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Cablegate: Yemen's Counter Terrorism Unit Stretched Thin By

VZCZCXRO9119
RR RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHDH RUEHDIR RUEHKUK RUEHTRO
DE RUEHYN #2230/01 3511254
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
R 171254Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY SANAA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3405
INFO RUEHZM/GULF COOPERATION COUNCIL COLLECTIVE
RUCNIRA/IRAN COLLECTIVE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 SANAA 002230

SIPDIS
NOFORN

DEPT FOR NEA/ARP AMACDONALD AND INR JYAPHE

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/01/2019
TAGS: PTER MOPS PINS MASS PGOV YM
SUBJECT: YEMEN'S COUNTER TERRORISM UNIT STRETCHED THIN BY
WAR AGAINST HOUTHIS

REF: A. SANAA 01995
b. SANAA 02079
c. SANAA 01669

Classified By: Ambassador Stephen Seche for reasons 1.4(b) and (d).

1. (S/NF) SUMMARY. As the sixth war against the Houthis
continues to squeeze Yemen's conventional military, the ROYG
has looked to its U.S. and U.K.-funded and trained
counterterrorism forces to provide some relief to battered
army forces. The Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU) - trained to
detect small terrorist cells and investigate and prevent
terror attacks on civilian targets - is a poor tactical
choice for use against a long-term domestic insurgency. The
ROYG, desperate to defeat the Houthis at any cost, has
largely ignored USG concerns regarding deployment of the CTU
to Sa'ada. The CTU has been unable to go after genuine
terrorist targets like al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula
(AQAP) while it has been tied down in Sa'ada. CTU
involvement in a ROYG operation against AQAP on the morning
of December 17 is a welcome return to its core mission,
although it remains to be seen if this was any more than a
one-off occurrence. END SUMMARY.

Signs of royg desperation in sa'ada
-----------------------------------

2. (C) As the sixth war in Sa'ada, now in its fifth month,
drags on in a tit-for-tat struggle between ROYG military
forces and Houthi rebels, the ROYG has attempted to use its
elite CT forces to provide needed extra muscle.xxxxx,
told PolOff in late November that he felt his forces were
being pulled into the Sa'ada conflict because of the
perception that the CTU is made up of "super-men that can
solve any problem and defeat anybody." (Note: CTU forces
were initially sent to Sa'ada in July to investigate the
kidnapping of a group of Western aid workers. Post assesses
that the CTU was drawn into the Houthi conflict in early
September. End Note.) Such a misperception of the CTU's
capabilities and mission was hurting the unit, xxxxx added.
During the U.S.-Yemen Joint Staff Talks hosted in Sana'a
November 8-11, xxxxx publicly impressed upon Brigadier
General Ali Dahan of the Yemen Special Operations Forces
(YSOF), another elite military unit also involved in CT
operations, and other senior Ministry of Defense (MOD)
leadership the severity of the situation in Sa'ada and the
toll it was taking on the CTU. He told Dahan, "You may not
be feeling the hurt of this war, but the CTU is fighting in
Sa'ada and is taking casualties." (COMMENT: xxxxx was angry
with Dahan for stating that the YSOF was "ready and available
for more training exercises with U.S. forces" while the CTU
was being deployed in Sa'ada. He believes the YSOF should be
doing more in Sa'ada, which would allow the CTU to return to
its primary mission. END COMMENT.)

3. (S/NF) Increasingly desperate to defeat the Houthis, the
ROYG continues to insist that fighting the Houthis is a
legitimate component of CT operations, thus justifying the
use of CTU forces in Sa'ada. The National Security Bureau's
Colonel Akram al-Qassmi told PolOffs on December 9, "The war
against the Houthis is not a distraction from the CT fight.
It is the CT fight." xxxxx Despite the injection
of CTU forces into the fight three months ago, the Sa'ada war
drags on and, according to CTU leadership, the CTU is taking
"heavy casualties" due to their lack of training for this
type of warfare. At the urging of CTU leadership, the
Supreme Security Council agreed to move all CTU forces (two
platoons) out of Sa'ada on December 9. xxxxx confirmed that
the MOI Regional Commander ordered elements of the CTU,
believed to be one platoon, to remain in Sa'ada until Sa'ada
City is cleared of Houthi fighters.

Ct operations constrained due to sa'ada war
-------------------------------------------

4. (S/NF) Following the return of one platoon to Sana'a, the
CTU undertook its first CT operation against AQAP in four
months on the morning of December 17. However, according to
xxxxx deployment to Sa'ada has hurt the CTU's readiness
capabilities. Ideally, the unit is primed for rapid response
to any CT threat in and around Sana'a within 10 minutes. The

Sanaa 00002230 002 of 002


CTU is broken into four platoons which rotate every two
weeks: one on leave, a second in training, a third on
standby, and a fourth as a Quick Reaction Force (QRF). With
one platoon in Sa'ada, and another on active duty in Sana'a,
the CTU has no surge capacity. xxxxx said that the CTU's
training and operational cycle has been disrupted by the
Sa'ada war. "Since August, the QRF has been in Sa'ada,
taking heavy casualties because they have been engaged in
heavy fighting. We have only had a chance to send a relief
team twice since the latest conflict started." He said that
the use of USG-provided armored vehicles and humvees has
"been fundamental in preventing casualties." (NOTE: Post has
repeatedly questioned ROYG use of U.S. military equipment and
U.S.-trained forces intended to combat AQAP in the war
against the Houthi rebels. END NOTE.)

5. (S/NF) The CTU was established just six years ago at the
urging of the USG and has received substantial funding and
training from U.S. special operations forces and British
conventional army trainers. Their training has focused on
detecting and neutralizing the AQAP threat, not fighting a
long-term, domestic insurgency. In particular, the CTU is
predominantly trained for CT "direct action missions" in
which they isolate an AQAP cell and capture its members based
on specific intelligence. Referring to the guerilla warfare
tactics the Houthis have been using against traditional ROYG
military forces, xxxxx U.S. training in
"unconventional warfare" and tactics used by the U.S. forces
in "asymmetric warfare" of the type encountered in the
mountains of Afghanistan, suggesting the CTU expects to
continue to use its forces in Sa'ada.


Comment
-------

6. (S/NF) Bogged down in a seemingly unwinnable war that
pits conventional forces against determined rebels, the ROYG
has resorted to using its specialized CT units. Untrained to
fight this type of conflict, the overstretched CTU has
reportedly sustained significant casualties, missed training
opportunities and been derailed from its principal mission:
to combat AQAP. While U.S. concerns over diversion of troops
and equipment have been acknowledged, they have clearly not
resulted in a significant change of ROYG focus from the
Houthis to AQAP. CTU deployment to Sa'ada, while a
distraction, is not a crushing blow to all potential CT
activities, as demonstrated by the December 17 CT operation.
However, it remains to be seen if this indicates a balancing
of priorities between the Houthi conflict and AQAP, or if it
is simply a momentary return to the CTU's primary mission.
End comment.
Seche

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