Two days after Trump's inauguration, US drones "killed five Al-Qaeda operatives" in central Yemen. This operation took place without Trump's knowledge (and thus without his approval) because his predecessor freed the Pentagon from executive oversight when it comes to drone warfare. The US war machine is, in a sense, sentient. It generally operates without any official leadership, decision-making or input from 'the civilian government'. The same goes for the multiple drone strikes conducted in 'ISIS-occupied' Syria and Iraq over the course of Trump's inauguration and first days in office.
So while most people might assume that all such operations would cease during the few days between the removal of the old administration and the institution of the new, yet that is not what happens, which is pretty clear evidence that US foreign policy operates independently of the White House.
Seals' Dawn Raid in Central Yemen
But then came something that apparently did involve Trump. On Sunday January 29th, US Central Command (CENTCOM) issued an incredible press release, which stated that "one US service member was killed and four more injured" during a counter-terror "raid against al-Qa'ida-in-the-Arabian-Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen on January 28." The operation, they said, killed an estimated "14 AQAP members and the capture of information that will likely provide insight into the planning of future terror plots." Oh, and a US MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft used in the operation "experienced a hard landing," so it had to be "intentionally destroyed in place [by US Marine jets]."
Local sources reported that as many as 57 people were killed in the operation, including eight women and eight children. One of those children was apparently the 8-year-old daughter of Anwar al-Aliki, the 'terrorist mastermind radical Islamic cleric' (and US citizen) who was killed in a drone strike in Yemen in 2011 as punishment for 'influencing' (plotting with? 'jihadicalizing'?) 16-year-old son-of-a-rich-Nigerian-British banker Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the infamous 'underwear-bomber'. CENTCOM made sure to highlight this connection in a follow-up press release, pointing out that besides the bizarre incident on board that 2009 Christmas Day Amsterdam-Detroit flight, "the Boston Marathon attack and the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris are all the responsibility of AQAP."
CENTCOM also released a video they claimed was "a small sample of the sort of intelligence information that was obtained at the site," which they described as a "staging area, propaganda center, and logistics hub for AQAP's terrorist network." This video "demonstrates the process for making Triacetone Triperoxide, an explosive used in numerous terrorist attacks, including the attempted 'shoebomber' attack in 2001 and the attacks across the London transportation system in 2005." The Pentagon was, however, forced to take the video down when someone pointed out that their "important intelligence information" was widely circulated 10 years ago by Rita Katz's SITE intelligence company, the private US-Israeli intel outfit that has done as much for publicizing jihadists' 'terror plots' as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has done for the demonization of Bashar al-Assad.
according to Baraa Shiban of British human rights group Reprieve, was hit by a US drone strike in December 2013, slaughtering a wedding party. The groom, who survived that strike, was killed this time, along with his son and daughter. Nora al-Aliki, daughter of the 'terrorist mastermind' (who may or may not have herself been a US citizen), bled to death two hours after being shot in the neck, according to her grandfather, Nasser al-Awlaki. He and other survivors say that the village was not an 'AQAP stronghold', but rather hosting a meeting of tribal sheikhs who have actually been fighting with the Saudi- and US-backed government of Yemen, (which the ruling Houthi-led movement ousted in a coup in January 2015, precipitating the 'Saudi-led intervention' in Yemen to 'restore the legitimate, democratically-elected government' - an irony that is completely lost on the autocratic Gulf monarchs citing this 'just cause'). Grandpa Awlaki said the 'official' government (exiled in Saudi Arabia) has been delivering weapons to him and his relatives via its forces in Aden to fight against the Houthis.
Note the location of the village in question: it's nowhere near the supposed 'AQAP strongholds' (grey zones). In fact, it's right along the dividing line between 'Houthi rebels' (which is actually an alliance of Houthi tribesmen and those loyal to the country's former president, Ali Saleh) and fighters loyal to Riyadh's favorite, Mansur Hadi (who was once vice-president under Saleh).
reported suspicions that someone tipped them off about the raid. The Pentagon says the Seal Team was met with heavy gunfire ("even the women were shooting at us"), and it's likely the targets were also packing heavy weaponry if we assume that it was they who gave the US MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft a "hard landing" rather than US Marine jets "destroying it in place."
While Trump's spokesman characterized the operation as "successful", anonymous US intel officials laid the blame for why "almost everything went wrong" at Trump's feet, telling the media that "Trump approved his first covert counter-terrorism operation without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup preparations." As a result, the mission found itself dropping into "a reinforced al-Qaeda base defended by landmines, snipers, and a larger-than-expected contingent of heavily armed Islamist extremists." To complete the messy tale, they're claiming the mission was planned months ago, considered by the Obama administration, but then put off till after Trump's inauguration "for operational reasons."
In any event, the Trump administration has 'owned' the mission, although we cannot take this at face value. The Pentagon is seriously asking us to believe that after 8 years of conducting periodic airstrikes, cruise missile strikes and drone strikes against Yemeni civilians and rebels in a hi-tech war in the poorest country in the Middle East - the whole time during which it not once (officially) risked the lives of US troops - it suddenly, one week into his presidency, gave executive oversight and operational planning for an apparently hare-brained mission to 'collect hard-drives' from 'AQAP terrorists' hiding out in a village barely located within Saudi-backed, loyalist-held territory... to President Donald 'Celebrity Apprentice' Trump. I have serious doubts that he was fully briefed on the operation, then "gave it the green light." Nothing better illustrates the lack of real power held by US presidents - especially in foreign policy - than the seamless (and, in this case, apparently reckless) military actions carried out by the US, NATO and Gulf Monarchies during the transition from Obama to Trump.
Yemeni (Houthi) firepower
Two days before the US raid, Houthi rebels shot down a Saudi Apache helicopter near the Red Sea port city of Mokha in the southwest of the country. In December, another Saudi Apache helicopter was shot down by the Houthis, this time inside Saudi Arabia, in the kingdom's southern province of Najran. In fact, the Houthis have conducted dozens of cross-border attacks on military targets inside Saudi Arabia, especially since August last year. Most of them involved close-range shelling and fighting for control of border towns and outposts, but the Houthis have also launched ballistic missiles at Saudi military bases. In just one coordinated assault in early December, the Houthis simultaneously took out at least 4 Saudi military bases or command centers in the kingdom's south, with ballistic missiles, then followed those up with intense shelling. The Saudi death toll is unknown, but it's clear their forces took a serious hit.
Just two days ago, there were reports that a ballistic missile fired from Yemen successfully targeted a Saudi military base in Mazahimiyah, 60km from Riyadh. AMN News reported that the missiles used in the attack were surface-to-surface missiles called 'Borkan-2', a "variant of the Russian Scud missile." There is as yet no statement on this from the Saudis, though locals have reported on social media that they heard explosions. Iran's PressTV yesterday cited Houthi spokesmen, who confirmed the missile launches and issued photos of them pre-launch:
video footage of the missiles being launched Riyadh's way:
If confirmed, this would represent a significant improvement on the Houthis' previous attempt to launch missiles into Saudi Arabia. On October 27th, 2016, they fired a 'Burkan-1' missile at the main airport of Jeddah - which is closer to Sana'a, Yemen's capital, than Riyadh - on Saudi's Red Sea coast. Earlier, on October 11th, another ballistic missile launch targeted Taif, near Mecca, home to Saudi Arabia's King Fahd Air Base. The Saudis said both attacks were intercepted by batteries of US-supplied Patriot missile air-defense systems.
reported that two missiles were fired at the USS Mason off Yemen's Red Sea coast, but "impacted the water before reaching the ship." Two days later, the Pentagon claimed that both the USS Mason and the USS Ponce were targeted by Houthi missile strikes and that the ships "exchanged fire". The Houthis - who issue press statements each time they claim to launch attacks - denied firing missiles at either vessels, saying that they never fire at ships outside their territorial waters, and accusing the Americans of inventing these stories to justify intervening on behalf of the failing 'Saudi coalition'. The US then 'retaliated' by firing Tomahawk cruise missiles from the USS Nitze, knocking out three Houthi radar installations. Curiously, on October 13th, Iran then deployed a fleet of warships to the Gulf of Aden "to protect trade vessels from piracy," while the Pentagon told Fox News that "a Chinese warship and Russian intelligence ship were in the region" at the time.
My colleague Joe Quinn wrote here about the Houthis supposedly blowing up an Al-Madina Class Saudi frigate via 'suicide dinghies laden with fertilizer', out at sea mind you, on January 30th, two days after the US Seals' raid. This was no fluke. This is of course difficult to verify - the Saudis and their allies are, naturally, prone to minimizing their losses, just as the Houthis may overestimate their successes - but the Houthis claim that this was the 11th Saudi coalition vessel they've hit in two years of resisting the Saudi onslaught. Such attacks cannot take place without the kinds of radar installations that the US claims to have taken out back in October, so either the US didn't get all the installations or the Houthis are being resupplied with some significant tech. What kicked off the above sequence of events was a successful Houthi missile attack on a US-made, UAE-flagged hybrid catamaran, the HSV-2 Swift, again near the Red Sea port city of Mokha in the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait in early October 2016. The ship was completely destroyed:
Did you notice the radar technology they have? The missile used was apparently a "C-802, the export-upgraded version of the Chinese anti-ship missile, 'Eagle Strike' YJ-82."
Lately, intense fighting has been taking place in the southwestern tip of the country, where control of the Bab-el-Mandeb strait is a primary target for both sides. Saudi losses in recent battles have been heavy. Iran's Fars News Agency reports that, as of last week, about 450 'Saudi-backed militias' have been killed in the region, including the Saudi coalition's second-highest field commander (Saeed al-Samati al-Sabihi) and "including Saudi-hired mercenaries from other Arab and foreign countries." another key installation on Zuqar Island in the Red Sea - with yet another ballistic missile - "killing at least 80 Saudi and UAE soldiers and officers." [See above map for location of Zuqar Island] The Houthi military source relaying this information went on to say that the Saudis' Bab el-Mandeb "operations center is located in Eritrea, and officers and experts from Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are present there." Interestingly, when asked about the US raid in al-Bayda province on January 28th, he said it likely signals a new US strategy to sue for splitting the country along existing battle-lines.
I could go on. Search on Youtube for 'houthis hit saudi tanks' and you'll return dozens of videos showing the Houthi-Saleh forces knocking out Bradley and Abrams tanks across Yemen over the last year or so. Saudi coalition tank losses have been so heavy that the US is having to send them hundreds more. Over his two terms, Obama oversaw the sale of $115 billion worth of weapons and military equipment to Saudi Arabia. I don't know how much of this includes mercenaries' fees, but we do know that Middle Eastern media has routinely reported massive casualty figures among the thousands of the House of Saud's foreign fighters. One report claimed over 4,000 of them had been killed by last March. The notorious US private army DynCorp reportedly entered the fray for $3 billion. As far back as December 2015, British authorities struggled to explain why former British soldiers now fighting under the UAE's flag were turning up dead in Yemen.
US Empire vs Eurasian Alliance
explained elsewhere, the Saudi Royals and Gulf Emirs have no real military forces of their own. Their armies and weapons are Western (US, mainly) in almost every respect. Their 'national militaries' are literally staffed by soldiers, pilots, support crew and senior officers drawn from the ranks of US, British, Australian and other Western militaries. Thanks to the US obsession with the 'interoperability' of the weapons it sells, American, Israeli and British commanders can effectively direct 'Saudi operations' remotely, while passing this off as a 'Saudi' war. It's not; it's a wholly Western war to control Yemen and thus one of the key energy and trade shipping lane 'chokepoints' on the planet - the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, which connects the Indian Ocean with the Mediterranean via the Red Sea.
But that's all fairly well established at this point - the US and its allies don't do a good job of hiding their involvement in Yemen. What is new, however, is what the 'opposing side' is doing in this conflict. This war is obviously not about 'fighting al Qaeda', whose head-choppers, we know - thanks to the machinations revealed in Syria - work for Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and ultimately Western interests. And this is obviously not about 'fighting pirates' as the Iranians almost mockingly claimed. Between their ballistic missiles, accompanying radar, transport and deployment systems, man-portable air-defense and anti-tank systems, pick-up trucks retrofitted with canons, and apparently endless supply of small arms to successfully resist and defeat the (until now) overwhelming firepower thrown at them, it has become very clear that the plucky Yemenis resisting massive aerial bombardment are receiving some serious support from abroad. probably the mule through which most of the rebel forces' weapons are being funneled into the battle-zone. But Iran and Oman alone would not be able to do this without the protection of forces large enough to check US military might. I think what we're seeing here is the Moscow-Beijing-Tehran 'triumvirate' kicking into high gear against the 'Western Empire'.
I think US empire builders did not anticipate the war dragging on this long when they gave the Saudis a green light to blitz Yemen into submission back in January 2015. As a result of the Houthis' unanticipated successes, paranoia is running high in the Pentagon and Riyadh. The US and UK governments are taking a lot of flak back home for selling the Saudis such quantities of arms (for such little return), forcing them to at least officially scale down their operational involvement. It's in light of their heavy losses in Yemen that we should consider the recent war rhetoric against Iran.
'Bomb-bomb-bomb, bomb-bomb Iran' (in Yemen)
fired the first volley when he announced that Iran was "being put on notice" for "testing a ballistic missile" in its own backyard, which, he said, "put American lives at risk." But it isn't ballistic missiles in Iran's backyard that concerns him - it's the ballistic missiles the Houthis are lobbing all over the place; missiles that are clearly being supplied to the Houthis by Russia and China via Iran. He also cited Iran for "weapons transfers and support for terrorism," clearly referring to Iran's support for the Houthis in Yemen. The US media - as always, with the kind assistance of anonymous military intelligence officials who are 'unauthorized to speak with the media' - filled in the rest of the story by referring to the supposed 'Houthi attacks' against US warships back in October, which the US used as justification to intervene directly on behalf of its failing proxy (Saudi Arabia). Those attacks probably didn't happen, so between the lines, the US is saying "our Saudi forces were attacked by Iran, and this gives us the right to retaliate directly against Iran." Except that it doesn't, and they know it. They know very well the rules of the game because they created them. And anyway, they can't do anything about it because they know that any potential conflict with Iran implicitly involves Russia and China in one way or another.
The second volley came three days later, when new US
"It does no good to ignore it [Iran's 'addiction to terrorism']. It does no good to dismiss it and at the same time I don't see any need to increase the number of forces we have in the Middle East at this time. We always have the capability to do so but right now I don't think it's necessary."rushed to London to petition the UK government to follow suit with more sanctions, calling on all "responsible nations" to impose more sanctions and using his press conference with Prime Minister May to warn the world that "Iran seeks to annihilate Israel, it seeks to conquer the Middle East, it threatens Europe, it threatens the West, it threatens the world."
It's too late now for the Empire to act on such verbal threats to Iran. Trump can tweet late into the night that Iran is "playing with fire", but that doesn't change the fact that it now has the military capability to protect itself from US aerial bombardment. On the financial-economic front, thanks to patient diplomatic moves by Iran and its allies over the last decade, the 'Iran nuclear deal' (which of course had little to do with nukes) was agreed last year. That genie is already out of the bottle: mega trade and investment deals have now been lined up between Iran and corporations and governments - from both east and west. Iran is, if anything, emboldened by the shrill protests in Washington, London and Tel Aviv: their response has been to test more missiles and radar systems, and issue counter-sanctions against "US individuals sponsoring terrorism."
It's World War III, Jim, but not as we expected it
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. There's 'many a slip twixt cup and lip' as they say.
What is unfolding in Yemen - and Syria, and Iraq, and elsewhere - is that the US is gradually being forced out of the Middle East, thanks to a set of coordinated moves by Russia, China and Iran. Envisioning 'World War III' as a 'grand spectacle' between great powers that ends in nuclear holocaust keeps people in fear and 'on side', distracting them from the ugly business of divvying up the planet's natural (including human) resources, and the real day-to-day horrors this brings to places like Yemen and Libya and Syria. It's not winner-takes-all 'world war'; it's risk-assessed proxy warfare. Non-western countries have learned the (until recently) hidden rules of the game; and they're in the process of applying those rules to turn the tables on the Empire.
'World War III', as it is actually being fought out - and as it has been since 9/11 - is the great unfolding civilizational struggle between 'the West' and 'the rest'.