President Donald Trump’s administration has substantially increased military support for the Saudi-led Sunni coalition fighting the Iranian-backed Shiite Houthis in Yemen, countering the growing investment Iran has made in its allies in the war-torn country.
The U.S. decision to boost support for the Saudi alliance comes nearly a month after the Trump administration unveiled a potential plan to form a military coalition with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, and Jordan, as well as Israel to combat their mutual enemy: state-sponsor of terrorism Iran.
According to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ):
The Trump administration has significantly increased military support for Sunni Arab states fighting al Qaeda and Iranian-backed militias in Yemen, said U.S. and Arab officials, drawing the U.S. deeper into the two-year civil war there.
American support now includes greater intelligence and logistical support for the militaries of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, these officials said.
Moreover, the Trump administration is also contemplating resuming the sale of precision-guided weapons to Shiite Iran’s regional rival Sunni Saudi Arabia.
“We have a commitment… that they will increase this cooperation,” proclaimed Saudi Gen. Ahmad al-Asiri, a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, referring to U.S. support. “If there was a hiccup last year, this was an abnormality.”
Meanwhile, Reuters has learned that Iran is also boosting its military support for the Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen, who have retained control of the country’s capital Sanaa in addition to some areas in the north while al-Qaeda holds territory in the south.
The Saudi-led coalition has primarily focused on fighting the Iran-backed Shiite Houthis, allowing al-Qaeda to expand the territory it controls and the number of fighters under its command.
Iran is sending advanced weapons and military advisers to Yemen’s rebel Houthi movement, stepping up support for its Shi’ite ally in a civil war whose outcome could sway the balance of power in the Middle East, regional and Western sources say.
Sources with knowledge of the military movements, who declined to be identified, said that in recent months Iran has taken a greater role in the two-year-old conflict by stepping up arms supplies and other support.
The notorious Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of elite Qods Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC), responsible for protecting the Shiite country’s interests abroad, participated in a meeting in Tehran focused on the future of Iran’s role in Yemen.
“At this meeting, they agreed to increase the amount of help, through training, arms and financial support,” an unnamed Iranian source told Reuters.
“Yemen is where the real proxy war is going on and winning the battle in Yemen will help define the balance of power in the Middle East,” he added.
While Saudi Arabia and its coalition have primarily focused on combating the Houthis and their allies, militias loyal to the former president of Yemen, the Trump administration is mainly interested in providing support to Sunni alliance members who fight al-Qaeda, which poses a direct threat to America.
“U.S. forces will continue to target [AQAP] militants and facilities in order to disrupt the terrorist organization’s plots and ultimately to protect American lives,” Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said in early March.
“They’ve taken advantage of ungoverned spaces in Yemen to plot, direct and inspire terrorist attacks against the United States,” he added. “We’ll continue to work with the government of Yemen and our partners on the ground to defeat [the organization] and deny it the ability to operate.”
Thomas Joscelyn, an expert at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) think tank, recently told lawmakers that some leaders of the Yemen-based Sunni terrorist group al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) are collaborating with Saudi Arabia and the UAE in their fight against the Houthis.
Nevertheless, the Trump administration has significantly stepped up America’s military efforts against AQAP, targeting the group with more airstrikes this month than any year under former President Barack Obama.
It appears the Saudi-led coalition will have to choose between enhanced U.S. support and its alliance with al-Qaeda.
The Saudi-led coalition has rarely targeted the Sunni jihadist group.