Tag Archives: Houthis

How goes the war?

This week brought a bunch of news about the wars in the Middle East and Central Asia. In Afghanistan, the United States and its allies have been directly involved in fighting the Taleban for over 18 years. In Syria, they’ve attempted to overthrow the government of Bashar al-Assad with the help of proxies in various forms, who are now holed up in an ever-shrinking enclave in Idlib province. And in Yemen, they’ve been backing the Saudis in their attempt to reinstall Adrabbun Mansar Hadi as president in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, now under the control of the Houthis. So, how go America’s wars?

First, Afghanistan:

A few days ago, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released his latest quarterly report to the US Congress. According to an email I got from SIGAR’s office, the key points of this report include the following:

  • Enemy-initiated attacks (EIA) and effective enemy-initiated attacks (EIA resulting in casualties) during the fourth quarter of 2019 exceeded same-period levels in every year since recording began in 2010.
  • The month of the Afghan presidential election (September 2019) saw the highest number of EIA in any month since June 2012, and the highest number of effective enemy-initiated attacks (EEIA) since recording began in January 2010. The high level of violence continued after the presidential election; October 2019 had the second highest number of EIA in any month since July 2013.
  • According to the UNODC, the overall value of opiates available for export in Afghanistan in 2018 (between $1.1 billion and $2.1 billion) was much larger than the combined value of all of the country’s licit exports ($875 million).
  • As of December 18, conflicts had induced 427,043 Afghans to flee their homes in 2019 (compared to 356,297 Afghans during the same period in 2018).
  • Between November 2019 and March 2020, an estimated 11.3 million Afghans – more than one-third of the country’s population – are anticipated to face acute food insecurity.

I think that gives a good enough impression. Eighteen years on, things aren’t going so well in Afghanistan.

So what about Syria?

Continue reading How goes the war?

Trudeau’s Jeeps in action

‘An election is no time to discuss serious issues,’ former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell notoriously said. That, of course, is one of the reasons we supposedly value a free press – to hold politicians to account and make sure that they have to talk about what really matters. So given that we have a general election campaign going on at the moment, you’d imagine that when a major international news story breaks, and there’s shown to be a Canadian connection, our press would be on it in a flash. But for whatever reason that doesn’t seem to be the case.

A couple of days ago, news broke that the Houthi forces in Yemen had claimed to have inflicted a major defeat on Saudi forces near the southern Saudi of Najran. Subsequently, the Houthis released videos apparently proving their case. These showed large numbers of dead and captured Saudi troops as well as a significant amount of destroyed and captured armoured vehicles. That much attracted the attention of the our press, but it somehow failed to note that a lot of the vehicles were in fact Canadian.

Back in 2014, the Harper government struck a $15 billion deal to sell light armoured vehicles (LAVs) to the Saudi government. After this deal came in for public criticism, Harper’s successor as Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, said that there was nothing to worry about, as the contract was only for ‘jeeps’. That, of course, was nonsense, as this drawing from the National Post newspaper makes clear.

lav3

For comparison, here’s a picture of one of the Saudi vehicles captured by the Houthis in the recent battle:

lav2

My not-entirely forgotten military vehicle recognition training teaches me to look for things like hatches and wheels. So let’s do that. Note the position of the hatch in the photo, and compare it to the drawing above. Note also the positioning of the wheels of the captured vehicle – there’s a small gap between the front two, a large one between the middle two, and then a very small one between the wheels at the back. Then compare that to the drawing. I don’t know about you, but the two look pretty similar to me. I’m willing to be corrected on this, but I’d say that it seems that the Houthis now have a least one Canadian-built LAV in their possession.

Here’s some more evidence – a rather blurry photograph from the CBC, showing a Saudi-purchased Canadian LAV. The key item is the triangular piece of metal with two holes in it, which you can see in the bottom right of the vehicle.

lav4

Now compare that to this picture of one of the Saudi vehicles destroyed in the recent Houthi offensive. Look familiar??

lav5

Sadly, this isn’t the least of it. Those Canadian LAVs seem to have had a rather bad day, as you can see below:

lav7

lav6

Why does this matter?

The contract with the Saudis has been controversial from the moment it was first signed, with various activists in Canada complaining that we should not be selling weapons to a country with such a bad human rights record. The possibility that the armoured vehicles might be used in Yemen has also been raised as a reason why the contract should be cancelled. At one point it looked as if the Liberal government was having some pangs of conscience, and it announced that Global Affairs Canada (GAC), under the command of Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, would review the contract to see whether it should be terminated.  A spokesman for GAC declared that,

Canada does not export items destined for Yemen or that we suspect might be used in Yemen due to the impact on regional stability and security. Careful attention is paid to the potential for the diversion of Canadian exports to the conflict in Yemen. … If there is evidence that Canadian arms are being misused or have been diverted, Minister Freeland will suspend those export permits while an investigation proceeds, as she has done in the past.

Despite some compelling evidence that Canadian equipment had indeed been diverted to the war in Yemen, nothing ever came of that promise, however. Sales of Canadian military equipment to Saudi Arabia have continued apace and the government ‘review’ has disappeared without trace. Meanwhile, Canadian arms continue to fuel the war in Yemen, and as the pictures above show are now actually in the hands of both sides of the conflict!!

If the Canadian government publicly preached hard-headed realism, I wouldn’t mind so much. If our politicians just said, ‘business is business’, or ‘we back Saudi Arabia because we want to fight Iran’, or something like that, it would at least have the virtue of brutal honesty. But that isn’t how our politicians talk. Rather, Canadian foreign policy discourse is nothing if not an exercise in holy-than-thou sanctimonious moralizing. Yet when it comes to an opportunity to make some money, all that goes out of the window.

So why aren’t our media on this? As there’s an election going on, now’s the time to ask the politicians some hard questions. Someone needs to put Trudeau and Freeland on the spot, and get them to give them an answer about what they intend to do about arms sales to Saudi Arabia given the new evidence which has come to light. And someone needs to tackle opposition politicians about it too. Somehow, though, I doubt that they will. Some things are too serious to talk about at election time. There’s just no way to discuss them without looking bad.