A Politico-Military Analysis of Why Sanaa Won the War How the War was Won!

by 'Abd al- 'Aziz al-Saqqaf

Yemen Update 35(1994):12-13

[The following article is reprinted from the Yemen Times, Vol.IV, No. 27, July 11-17, 1994, p.8]

Many people are still wondering about many aspects of the war between the government and separatist forces. There are many things that cannot be rationally explained. I have tried hard to dig deep into some aspects of the war to determine how it was won. I realize beforehand that this subject has not been discussed in the media, and that it may generate some fierce criticism. My consolation is that our rulers still believe in freedom of the press, and that there is no malice involved.

I believe there are some vital factors involved in the way the war was directed and fought. Let me detail some of them below.

1. An Objective with Moral Strength:

The government or legitimacy forces were fighting to keep the country together. They had a cause. The existence of this cause and objective has given the army of their public of Yemen moral strength. On the other hand, the forces fighting for the separatists did not have a clear objective. Moreover, the commanders knew their politicians were implicated in subservient relations to some of the neighboring countries. The commanders and soldiers saw their politicians receiving orders from not-so-neighborly neighbors. As a result, the enthusiasm and energy of the government army were much superior to those of the separatists. This made a difference.

2. Popular Support:

The government forces felt the backing and support of the people, even when they moved into the southern and eastern governorates.

The support of the people was visible in many ways:

a) The caravan of food supplies, finally reaching about a hundred, came out from all governorates of the former North Yemen and poured into the war zones.

b) There was a tremendous drive to make financial contributions to the war effort.

c) Volunteers from southern and northern Yemenis joined the fighting early in the war.

d) Residents of the southern and eastern governorates refused to enlist in the army of the separatists, thus depriving them of a badly needed manpower.

e) Residents of the southern and eastern governorates guided the government forces to the hidings and camps of the separatists and showed them where mines were planted.

3. Buying the YSP Troops:

The commanders of the separatist (YSP)forces and camps knew their politicians were receiving generous contributions in cash and arms from some of the country's neighbors. Not much of this filtered through to the commanders and their soldiers. Moreover, these people saw no reason to die just because the separatist politicians wanted to become rulers or they wanted to continue to receive generous "contributions.'' So, when…an'¡' offered a few million here and a few million there, thee commanders were ready to deal. One after another, the YSP camps “surrendered'' and changed allegiance. The 14th October Camp, theMadram Camp, the 56th Infantry, the 122nd Mechanic Camp, the 22ndInfantry Camp, the 4th Artillery Camp, the Rocket Base in Shabwah,etc. One after another surrendered.

It is estimated that in total, YR 282million has been paid out to buy the commanders and their assistants in those camps, according to AFP sources. Another YR 200 million was paid out to the tribal sheikhs and community elders to smooth the advance of the government forces. That is a very low price compared to the loss in lives and hardware had the southern brigades not shifted their allegiance.

Contact with the key officers and commanders in the YSP army had long been established and the deals were consummated in some cases even before the war. According to one businessman in …an'¡', "If less than $5 million helped rein in so many camps, we would have been willing to pay ten times that amount to the YSP secessionists to spare us the war altogether.''

4. Stalling Tactics:

The Sanaa politicians, headed by President 'Ali 'Abd Allah Salih, realized from early on in the war that the secessionists would be defeated. It was just a matter of time. Sothey played a stalling game superbly. They exchanged roles among themselves, and reacted calmly to all regional and international efforts "to resolve the war through negotiations.'' Arab League efforts were entertained for about two weeks and then snubbed. UN efforts were given a longer stretch &emdash; but always with the intention of determining events in Yemen on the battleground. Dr.al-Iryani was able to handle effectively the media, diplomats in Sanaa and abroad, and the adversaries in a smooth but decisive way. "At the end, things will be determined on the (battle) ground,'' he often repeated. He was right.

Sanaa needed time to finish the job. But it also wanted to take off the heat applied by the neighbors. The only way to achieve both is to stall, and it was given it, courtesy of Prince Bandar and his UN Security Council maneuvers. The delaying tactics frustrated and demoralized the separatists who watched the government forces gain inches every day.

5. Friends in Need:

Yemen had some good friends who came to its rescue. Within the region, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the Sudan, Qatar, Eritrea, Iran and Libya sided with Sanaa. Sanaa did not overplay its supporters so as not to scare the West. Many countries, however, vacillated. Among the Western countries, Germany and France deserve a special mention. Those two countries backed Sanaa from the very beginning and kept their line. That is why today, they have secured a special place in the hearts of Yemenis, and in the politics of Sanaa.

6. A United Internal Front:

Whatever differences there were among Yemenis, they were put aside as the people of Yemen rallied around the president. Help came from two sources. When Ali Salem al-Beidh announced his separate state, he lost whatever following he had among the people of Yemen. That made many people, especially in Ta'izz and among the Bak£l tribes rethink their positions and roles. Then came the Saudi role. Saudi bullying made the Yemenis stubborn in their fight against the secessionists who were now seen as Saudi agents and traitors. The two steps have created a secure and strong internal front among the people of Yemen. This could now be used to launch reforms and reconstruction efforts to build a new Yemen.

7. Unified Command:

Finally there is the element of a unified command, personified by President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The government forces had one leader, they obeyed him, and together they came through. The separatists had a divided leadership. First there was Ali Salem al-Beidh and his team. Soon, he left Aden, and Abd al-Rahim Al-Jifri took charge. He was often complaining of insubordination by the YSP officers who could not comprehend how they could receive instructions from a person the party has, for so long, described as a traitor and agent. Then there was the old leadership of the 1960srepresented by Makkawi, al-Asnaj and others, who formed their own power bases. Finally, there were the tribal leaders like Bin Suraimah and others who worked independently of everyone else. A splintered separatist leadership cost them a lot.

In my opinion, those seven factors played a key role in bringing victory to the Republic of Yemen against the separatists and in consolidating the unity of the nation.

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