveiling this month of the resurgent al Qaeda Organization of Yemen, five years after the United States wiped the organization off the map of Yemen by targeted assassinations in succession of two of its chiefs, Abu Ali al-Harithi and Muhammad al-Adhal.
Abdul Malik al-Houthi has never taken a step in his war against the Yemeni regime without permission from Iran, because of his dependence on regular supplies of arms and money from Tehran. Their exchanges go through Houthi agents in Doha in Qatar and Dubai. His newly-launched military pact with al Qaeda must therefore have been approved by Iran.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terror sources: This triple alliance is bad news for President Ali Salah and the American Central Intelligence Agency, which maintains special anti-terror units in Yemen. While helping him quell a radical insurgency, they are finding themselves up against a resurgent al Qaeda in the Red Sea republic.