Significantly, Yemeni sources report that alongside the fallen troops from the Gulf states are allied mercenaries belonging to Al Qaeda-linked Islamist militia. The mercenaries are believed to have been infiltrated into Yemen after receiving receiving training in set up in Saudi Arabia.
Given that the United States and Britain are openly supplying the Saudi-led Gulf coalition with fighter jets, bombs and logistics, the array of forces makes for a stark conclusion: the Western states are working in Yemen in direct alliance with jihadist mercenaries. Why this alarming reality is not more readily recognised is simply because Western news media are obfuscating the situation in Yemen.
Yemen can therefore be seen as illustrating the fullest expression yet of the covert relation between Washington and its Western allies and the proxy role of Islamist terror groups.
In the overthrow of the Libyan government of Muammar Gaddafi at the end of 2011, the US and other NATO powers provided the air force that assisted the jihadist groups on the ground. In the ongoing regime-change war in Syria, the Western powers and their regional allies have funnelled Islamist mercenaries into that country to destabilise the government of President Bashar Al Assad.
In both cases, Libya and Syria, the Western nexus with the jihadists is vicarious and diffuse, allowing for a degree of official denial of any such collusion.
However, what is emerging in Yemen is that the Western states and their Arab client regimes are openly being seen as on the side of the Al Qaeda-linked terror network.
The US, Britain and to lesser extent France claim that they are supporting the “internationally recognised government of Yemen”. They are referring to the deposed puppet-president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi who fled in exile to Saudi Arabia earlier this year. The country was subsequently over-run by remnants of the Yemeni army and Houthi rebels, collectively known as “Popular Committees”.
On March 26, a coalition of Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, and including Egypt, Jordan and the four Persian Gulf monarchies of Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and United Arab Emirates, launched an aerial bombardment campaign on Yemen. That bombardment has continued for nearly six months, resulting in over 5,000 deaths. The bombing coalition is instrumented primarily by the US and Britain, with the supply of F15, F16, Tornado and Typhoon warplanes.
In recent weeks, the Western, Saudi-led coalition has extended its operations with a ground-war front, involving up to 10,000 foreign troops based in the central Yemeni province of Marib, east of the rebel-held capital, Sanaa. The mainly Arab foreign troops have been suffering heavy losses from the Yemeni Popular Committees. Up to 45 Emirati soldiers and five Bahraini military personnel were killed in one rocket attack earlier this month.
The Western media have barely reported on the escalating violence in Yemen and the involvement of their governments alongside Saudi and other Arab forces in an increasingly bloody war of dubious legality against a sovereign country. The Western-backed coalition does not have a UN Security Council mandate for its actions, which therefore constitute foreign aggression.
Virtually blacked out, too, from the Western media coverage is the fact that serving alongside the Western, Saudi-led forces are jihadist mercenaries. This aspect has, however, been reliably reported by Saba news agency, Al Manar and Press TV, among others.
Occasional Western media reports claim that Islamist extremists are gaining ground in Yemen amid the chaos of Western-backed Arab coalition forces fighting against Houthi rebels. A New York Times report in April headlined: ‘War In Yemen Is Allowing Qaeda Group To Expand’. While the Reuters news agency reportedat the end of June that: ‘In Yemen chaos, Islamic State grows to rival al Qaeda’.
However, rather than this development being a mere accidental consequence, Yemeni sources claim a very different scenario. They say that the Islamist groups are being activated and supplied by the Western-backed Saudi coalition to help prosecute the counterinsurgency war against the rebels. The rebel Popular Committees are calling for a pluralist democratic government in Yemen, which would mark a dramatic change from decades of Western and Saudi-backed dictatorships in the country.
Western media reports have obliquely acknowledged at least a tacit relationship between the Western-backed coalition and the jihadist mercenaries. Both the Washington Post and the New York Times have noted how during the past six months the Western-assisted bombing coalition has not once targeted Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP) or the Islamic State (IS) group.
Indeed, a Wall Street Journal report on September 10 from southern Yemen even admits that the Arab military forces are collaborating with the jihadists in pushing a joint offensive against the rebels. The WSJ plays down the significance of this military cooperation as being a transient pragmatic arrangement.
Nevertheless, such collaboration fits with a bigger pattern seen elsewhere in Yemen, where Western-backed air forces are reported by Yemeni sources to have dropped off munitions and other supplies to Al Qaeda groups.
The same pattern has been identified in Syria. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has disclosed in the past week that the US-led bombing coalition supposedly operating against the IS network in that country has under American command instructions often refrained from attacking IS bases. Lavrov pointed out that this avoidance of air strikes against the supposed “terror enemy” indicates that the US is not serious about its claims of trying to defeat the IS group. The Russian diplomat infers that the purpose of Washington-led bombing coalition in Syria is really aimed at inflicting damage on the Assad government forces.
That Washington should go a step further in Yemen and actually be in direct military alliance with al Qaeda-linked jihadists should be of no surprise. Especially in light of the revelation by former US Defence Intelligence Agency director Lieutenant General Michael Flynn. In an interview with Al Jazeera news channel on July 29, Flynn said that Washington took the “wilful decision” to promote Islamist jihadists as a way of prosecuting regime change in Syria as far back as 2012. In other words, what later evolved into the IS terror group is a creation of Washington for its illicit geopolitical scheming in the Middle East.
Yemen’s Al Qaeda franchise (AQAP) has been targeted by Washington in drone assassinations going back several years. But, as with intermittent lethal strikes in Syria and Iraq, that does not mean that Washington is intent on “degrading and defeating” the jihadists, as President Barack Obama claims. Alternatively, Washington’s policy can equally be seen as a cynical one of “containment and management” to better serve its ulterior agenda.
In June this year, a CIA drone attack killed the AQAP leader Nasir al Wuhayshi in the Yemeni province of Hadramawat. The Washington Post described the killing as a “substantial setback to an al Qaeda affiliate that is regarded as the terrorist organisation’s most dangerous affiliate”.
However, as a Reuters report also noted, the US policy of targeting AQAP has had the effect of bolstering the rival IS group. “While most analysts agree that AQAP remains resilient, some argue that US methods, including drone strikes, help create a climate conducive for the nascent Islamic State to attract new followers,” reports Reuters.
It is significant that the Islamic State militia has only become active in Yemen this year, emerging at the same time that the Yemeni rebels kicked out the Western, Saudi-backed Hadi regime. Days before the Western-backed coalition started bombing Yemen, a double suicide blast at two Shia mosques in Sanaa killed over 130 people. The massacre was claimed by the IS – believed to be the first of its operations carried out in Yemen.
It should be noted that prior to that atrocity, the Al Qaeda supreme leader Ayman al Zawahiri had issued a prohibition on AQAP attacks on mosques in Yemen.
Then in April, only a few weeks after the Western-backed bombing of Yemen had started, the IS released a highly stylisedpromotional video showing its cadres operating in the desert of Yemen, and swearing allegiance to the IS leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, in repudiation of the AQAP emir Zawahiri. According jihadwatch.org, the video’s audio message said: “We have come to Yemen with men hungry for blood to avenge the Sunnis and to take back the land they [the Houthi rebels] have occupied…”
The question is: come to Yemen, from where? Under whose direction and auspices?
The murky history of American collusion with Islamist terror groups is well documented, going back to the instigation of the international Mujahideen brigades in Afghanistan as proxies against the Soviet Union during the late 1970s. In that covert project, the US was enabled by intelligence counterparts from Britain, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. (See, for example, Peter Dale Scott, The Road to 9/11.)
It is also documented how the Afghan proxies later transformed into Al Qaeda under the leadership of Osama bin Laden, which has served the US well in its bogeyman role for the “war on terror” pretext allowing Washington to carry out foreign invasions and occupations. Al Qaeda has since evolved into Islamic State, which officially came into being during 2014, splitting away from Al Qaeda. In all this mayhem, the organisational names and leaders may change, but the fundamental role of serving as a proxy for Washington’s imperialist objectives remains.
What we are witnessing in Yemen with the invasion of troops from Western client Arab regimes is the full-blown relationship between the Western powers and the Islamist proxies being made manifest. The Islamic State appears to be the proxy of choice for the West and its clients over the former cats paw incarnation, Al Qaeda. Yemen is bringing the clandestine contradictions to a new and terrible light.
Originally from Belfast, Ireland, Finian Cunningham (born 1963) is a prominent expert in international affairs. The author and media commentator was expelled from Bahrain in June 2011 for his critical journalism in which he highlighted human rights violations by the Western-backed regime. He is a Master’s graduate in Agricultural Chemistry and worked as a scientific editor for the Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, England, before pursuing a career in journalism. He is also a musician and songwriter. For many years, he worked as an editor and writer in the mainstream news media, including The Mirror, Irish Times and Independent. He is now based in East Africa where he is writing a book on Bahrain and the Arab Spring.He co-hosts a weekly current affairs programme, Sunday at 3pm GMT on Bandung Radio. Finian Cunningham is a frequent contributor to international media, including PRESS TV and nsnbc, where he began contributing in 2012.