US special forces return to Yemen, motives questioned

Sunday 15/05/2016
Young demonstrators protesting recent deployment of US special forces to Yemen

SANA'A - The deployment of US special operations troops to southern Yemen was eyed with suspicion by both sides in the coun­try’s war.
Opponents of the Iran-backed Houthis and their allied forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh argue that US forces in Yemen would serve the rebels, who, on their part, say the Americans are a backup for the Arab alliance fight­ing in support of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
Adnan al-Odaini, a senior mem­ber of the anti-Houthi Islamic Re­form Party maintained that the return of US troops to Yemen will serve the Houthis and Saleh’s fol­lowers by providing them with a pretext to perpetuate their rebel­lion.
Odaini said Washington has been acting in favour of the Houthis in many instances. “One, America was the first to oppose the designation of the Houthis as a terrorist group, though they do raise the slogan of ‘Death to America’,” he said.
“Second, Washington was the one that forced the Yemeni govern­ment and Saudi Arabia to stop fight­ing against the Houthis in the ear­lier wars (in the northern province of Saada) and ordered the handover of the garrisons and state weapons to the Houthis through the traitor Saleh and his loyalist officers.”
Houthi leader Abdelmalik al-Ajri contended that the US involvement coincided with a surge in al-Qaeda attacks. “They wanted to have forc­es in al-Anad base (south Yemen) in addition to the bases they have in Saudi Arabia and Djibouti, to launch ground operations such as the ones that occurred in Lahj and Shabwa,” he said.
“Under the banner of helping Yemeni forces combating terror­ism, the Americans have slowly revealed that their real wish is to have a military presence in more than one Yemeni region, after their ambassador had taken the reins of political decision in the country.”
The Pentagon, on May 6th, said it sent a special operations team to Yemen to work with Arab military forces battling to push al-Qaeda militants out of areas captured during the country’s civil war. US commandos were deployed to Mu­kalla, after Yemeni and Saudi-led coalition troops retook the strategic seaport, which was under al-Qaeda control for a year.
A US military presence in Yemen is not new but it has been renewed to support the Hadi government, said Abdel Salam Mohamad, head of Aba’d Centre for Strategic Stud­ies in Sana’a.
“It is common knowledge that US advisers and special forces are there since Saleh’s days as part of the programme for combating ter­rorism,” he said. “The difference now is that they have returned in cooperation with the UAE, whose troops are effectively in control of al-Anad base.”
The Pentagon previously had more than 100 special operations forces advising the army in Yemen but withdrew them in early 2015 as the country slid into an all-out war.
The latest US deployment cast a shadow on UN-sponsored peace negotiations in Kuwait, where the delegation grouping the Houthis and Saleh’s party cautioned that such developments could jeopard­ise the talks and a peaceful solution to the conflict.
Mohamad Abdel Salam, head of the Houthi delegation, was quoted as saying: “The violation of Yemeni sovereignty by foreign forces will scuttle negotiations.”
Pro-Houthi political analyst Za­karia Monser sees the US deploy­ment as an alternative to Saudi involvement. “Since April 8th, Ri­yadh has been overconfident that the Yemenis would stick to peace­ful negotiations regardless of the cost,” he said. “However, almost a month has passed since the start of the talks in Kuwait and the cease­fire remains extremely volatile. We can safely say that it has collapsed and it is only a matter of time before the death of talks and the truce is announced officially.”
He said the Hadi government, which relies on the support of the Arab alliance in fighting the Hou­this, had no plausible reaction to the US move.
But Mohamad said: “There is a clear manipulation of the Ameri­can deployment by the Houthis especially in the Kuwait talks. The Houthis are trying to score points but they have no genuine demands to end the American presence be­cause they regard the Americans as neutral towards them, unlike the Arab Alliance.”
Combating al-Qaeda in Yemen provided an opportunity for the United States to return to an area where regional conflicts are tightly linked to the US-Russian race for in­fluence on the Middle East, accord­ing to Mohamad.
“The return to al-Anad base coin­cided with the establishment of an American base in the Kurdish area in Syria,” he said, “but I believe that the Yemen issue will remain a Gulf issue par excellence, minimising the possibility of a Russian-American competition.”