Senior Pentagon Intelligence Official Says U.S. Intelligence Maintains A Relationship With Yemen’s Houthis
The Department of Defense’s top intelligence official said in a January 21, 2015 speech at the Washington D.D.-based think tank — The Atlantic Council — that the “U.S. is continuing attacks on the al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) — despite the ongoing violence in the capital city of Sanaa, and has an intelligence relationship with the Houthi insurgent group that has seized control.” The current Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and former Special Forces veteran, “presented a more nuanced view of the Houthis recent advances and aims — than has been previously reported in much of the Western and Gulf media,” wrote Barbara Slavin, Washington Correspondent for the publication, Al Monitor.
“While news reports have focused on Iranian support for the Houthis; and, their potential threat to U.S. operations against al Qaeda’s most potent franchise, Mr. Vickers, in response to a question from al Monitor, said “the Houthis are anti-al Qaeda, and we’ve been able to continue some of our counterterrorism operations against al Qaeda in the past months.” Asked after the public event, whether that included lines [of communication] to the Houthis?” Mr. Vickers responded saying, “that’s a safe assumption.”
Mr. Vickers said “it was unclear whether the Houthis’s intent is to take over the Yemeni government; and, try and rule a chronically splintered country. “I don’t yet know if their aim is to take over the state, as much as it is to exercise influence; and, refashion in a they that is more in line with their interests.”
Ms. Slavin writes that the Houthis, were ancestral rulers of Yemen; and, follow the Zaydi Branch of Shi’ite Islam, and compromise about one-third of Yemen’s 25M population.” Charles Schmitz, an expert on Yemen, at The Middle East Institute, told al Monitor that the Houthis “have a great deal of power and legitimacy in the far north, but that diminishes the further south you get.” “The Houthis,” according to Mr. Schmitz, “were happy to see the ouster of Yemen’s long-time ruler, Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2011, but lost patience with the transitional government that followed, and with Hadi’s current administration. Many Yemenis are dissatisfied with Hadi’s failure to implement a transitional justice scheme and to root out corruption,” Ms. Slavin wrote.
“There has also been a major disagreement over Hadi’s decision to divide Yemen into six states, in a way that would weaken both the Houthis and a southern secessionist movement. Seeking to prevent implementation of this plan, on Jan. 17, the Houthis captured Hadi’s Chief-of-Staff, Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak,” al Monitor wrote. “That’s what began this latest crisis,” Mr. Schmitz said.
“Supporters of Hadi, especially Saudi Arabia, have accused the Houthis of being proxies of Iran,” Ms. Slavin wrote, “and compared them to the Lebanese group Hezbollah.” Schmidz said “that Iran has provided support in recent months; but, that the Houthis would have rebelled against the government, with — or, without Tehran’s backing. From 2004 to 2010, the Houthis won wars against the Yemeni government without Iran,” Schmitz pointed out. Iran’s role now, is non-essential; and, the Houthis won’t take orders from them,” he said.
According to Mr. Schmitz, “the outcome of the current crisis could depends on what happens in eastern Yemen, the site of the country’s oil resources. Mr. Schmitz believes the Houthis could conquer the region; but, would not be able to hold it. We may be in for months of standoff,” he said.
“The Houthis’ anti-al Qaeda agenda, however, in part, a reaction to AQAP’s assassination of the current Houthi leader’s father, synchronizes nicely with both U.S. and Iranian interests — in the same way the United States and Iran, and Iran-backed groups are on the same side against the Islamic State in Iraq”
“Many observers of the Houthis have been taken aback by the Iranian-style, anti-U.S, and anti-Israel slogans<' Ms. Slavin wrote. But, Mr. Schmitz said the slogans as voiced by the Houthis date to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, and their efforts to embarrass — then-President Saleh, by tarring him as a agent of the United States and Saudi Arabia." "They are not terrorists," he said, and called the Houthis alliance with the United States against al-Qaeda — "a marriage of convenience." "The tough part now," he argued, "is talking sense to the Saudis," and getting them to agree to more influence for the Houthis in the [new] Yemeni government. The Saudis may have little choice," he observed.
Yemen is a bit of the 'wild west,' ungoverned territory, with a vacuum that is being filled by a panoply of characters, to include a burgeoning jihadist mecca, with the aid of Syria — who many believe has been facilitating the movement of al Qaeda jihadists into the country. And, even if the Houthis aren't taking orders from Iran, as Mr. Schmitz contends, there is little doubt that Tehran is playing a role in the events unfolding there; and, attempting to influence them in ways beneficial to the Iranian regime.
Hopefully, U.S. intelligence doesn't have all its intelligence 'eggs' in one basket. Listening to Houthi sources, while extremely important, is not sufficient; and, will provide a false picture of what is actually transpiring behind the scenes. Sure, it is risky; but, with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula potentially enlarging their recruits, as a result of the spillover from Syria and elsewhere — there are few if any sources of intelligence in this arena, that we can afford to ignore. The greatest hindrance to progress, someone once said, is not ignorance; but, the illusion of knowledge. V/R, RCP