This week I am concentrating on the subject of mercenaries and new army recruits within Yemen, which have been major news stories in the last few days. UAE troops were the main part of the ground forces until a short time ago, when they returned home. In their place there is what is called an elite UAE force, and this week it was announced in Jane’s defence magazine that they are now training new recruits to the Yemeni army. There are very few jobs in Yemen at the moment and the army is one possibility for employment. The Yemen army split in 2011 and the major part of the original army are loyal to ex-President Saleh and are now fighting with the Houthis. The rest – in 2011 loyal to the religiously conservative Ali Muhsin – have been fighting on the side of the Saudi-led opposition, and it is these troops that are now been bolstered by new recruits; the first group was trained in Saudi and the most recent group have been trained by UAE in the Al Anad air base, near Aden. The recruits are selected according to their political views and their home governate.
This must have repercussions – two opposing Yemen armies with completely different loyalties, both in terms of their geographic origins, their preferred leaders and their political perspectives, surely making only two outcomes possible. The first is a continuance of a prolonged civil war in Yemen, and the second is partition. The choice between perpetual civil war or two hostile Yemens is a heart-breaking scenario.
Saudi is desperate to win ground from the Houthi-Saleh alliance before the UN peace talks, so they are making a big push with mercenaries from Sudan and Columbia. If you recall, it was the Sudanese army that the Western world accused of genocide in Darfur; that same army is now fighting in Yemen with no world protests. It was reported this week that Saudi had paid $2.2 billion US to Sudan for their support. It was also reported that the UAE transferred 450 of the planned 800 Columbian mercenaries to Yemen this week. The mercenaries are already taking a big toll, with a reported 20 killed and 70 injured in the brutal conflict in the southwest corner. Additionally, reported by Saba news agency (sympathetic to the Houthis) was a strange affair; some of the new mercenaries in Marib were said to have demonstrated because they had not been paid as expected, and in consequence Islah militias had turned on them, killed 5, and injured 6; a blue-on-blue assault. If this is true, it is a worrying development for the Saudi-led coalition.
The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, was in UAE this week and made an extraordinary statement that indicates that he is quite ignorant of what is going on in Yemen – or trying hard to cover it up. “We respect what United Arab Emirates has been able to do to accomplish significant progress in Yemen” he stated. What progress is this? Civilians killed, homes destroyed, 81% of Yemenis suffering from severe acute food insecurity – according to a UN report this week. It seems that everyone benefits from the war in Yemen – poor countries in North Africa are being paid to take part in the war, whilst rich countries are selling weapons and munitions. Maybe this is the progress he means? It is only Yemenis who are suffering – and he doesn’t think this relevant?
Despite eight months of destruction and death, the war is still at stalemate. There have been pictures of rows of armoured vehicles from the coalition heading to Taiz, and a report from UAE blaming Islah militias for the Saudi coalition’s slow progress, and others blaming the landmines left by the Houthis for delays. Later on, farmers and their children will not be able to farm these fields without risk of losing a limb – some 70% of Yemenis still work on the land. The ordinary citizens of Taiz are trapped within this war, suffering a local siege as well as the Saudi blockade, with opposing militias ferociously fighting each other next to them and bombs still destroying their homes and lives from the air. Saudi is airlifting new weapons to the militias, but is not airlifting food and medical aid to Taiz residents. It is as if they are pawns, expected to wait for their ‘liberation’ so that they can be fed and be grateful to their saviours – whoever they might be. And the people of the north, far from feeling compassion, think that Taiz citizens are only getting what they deserve, such is the dehumanisation of ‘the enemy’ in this dreadful war. And life is not much better in the rest of Yemen.
For those who live in UK, like me you might be distressed to learn that the remains of a British missile was found in a ceramics factory destroyed in Bani Matar near Sanaa, evidence gathered by Amnesty indicated there were no links to any militias there. Amnesty’s press release said this was a war crime. Fortunately, production had already stopped because of the lack of materials for making ceramics, so only one civilian was killed, with others living nearby injured, including a 14 year old girl. 330 people will have no jobs to return to because of this disaster. You may have heard the UK foreign secretary Philip Hammond say a few weeks ago that UK is relying on Saudi Arabia to tell them if they are committing war crimes with British weapons, and if they heard it was so, then then UK would review its arms sales policies. Maybe it is that time now Mr. Hammond?
A friend from Sanaa tells me that petrol prices are lower and she was hoping that would mean lower food prices. But a news report that the Yemeni Riyal fell against the US dollar seems to indicate prices might go the other way. For people with money, it is a struggle to find essential goods at a price they can afford. For those without money, there is little hope, and very little humanitarian aid.
The longer this war goes on, the more intractable it becomes. The media, never very interested in Yemen in its early terrifying stages, is not likely to retain an interest now that terrifying incidents have become an every day norm, after more than 240 days of non-stop aerial assaults, a ferocious ground war, an influx of extremist militias, and an inhumane and perhaps illegal blockade leaving Yemeni people dying from starvation, dehydration, disease and conflict – and those who have survived this, left hungry and without hope.