Sana’a (GPA) – Yemeni forces dealt a major blow to al-Qaeda’s most organized branch and eliminated ISIS’s long-time stronghold in the Arabian country. However, major media outlets have yet to report the story despite its significance in the international fight against terrorism — and there’s a big reason why.
- Yemen’s Army and Popular Committees have liberated huge swaths of territory from terror groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda.
- Geopolitics Alert has reviewed a report by Yemeni military sources detailing the extensive cooperation between the US-backed Saudi coalition and terror groups.
- An estimated 5% to 7% of all Saudi-backed fighters are affiliated with al-Qaeda or ISIS, according to the report.
- US-Saudi support for al-Qaeda is systemic, spanning coordinated training, political appointments, and much more.
- Al-Qaeda affiliates or outright members were appointed to high-ranking government positions as governors, advisors, and negotiators sent to Geneva for peace talks.
Clearing out terrorist-controlled territory exposed systemic support for al-Qaeda and ISIS from Saudi Arabia and coalition allies in Yemen. Al-Qaeda affiliates or direct members, many of whom are wanted by the US State Department, have trained with Saudi-backed forces and received advanced US weapons.
Many al-Qaeda affiliates were even appointed to high-ranking positions within the internationally recognized Saudi-backed government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi.
Al-Qaeda training camps strategically placed along the Saudi border with Yemen indicate that Riyadh — and by extension the United States — provide much more support and free flow of movement to terrorists than what is currently known. This systemic support has no doubt contributed to the spread of global terrorism with Yemen functioning as the breeding ground.
Liberating territory from brutal ISIS and al-Qaeda rule
Yemen’s Sana’a-based Army and Popular Committees (which corporate media intentionally reduces to simply “Houthi rebels”) started operations against al-Qaeda and ISIS way back in 2014.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is Yemen’s al-Qaeda offshoot and regarded as the terror group’s strongest and most well-organized branch. As for ISIS, although the terror group largely faced defeat in Syria and Iraq, they’ve managed to grow and expand in Yemen.
In fact, the US-backed Saudi aggression against Yemen has drastically emboldened and strengthened both terror groups.
Yemen’s Army and Popular Committees began their latest and most successful operation against AQAP and ISIS on August 18 of this year in coordination with local security forces.
The offensive first targeted the Qifah area in al-Bayda province, liberating over a thousand square kilometers. Qifah has functioned as AQAP’s home base for launching terror attacks against civilians and organizing activities. Its strategic location gave AQAP leverage to reach eight Yemeni provinces, shuffling fighters and weapons to vital fronts in Marib and elsewhere.
While liberating territory in al-Bayda, Yemen forces found highly advanced military barracks, over a dozen training camps, hundreds of explosive belts, documents and records, weapons, and more.
Yemeni forces also managed to kill or capture hundreds of AQAP and ISIS fighters including several foreign nationals, most of whom were Saudi. Many of those killed were high-ranking ISIS and AQAP fighters such as:
- Radwan Mohammad Hussein Qanan — the leader of ISIS in Yemen
- Abu Suleiman Al-Jazrawi — a Saudi national and ISIS liaison officer
- Abu Muslim Al-Uzbeki — an AQAP Uzbek national
- Abu Walid Al-Dhamari — an AQAP commander
- Hamid Abdu Mohammad Ali Anam — the ISIS public relations manager
Throughout the course of the war, Saudi Arabia has very publicly provided air support to ISIS and al-Qaeda troops on the ground against Yemen’s Army and Popular Committees. Yemeni military media documented the liberation of al-Bayda province and the Battle of Qifah in an extensive report, which Geopolitics Alert has reviewed.
Yemeni forces uncover systemic US-Saudi support for AQAP and ISIS
Beyond the systemic support mentioned below, the US-backed Saudi coalition has also provided monthly salaries to AQAP fighters as well as medical assistance. It’s worth mentioning that the Saudi coalition’s blockade meanwhile has denied Yemeni civilian workers of their salaries for over five years and crippled Yemen’s healthcare sector, killing tens of thousands.
Yemeni forces also found documents on AQAP and ISIS fighters granting them safe passage through Saudi-backed military checkpoints across Yemen including the Saudi border, contributing to the spread of terrorism throughout the country and the globe.
This and the evidence below proves that the Saudi coalition’s cooperation with AQAP and ISIS was and still is an intentional strategy, rather than accidental crossover.
Joint military operations and US weapons
Yemeni forces found extensive US-made weapons and equipment at AQAP training camps and positions throughout al-Bayda province.
CNN released a special report last year exposing the extensive US support provided to terrorist elements:
“Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners have transferred American-made weapons to al Qaeda-linked fighters, hardline Salafi militias, and other factions waging war in Yemen, in violation of their agreements with the United States, a CNN investigation has found.”
The report continues:
…military forces loyal to the government boasted on Saudi- and UAE-backed media that the Saudis had airdropped American-made TOW anti-tank missiles on the same frontline where AQAP had been known to operate at the time.”
CNN explained that even large armored vehicles and ATVs wound up in the hands of Salafi terror groups. Among the hardware in the hands of Salafi terror groups is:
- Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles
- TOW anti-tank missiles
- Oshkosh armored vehicles
- Heat-seeking lasers for missiles
- Handguns and rifles
- Rocket-propelled grenades
Up to 7% of all US-backed Saudi mercenaries are affiliated with al-Qaeda
Al-Qaeda leaders have called themselves allies of the United States against Yemen’s Army and Popular Committees for most of the war.
In mid-June 2015, al-Qaeda spokesman Khaled Saeed Omer Batarfi, a Saudi national, verified the terror group’s participation on 11 fronts alongside Saudi-backed mercenaries. Ironically, the US government is also offering a $5 million reward for information on Batarfi.
Later in 2017, now dead al-Qaeda leader Qasim al-Rimi admitted that his troops often fight side-by-side with US- and Saudi-backed forces in Yemen.
The Yemen military media report Geopolitics Alert read details three ways al-Qaeda- and ISIS-affiliated troops find their ways into the ranks of the Saudi coalition:
- Fighting on separate fronts from the Saud-backed troops but receiving air cover and weapons airdrops.
- Fighting with non-official military formations in Taiz, al-Bayda, and along the Saudi border.
- Directly incorporating al-Qaeda and ISIS elements into Saudi coalition military ranks in Lahj, Hodeidah, Hajjah, al-Jawf, and al-Bayda.
After liberating huge swaths of territory from al-Qaeda control in al-Bayda and reviewing evidence, Yemen’s military media can confirm that for every 1,000 Saudi troops, there are 50 to 70 affiliated with AQAP, if not direct members.
Yemen’s military media reports that AQAP has trained within Saudi mercenary groups and has conveniently built special training camps near Saudi-based training camps. The report explains that al-Qaeda also has camps in areas occupied by the Saudi-led coalition, presumably Taiz and Marib.
This poses another conflict of interest for Washington which provides the Saudi-led coalition with US troops for military training.
The United States is pretty tight-lipped about where US troops operate in Yemen, who they coordinate with, and what exactly this training entails. Washington maintains that its forces do not fill combat rolls but rather carry out “ground operations.” Whether they assist in training AQAP affiliates is another story. The US could be following the same strategy it did for training Syrian mercenaries who later joined al-Nusra (an al-Qaeda affiliate): “don’t ask don’t tell.”
Al-Qaeda affiliates hold positions in the Saudi-backed internationally recognized Yemeni government
Perhaps one of the most shocking sections of the Yemeni military report details how the Saudi-led coalition elevated AQAP affiliates to positions of government power.
Many individuals classified by the US State Department as terrorists hold positions in the so-called internationally recognized Yemeni government which the Saudi coalition supports as a vassal.
The Yemeni military report which Geopolitics Alert has reviewed lists 11 high-profile terrorists who hold or held positions in Saudi-backed President Hadi’s cabinet:
- Ali Mohsen Saleh Al-Ahmar: Vice President of outgoing president Hadi government and associated with Al-Qaeda, as confirmed by the Washington Institute for Middle East Studies in 2011, and the New York Times in November 2000.
- Naif Saleh Salem Al-Qaisi: Appointed by the outgoing President, Hadi, in 2015 as Governor of Al-Bayda governorate.
- Adel Abdo Farea Al-Dhabhani: Appointed by the so-called internationally recognized government as commander of Abu Al-Abbas Brigades, affiliated with the Taiz military zone.
- Khaled Ali Mabkhout Al-Arada: Military leader within the formations of the Saudi-backed Yemeni National Army and brother of Sultan Al-Arada, Governor of Marib, in the Saudi-backed government.
- Abdul-Wahab Mohammad Abdul-Rahman Al-Humaiqani: Appointed as advisor to President Hadi in addition to his appointment as a member of the Geneva negotiations team held in 2015.
- Al-Hassan bin Ali Abkar: Appointed commander of the Saudi-backed military resistance fighting against Yemen’s Army and Popular Committees in al-Jawf Governorate.
- Abdul Rab Saleh Al-Salami: Minister of State and Member of the Council of Ministers in the so-called legitimate government.
- Juma’an Hamad Safyan: Advisor to the Minister of Defense in the so-called legitimate government.
- Hassan Ghaleb Al-Ajda’: Appointed commander of the Shaddadi Brigade in Marib governorate and the Saudi-backed National Army.
- Amin Ali Al-Akimi: Appointed by the so-called legitimate government as the governor of al-Jawf. One of the first to shelter al-Qaeda militants in al-Jawf after their return from Afghanistan, and he used to collect donations in support of al-Qaeda.
- Yasser Hussein Qaid Mujali: Appointed in 2017 as commander of the 63rd Brigade within the formations of the so-called National Army in Baqim region, on the border with Saudi Arabia. He and his brother, Osman Mujali, were among the main suspects in the 2008 kidnapping of German citizens.
Systemic recruitment of al-Qaeda fighters
Saudi-backed mercenaries throughout Marib coordinated with AQAP leaders to attract and recruit young men to fight on the Saudi side of the war. Many were transferred to training camps and military positions either along the Saudi border or inside Saudi territory.
Ironically, this is the same area where in 2009, Cambridge Analytica’s parent company conducted mass surveillance on potential al-Qaeda recruits and tested psychological warfare as part of Project Tatiana.
US-Saudi intelligence sharing with al-Qaeda
AQAP reportedly shares military coordinates with the Saudi Air Force for conducting airstrikes against Yemen’s Army and Popular Committees. It follows that Saudi Arabia would also share intelligence with AQAP as well. The United States provides extensive intelligence support to Saudi Arabia for selecting airstrike targets and conducting military offensives.
Misleading media coverage
The Yemeni military report points out that AQAP, Saudi, and Western media coverage of the war is nearly identical and all equally misleading.
For example, a quick Google search for AQAP only reveals one article about the recent offensive against al-Qaeda in Yemen and, in fact, paints the operation in a negative light. According to the neoconservative think tank American Enterprise Institute, liberating territory from terrorists is considered “escalating violence.”
AEI even admits that Yemen’s Army and Popular Committees killed a high-ranking ISIS leader and weakened the group’s control overall:
Requesting the release of al-Qaeda fighters during prisoner exchanges
Last month, President Donald Trump gloated about a prisoner exchange between Yemen’s Sana’a-based government and the Saudi-led coalition. What President Trump left out was that Riyadh requested the release of 96 al-Qaeda and ISIS militants held prisoner by Yemen’s Sana’a-based National Salvation Government.
Saudi Arabia claims the individuals are mercenaries but they’re actually members of AQAP and ISIS, proving that members of terrorist groups hold significant sway among the Saudi coalition’s ranks.
Yemen’s Army and Popular Committees also point out that Yemeni troops captured by Saudi mercenaries were often later handed over to terrorist organizations for torture and execution.
Al-Qaeda has been a US-Saudi ally in Yemen throughout the war and historically throughout the region
Osama bin Laden called Yemen the last refuge. The hills of Yemen have long been a place of recruitment and planning for al-Qaeda long before officially announcing their branch in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in 2006.
In the 80s, the United States was busy arming sectarian groups in Afghanistan to fight the Soviet-backed government in Kabul. These groups would later form al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Ultimately, the corrupt conditions in Yemen coupled with imperialist influence from Saudi Arabia and the US have only allowed groups like AQAP to grow.
The Saudi coalition’s coordination with AQAP is so extensive, even mainstream media has occasionally highlighted the story.
AQAP in Yemen is known as the terror group’s most powerful and well-organized branch — and now it’s clear why.
Cooperating with and sending US weapons to AQAP should theoretically create a conflict of interest for the United States. After all, it was AQAP who organized a highly advanced suicide attack against the USS Cole in 2000, killing 17 troops and injuring over three dozen.
However, Washington does not have a long attention span when it comes to imperial strategy. The short-term strategy of coordinating with AQAP to fight Yemen’s resistance movement clearly outweighs the risk of terrorism in the eyes of the United States.
Washington has wholly supported the Saudi-led coalition against Yemen, providing essentially unlimited precision-guided smart weapons, fighter jets, training, and more. The US also provides intelligence for selecting airstrike targets and enforces the draconian land-sea-air blockade which has triggered famine and a humanitarian crisis.
Most Saudi airstrikes target civilian areas with US weapons including bustling markets, funerals, hospitals, homes, weddings, and even school busses full of young children.
Owner and editor of Geopolitics Alert, Randi Nord is a US-based geopolitical analyst and content strategist. She covers US imperialism with a special focus on Yemen, Iran, and Lebanon. She has participated in the UNHRC as a guest of NGOs and speaks at anti-war events.