Friday, March 4, 2016

War Forges Nations

Yemen is an absolute clusterfuck. The poorest of the Arab states (hell, even Sudan has a higher GDP per capita), drug-addled, home to AQ's Finest...good times.

So on the surface the Saudi-led intervention in the country seems like a really bad idea, and it is. That's not to say that the Saudis had better options, though--the Kingdom is in a precarious state, with Iran on the upswing across the region combined with bottomed-out oil prices and a senile king controlled by his headstrong son. KSA and the GCC needed a show of force, and Yemen was supposed to be it.

The Saudi military, for all the AmeriBux we've thrown at them over the past few decades, is hilariously ineffective at fighting the Yemeni rebels. There have been more Yemeni incursions into southern KSA than KSA incursions into Houthi territory. Ground advances on the coalition's side are led by UAE elements in Marib and Taiz, mercs (1,2) and remnants of the Yemeni Army. The majority of coalition fighting forces are khat-chewing peasants with AK-47s and require little mention, serving as law enforcement (taxmen/uniformed bandits) for territory retaken by Saudi and Emirati offensives.

The Houthis are a more cohesive militia drawn from the Zaidi Shia clans of the north. With minimal IRGC and Hezbollah support (and the loyalty of the country's elite-ish Republican Guard) they've swept the internationally-recognized Hadi government out of the fertile and populous west of the country. Open-source info on exactly how they defeated the government is scant, but reporting from late 2014-early 2015 indicates that government forces defected or abandoned their posts en masse. Parallels to ISIS's attacks on Mosul, Fallujah etc. are not unwarranted.

The intervention has only marginally shifted the tide in favor of Hadi. The government still primarily controls swathes of uninhabited desert wracked with an AQAP insurgency. ISIS has a growing presence in Sunni regions as well--the Caliphate leaves no instability unexploited.

From Wikipedia. Green: rebel, Salmon: government, White: AQAP
The only major population center in government hands, the port of Aden, is engulfed in absolute chaos (1, 2, 3). The municipal government--mostly Southern Resistance militia commanders handpicked and puppeteered by Emirati agents or Adeni bigwigs enjoying their voluntary exile in Dubai or Jeddah--has proven utterly incapable of restoring order or providing services within the city. Terror attacks occur daily. Two governors have been killed since November 2015. The few public works projects, including renovating the city's airport and restoring regional electrical infrastructure, are being conducted by Emirati engineering firms and paid for out of Abu Dhabi's dwindling sovereign wealth fund. And given recent developments, even the relatively capable Emiratis are finding it hard to keep their own interests and assets secure.

So Yemen's screwed, as is anybody involved. A major breakthrough into the mountains flanking Sanaa by coalition elements in western Marib may happen, but nobody has the capability or will needed to stamp out the entire insurgency. Yemen will boil forever.

The war is just an eternally-burning brush fire, lacking the Byzantine machinations of Libya or the photogenic nature of Syria that make those two conflicts so engaging. So what's so important about Yemen?


Gulf states have always lacked cohesive national identities. The Hejazi are nothing more than grudging subjects of the House of Saud. Those from Najd look upon the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques as little more than their tribal chief who happened into a Rolls-Royce and gave them Maseratis as consolation prizes. Eastern Province residents see Salman as Iblis with Alzheimer's. And so on. 

But the Yemeni war is changing things, at least in the UAE. Casualties become martyrs to the nation, their bodies greeted with throngs of wailing citizens. Citizens, not Paki construction workers bused in from the labor camps. It's happening to a lesser extent in Saudi, too. The first sense of collective self these people have felt outside of the tribe, witnessing the broken bodies of men who sacrificed themselves for something their countrymen never knew existed until now.

Now it could just be as simple as: "War is what forges nations." And that's not revelatory by any means. And it could be that this is all UAE propaganda, which some of it assuredly is. But this is the first time these states have really, truly gone to war, and it's fascinating to see what that does to a society. 

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