Feted by President George W. Bush at the G-8 summit on Sea Island, Georgia last June, Yemeni president Abdullah Salah, head of the backward nation at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, unabashedly pulled the wool over American eyes for five weeks. He joined his army to US forces in a military campaign to uproot Sheikh Hussein Badr Eddine al-Hothy and his Iranian and al Qaeda-backed Believing Youth army – except that the Yemenis fought with one hand and gave the game away to the enemy, with the other.
Washington just can’t seem to get a break when it comes to allies in the global war against terror. Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf and his pro-al Qaeda military intelligence service are a case in point. Saudi Arabia and its intelligence chiefs keep an open line of communication to Osama bin Laden’s organization.
America’s adversity in Yemen was particularly painful.
In DEBKA-Net-Weekly, 165, July 16, we reported (in an article titled “Big Battle Rages for Control of Southern Arabian Peninsula“) on the pressure Bush and his security and intelligence chiefs brought to bear on Salah to fight al-Hothy and uproot the string of bases he established along the two mountain chains of Haidan and Muran on the Yemen-Saudi border, north of the Yemeni city of Saada.
Bush showed Salah intelligence proving that Iran and al Qaeda were jointly supporting Hothy and his forces, mainly with funds and weapons. Their aim: to establish a pro-Iranian Shiite state in the southern Arabian Peninsula where al Qaeda would have full freedom of action, as it once had in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan – even though the majority of Yemenis are Zaid Shiites.
The unprecedented invitation Bush tendered to Salah to attend the G-8 summit underlined the importance the US leader attached to the campaign against Hothy.
After the conference, Salah met US military and intelligence officials in Washington to synchronize the joint operation of American special forces and naval and air units alongside Yemeni troops.
The joint offensive was launched June 26. DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military and counter-terrorism sources say the assault was reminiscent of the battle the Americans and Afghan tribes waged against bin Laden and his men at Tora Bora in November-December 2001. In Yemen, the showdown took place in the high mountain ranges and along the deep valleys cutting between them. As in Afghanistan, the operation in northern Yemen was aimed at capturing a terrorist leader and destroying his poorly trained forces – a task that appeared to pose little challenge for elite US troops.
It didn’t work out that way.
Our sources reported in mid-July that, despite inflicting heavy casualties on Hothy’s forces, US and Yemeni soldiers failed to dislodge them from their mountain strongholds. Every time a new village or peak was captured, Hothy’s troops soon found their way back. Whenever their supply routes were cut and they began running out of ammunition and food, fresh supplies suddenly appeared.
Earlier this month, Salah declared his army victorious against the Hothy forces. But no one knows where the sheikh has vanished.
Salah’s declaration of victory was in fact a cover-up. Our sources report the engagement was curtailed by an order from Washington to the US contingent to withdraw and depart northern Yemen. The Americans acted on shocking intelligence reports that laid bare the Yemeni president’s perfidy. While sending his men to fight with US troops against the Tehran-backed militia leader, he held open a secret communications channel to Hothy’s men through which he tipped them off before every attack.
Whenever Hothy’s forces exhausted their supply of ammunition, Yemeni troops were ordered to turn a blind eye to incoming convoys of fresh supplies and reinforcements.
Most galling of all, Washington received intelligence that, at least three times in the five weeks of fighting, Hothy had been within “grab range” of Yemeni and US special forces. Each time, Yemeni soldiers would suddenly evaporate, allowing their quarry to escape.
The Bush administration is now certain Salah knows exactly where his supposed enemy Hothy is hiding and is in fact protecting him.