On Sept. 1, a split-second before the war in Yemen swerved completely out of control, President Barack Obama ordered US CENTCOM chief Gen. David Petraeus to step in and save Yemen president Abdullah Salah's regime from crashing.
At that moment, despite Saudi and Egyptian assistance, Salah's army had its back to the wall against the al-Houthi rebels who are armed and backed by Iran and parts of al Qaeda.
(Read issue 410 of August 21, “Saudi and Egypt with US Funding Aid Yemen's War on Iran Backed Rebels”).
DEBKA-Net-Weekly military sources report that Gen. Petraeus was instructed to hold down US military aid to the Yemeni military effort for crushing the rebellion to surveillance flights and intelligence-gathering.
Sophisticated US equipment for mountain combat is also being flown in, some of it dropped to the army units battling the al Houthi in their strongholds in the northern Yemeni province of Saada.
But, according to our sources, if the Yemeni army continues to fall back, Petraeus has permission to deploy the US Air Force for bombing raids and special forces units for direct intervention to stop the rebel advance.
In this event, The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), currently cruising in the Gulf of Oman off the shore of Yemen, will be pressed into action.
One reason Obama decided to intervene in the Yemen war, our Washington sources report, is that the Yemeni president has exhausted his combat manpower resources. Last week, he sent into battle the last two commando divisions at his disposal. They were stationed in the capital, Sanaa, for defending the regime.
Now, all two Yemeni regiments are fighting the Houthi rebels, with none left in reserve.
Even so, Yemeni troops have failed to breach rebel fortifications, break their resistance or ward off their nightly raids. This week, Houthi night raiders caused enough damage to Yemen's 105th Division to disable it, the third division crippled in three weeks.
The nightmare of Shiites united for war
The second reason for the US president's decision to intervene in Yemen was the war's expansion in a totally unforeseen direction.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly Washington and intelligence sources reveal that Obama discovered from intelligence updates this week that Iraq is now actively supporting the Houthi rebellion against the Salah regime in Sanaa. In the last few days, Iraqi defense ministry officials have begun sending arms (supplied by the US to the Iraq army) to the Houthis; some military circles in Baghdad propose also consigning “Iraqi volunteers” to fight alongside them.
This is the first time since Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1991 that Iraq has engaged in a military adventure outside its borders.
Washington is still not clear about the Iraqi game and its motives but two serious developments have been set in motion:
1. The Iraqi ministry of defense officials who made the decision to help the Yemeni rebels took pains to hide their actions from US commanders and intelligence. They were successful. Were it not for the American-made weapons Yemeni troops captured from Houthi prisoners, Washington would have remained ignorant.
2. The Saudi and the Persian Gulf regimes are confronted with their most feared vision, the coming together of belligerent Iran and Iraq's Shiite-dominated government for a military escapade. They have joined to bring the Houthi practitioners of the Zaydi form of Shia to power in Yemen.
Saud and Gulf Shiite minorities could be targeted next with unthinkable consequences for regional stability.