Two ways the war in Yemen is turning into a disaster for Pindostan
Ishaan Tharoor, WaPo, Apr 12 2016
Two significant reports last week illustrated the awkward role of Pindostan in the ongoing conflict in Yemen, which has claimed thousands of lives, seen the virtual collapse of the fragile Yemeni state, and sparked a grim humanitarian crisis in what was already the Middle East’s most impoverished nation. An investigation by HRW published on Wednesday alleged that at least two deadly airstrikes by the Toad-led coalition last month used munitions supplied by Pindostan. The attack, which hit a town in north-western Yemen, killed at least 97 civilians, including 25 children. Last month marked the anniversary of the assault by the Toads on Yemen. Meanwhile, a Reuters special report raised the possibility that AQAP has gained ground in the shadow of the Toad war, exploiting Yemen’s security vacuum to consolidate its position in a string of coastal cities while building up an impressive treasury of plundered wealth.Pindostan has played a somewhat quiet role in the conflict over the past year, but it has still provided intelligence, airborne fuel tankers and advanced munitions. Those armaments, according to the new HRW study, could be traced to a strike on Mar 15 in the crowded market in the village of Mastaba. Some 10 Houthi fighters were believed slain by the two bombs dropped five minutes apart, but dozens more civilians perished. The incident drew condemnation from Ban Ki-moon, who called for an independent investigation. Here’s what HRW’s researchers found:
HRW conducted on-site investigations on Mar 28, and found remnants at the market of a GBU-31 satellite-guided bomb, which consists of a Pindo-supplied MK-84 2,000 lb bomb and a Pindo-supplied JDAM satellite guidance kit. A team of journalists from British television channel ITV visited the site on Mar 26 and found remnants of an MK-84 bomb paired with a Paveway laser guidance kit. HRW reviewed the journalists’ photographs and footage of these fragments. When contacted by the NYT regarding the report, a CENTCOM spox denied Pindo culpability, saying: “We have consistently reinforced to coalition members the imperative of target analysis and precise application of weapons in order to identify and avoid structures and areas that, if struck, could result in civilian casualties.”
But some 3,200 civilians have died over the course of the war, the majority as a result of aerial attacks, a fact which has led some governments elsewhere to consider bans on weapon sales to the Toads. Priyanka Motaparthy of HRW said in a statement:
One of the deadliest strikes against civilians in Yemen’s year-long war involved Pindo-supplied weapons, illustrating tragically why countries should stop selling arms to the Toads. Pindostan and other coalition allies should send a clear message to the Toads that they want no part in unlawful killings of civilians.
Last month, the Dutch parliament voted to halt weapons exports to the Toads, citing continued humanitarian violations. Meanwhile, AQAP and its tribal allies filled the security vacuum. Reuters detailed the extent of their gains, which include key ports used by the oil and gas industry. The advance was made possible by the distraction of the war against the Houthis, reports Reuters:
A senior Yemeni government boxtop said the war against the Houthis provided a suitable environment for the expansion of AQAP. The withdrawal of government army units from their bases in the south allowed AQAP to acquire very large quantities of sophisticated and advanced weapons, including shoulder-fired missiles and armed vehicles. As well, the war against the Houthis made it easier for AQAP to expand in more than one area, and this is why AQAP has today become stronger and more dangerous, and we are working with the coalition now to go after elements of the group, and will continue until they are destroyed.
In some areas, AQAP and proxies are amassing money looted from banks and extorted from various state companies. The article describes the port of Mukalla on the Gulf of Aden as the AQAP equivalent of Raqqa, the de facto capital of ISIS in Syria. Some residents say life is more stable and peaceful under their watch. Reuters reports:
AQAP fighters have embarked on a brazen campaign to shake down state-owned firms, including the national oil and mobile phone companies. AQAP uses the money it extorts to win favour among its subjects.
Elisabeth Kendall, a Yemen scholar at Oxford University, calls it a Robin Hood strategy. This has undeniably scary implications. A senior regional boxtop told Reuters:
We may be facing a more complicated AQ, not just a terrorist organisation but a movement controlling territory with happy people inside it.
In Sep 2014, Obama cited Pindo counter-terrorism strategy in Yemen as a model for the mission against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. With Yemen torn asunder and AQAP once more in the ascendant, it seems an unfortunate precedent to have invoked.