South Yemen and the UK
South Yemen and the bustling port of Aden was brought under British control in the 1800’s so that anti-piracy measures would be sustained protecting the shipping of the ever increasing British Empire. The advent of the Suez Canal served to increase the importance of Aden and this remained to be the case until Harold Wilson’s Labour government decided, (in the aftermath of the aborted invasion of Egypt by the British) to introduce the, “East Of Aden” policy in the mid 1960’s.
British intentions, mainly driven by the socialist ideals and pan-Arabist doctrines of Egyptian leader Gamel Abdel Nasser precipitated a wave of Arab nationalism spreading to the Arabian Peninsula and the anti-colonial uprising in Aden in 1963. in the years that followed, small, localised anti-British guerrilla groups with varying political objectives finally merged into two large, rival organisations:
Events Take A Turn For The Worse
At the end of 1963 the British High Commissioner of Aden was subjected to a grenade attack. He was uninjured but there were 51 civilian casualties. On that day, a “State of Emergency” was declared. The NLF and FLOSY began a campaign against British forces in Aden, relying largely on grenade attacks.
The guerrilla attacks largely focused on killing off-duty British officers and policemen. Much of the violence was carried out in the Crater, the old Arab quarter of Aden. British forces attempted to intercept weapons being smuggled into the Crater but their efforts met with little success. Despite taking a toll on British forces, the death toll among rebels was far higher, largely to inter-factional fighting among different rebel groups.
In 1964 an Infantry Brigade was despatched to Aden to establish control and to conduct land operations in wider South Yemen. The Brigade remained there until November 1967. By 1965, RAF station RAF Khormaksar had been increased to nine operating squadrons in support of the army. These included transport units with helicopters and a number of Hawker Hunter fighter bomber aircraft.
At the beginning of 1967, the NLF provoked street riots in Aden. The Aden police failed to establish control and the British High Commissioner deployed British troops to quell the riots. But no sooner had the NLF riots been crushed than, pro-FLOSY rioters took to the streets. Fighting between British forces and pro-guerrilla rioters continued until the spring of 1967.
Arab police mutiny
The emergency was further exacerbated by the Six-Day War in June 1967. Nasser claimed that the British had helped Israel in the war, and this led to a mutiny by hundreds of soldiers in the South Arabian Federation Army on 20 June, which also spread to the police. The mutineers killed 22 British soldiers, shot down a helicopter, and occupied, (to the exclusion of British soldiers) the “Crater”, an Arab town nestling in an extinct volcano. Concern grew about the safety and security of British families and emergency evacuation plans were hastily evolved and actioned.
Following the mutiny, the Crater District remained occupied by an estimated 400 Arab fighters. NLF and FLOSY fighters then took to the streets and engaged in gun battles, while arson, looting, and murder was also common.
Order was restored in July 1967, when the 1st Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders entered the “Crater” under the command of Lt Col Colin Mitchell and occupied the entire district overnight with no casualties. The Argylls’ were ordered by Labour Party politicians in London, to leave the Crater District but this was ignored by, “Mad Mitch” on the basis it made no military sense to do so and armchair generals and politicians had no right to interfere with operational miltary decisions. The British Public warmed to the Argylls but Lt Col Mitchell was the only officer commanding an army unit not to receive a commendation on return to the UK. A harsh punishment for a brave soldier by a petty Labour Government.
Withdrawal from South Yemen
Nevertheless, deadly guerrilla attacks by the NLF soon resumed against British forces, and the British left Aden by the end of November 1967, earlier than had been planned by Prime Minister Harold Wilson and without an agreement on the succeeding governance. British casualties in the period of the emergency included 57 killed and 651 wounded, while local government forces lost 17 killed and 58 wounded. Casualties among the NLF and FLOSY are unknown.
Following the British departure, the NLF managed to seize power, and established the People’s Republic of South Yemen. But the new oil-poor South Yemeni nation was starved of business and revenue, due to the closure of the Suez Canal, after the 1967 “Six Day War” and this precipitated severely disruptive economic circumstances for many years.
The Aftermath 1967 – 2003
Twenty-three years of police state thuggery followed, with the Soviet KGB replacing the British. Even after Aden and the rest of the south merged with North Yemen, there was another civil war in the 1990s. No wonder then the Yemen today is battered and bruised, and its people frustrated by the follies of their rulers. It is a forgotten place anchored to a forgotten time.
External Influences 2003 To date
After Yemeni unification in 1990, some Shiite tribes in the north of the country joined forces to fight the Sunni-dominated central government’s increasing influence. In 2011, they supported an uprising against President Ali Abdullah Salih. The fighting resulted in numerous casualties and further deterioration of the region’s already weak economy. The Yemeni Zaidi Shias accused the country’s government of discrimination towards the Shia minority. and demanded official recognition of their rights including restoration of the Shiah Imamah that was abolished during the revolution of September 1962.
In the wake of Salih’s overthrow, however, they were excluded from a national dialogue on the creation of a new government. When a draft constitution emerged in the summer of 2014, the Houthis protested. Above all, they opposed the planned new federal structure that merely provided them with a landlocked province. The Houthis found a supporter in the ousted President Saleh, who hoped an alliance with the Houthis would help him topple his successor and return to the presidential palace.
2014 to February 2015
The Houthi rebels’ key opponents, supporters of the Sunni Hirak movement, had also been excluded from the national dialogue. The southern Hirak, like the Houthis, also saw themselves as losers in the Yemeni unification process and indicated an intention to secede from the federation.
Houthis, went to war in February 2015, seized the capital Sana’a and took control the city of Taiz, in the country’s central belt and advanced further south before being held up North of Aden by troops loyal to Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who had fled from Sana’a to the southern port city, once a key way-station of the British Empire.
The Shiite-led Houthis, whose leaders have received training and weapons from Iran, now control Sana and nine of the country’s 21 provinces claimed they were advancing in order to prevent the expansion of jihadist militancy (al-Qaeda) in the country. But it is unclear whether they really believe they can take on al-Qaeda’s Sunni tribal heartlands in the centre and east of the country. But they have the upper hand against a government in disarray. Their lightning strike on Taiz took Mr Hadi’s forces by surprise, though a coalition of local fighters and soldiers managed to hold the advance at al-Maqatirah, 60 miles north of Aden
The internationally recognised foreign minister of Yemen appealed for international intervention as the Houthi rebels, an Iran-allied rebel group advanced on Aden plunging the country further into civil war. “They’re expanding in territory, occupying airports and cities, attacking Aden with planes, detaining whom they please, threatening and gathering their forces,” Riyadh Yaseen, Mr Hadi’s foreign minister, said in an interview with al-Jazeera. “We have expressed to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the United Nations as well as the international community that there should be a no-fly zone, and the use of military aircraft should be prevented at the airports controlled by the Houthis.”
Britain and America confirmed they had pulled out their special forces. A handful of SAS troops had been based in the country liaising with local commandos and US forces as well as providing protection to embassy personnel. Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, stressed the desirability of finding a “peaceful solution”.
The Houthis are Shia and allied to the Lebanese militia Hizbollah and Iran, which has gloated at the group’s success in taking the Yemeni capital. Saudi Arabia is Iran’s main strategic rival in the Gulf.
Mr Hadi’s election as president of Yemen was a high-point of Western diplomacy during the Arab Spring, but has backfired badly. He was vice-president to Yemen’s president of 30 years, Ali Abdullah al-Saleh, who for months resisted pressure from demonstrators to stand down but was eventually pressured into quitting by the GCC and its western backers.
Now Yemen is dangerously split between the Houthi-Saleh alliance, the recognised government, a separatist movement also based in the south, al-Qaeda, ISIS and militants.
Further complicating matters the pro-Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant faction have claimed responsibility (March 22) for a triple suicide bombing of mosques in Sana’a which killed 142 people and a gun attack in the south which killed a further 29 the same day.
26 March 2015: Saudi Arabia launches military operation in Yemen
Saudi Arabia has launched a military operation in Yemen. Other Gulf states and Middle Eastern countries, (Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE, Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and Sudan) have said they are committed to the protection of Yemen from a Shiite Houthi takoever. “The operation is to defend and support the legitimate government of Yemen and prevent the radical Houthi movement from taking over the country,” the Foreign Secretary said. The military action was announced as reports surfaced that President Abed Rabbo Mansour Haddi had fled his Aden palace and left the country by boat, although his aides denied the claim.
Saudi consultations with the US were said to have taken place “at a high level” before the operation was launched, a Washington official told the Reuters news agency.
Yemen has become increasingly divided between a north dominated by Houthis and a south largely controlled by Hadi supports. Former President Ali Abdullah Selah, who resigned in 2012 after protests, has been accused of backing the Houthi rebels in an effort to regain influence.
Saudi warplanes continued to bomb the Houthis on Thursday as part of their offensive “Storm of Resolve” to weaken the Shiite rebels. Four naval vessels were additionally being sent from Egypt and were expected to be in the Red Sea soon, to secure the Gulf of Aden.
Washington, “commended the work of the coalition taking military action against the Houthis” and ensured Washington’s support in “intelligence sharing, targeting assistance and advisory and logistical support for strikes against the Houthis.”
27 March 2015: The air war that is already taking its toll on the civilian population of the Yemeni capital city of Sanaa is just the beginning, as Saudi Arabia is telegraphing their planned ground invasion of Yemen, and touting the number of Sunni Arab allies who will be going along.
The latest reports are that some 150,000 Saudi ground troops have massed along their border with Yemen, along with heavy artillery. Egypt also confirmed an undisclosed number of troops on transport ships off the Yemeni coast, who will join the invasion. Egypt is not alone in joining the war, as a number of other Sunni Arab nations are reportedly involved, with an eye on fighting the Shi’ite Houthis, who control the capital city of Sanaa.
At present, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are confirmed to have help from Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Jordan, Morocco, and Sudan. There are also reports of Libya’s government giving its approval, though they are unlikely to contribute troops, and Saudi state media also claimed Pakistan as part of the coalition.
News of the war sent the price of oil jumping, as while Yemen itself is not a major producer, Saudi Arabia is, and its own oil production is centered around the territory of its Shi’ite minority. If fighting spreads to the Yemeni coast it could also imperil key shipping lanes.
Saudi officials are already trying to downplay the scope of the war, saying they don’t intend to 100% occupy Yemen, but rather to just fight a big war and weaken the Houthis in the hopes that President Hadi, who resigned in January, will take over again.
That seems unlikely, with Hadi having fled the country yesterday in the face of a minor Houthi offensive. The more likely immediate impact of the Saudi intervention will be emboldening the Sunni Islamist forces in the country, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS, and giving them an advantage in expanding their territory.