The armed forces of the Yemen Arab Republic and the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen were officially merged in May 1990, but in May 1994 civil war broke out between the forces of the two former states, culminating in victory for the North. In October 1994, President Ali Abdallah Salih announced plans for the modernization of the armed forces, which would include the banning of party affiliation in the security services and armed forces, and in March 1995 the full merger of the armed forces was completed. The supreme commander of the armed forces is Field Marshal, Ali Abdullah Saleh, the President of the Republic of Yemen.
The number of military personnel in Yemen is relatively high; in sum, Yemen has the second largest military force on the Arabian Peninsula after Saudi Arabia. Yemen's military consists of the Yemen Army (includes Republican Guard), Navy (includes Marines), Yemen Air Force (Al Quwwat al Jawwiya al Jamahiriya al Yemeniya; includes Air Defense Force). In 2007 total active troops were estimated as follows: army, 60,000 [versus 40,000 in 1999]; navy, 1,700 [versus 1,000 in 1999]; and air force, 5,000 [versus 2,500 in 1999]. In September 2007, the government announced the reinstatement of compulsory military service. Yemen's defense budget, which in 2006 represented approximately 40 percent of the total government budget, is expected to remain high for the near term, as the military draft takes effect and internal security threats continue to escalate. Despite these troop levels, Yemen's military equipment is considered to be light, outdated, and poorly maintained, particularly when compared with neighboring Gulf states.
Although no U.S. troops are based permanently in Yemen, the United States has provided military assistance and technical support in recent years. According to the U.S. Department of State, the resumption of International Military Education and Training (IMET) assistance and the transfer of military equipment and spare parts to Yemen have improved defense relations between the United States and Yemen. In FY 2006, Foreign Military Financing for Yemen was US$8.4 million, IMET was US$924,000, and Non-Proliferation, Anti-Terrorism, Demining and Related Programs received US$1.4 million. Nongovernment sources report that in addition to this aid, U.S. military advisers have trained Yemeni troops in counterterrorism techniques, and the United States has contributed to Yemen's border security by installing advanced technological immigration control systems.
Yemen's defense spending has historically been one of the government's three largest expenditures and is expected to remain high as a result of the reinstatement of conscription and security threats posed by terrorism and tribal conflict. The defense budget increased from US$540 million in 2001 to and estimated US$823 million-US$1.1 billion in 2006. According to the U.S. government, the 2006 budget represents about 6 percent of gross domestic product.
Yemen's military is divided into an army, navy, and air force. The army is organized into eight armored brigades, 16 infantry brigades, six mechanized brigades, two airborne commando brigades, one surface-to-surface missile brigade, three artillery brigades, one central guard force, one Special Forces brigade, and six air defense brigades, which consist of four antiaircraft artillery battalions and one surface-to-air missile battalion. The navy's major bases are located in Aden and Al Hudaydah; there are also bases in Al Mukalla, Perim Island, and Socotra that maintain naval support equipment. The air force includes an air defense force.
Yemen's army is reported to be equipped with 790 main battle tanks, 130 reconnaissance vehicles, 200 armored infantry fighting vehicles, 710 armored personnel carriers, 310 towed artillery, 25 self-propelled artillery, 294 multiple rocket launchers, 502 mortars, six Scud B (up to an estimated 33 missiles) and 28 other surface-to-surface missiles, 71 antitank guided weapons, some rocket launchers, some recoilless launchers, 530 air defense guns, and an estimated 800 surface-to-air missiles. The navy's inventory includes eight missile craft, six miscellaneous boats/craft, five inshore patrol craft, six mine countermeasures vessels, one landing ship (tank), two landing craft (mechanical), four landing craft (utility), and two support and miscellaneous tankers. The air force, including air defense, has 75 combat aircraft and eight attack helicopters, as well as assorted transport aircraft, training aircraft and helicopters, and both air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles.
In 2001 Yemen's National Defense Council abolished the existing two-year compulsory military service, relying instead on volunteers to fill posts in the military and security forces. In 2007 the government announced it would reinstate the draft to counter unemployment; approximately 70,000 new recruits are expected to join the military.
There are no permanent U.S. troops in Yemen, but military personnel have been deployed there in recent years for training purposes. Since the February 2006 escape of 23 Al Qaeda members from a prison in Sanaa, an international coalition of warships has patrolled the waterways off Yemen. Yemen's Middle Eastern neighbors who are members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) participate in a defense force based in Saudi Arabia. Yemen is not a member of the GCC, and there are no reports of the country having a military presence outside of its own borders.
One form of patronage payoffs to military elites is through the Military Economic Corporation (MECO), now known as the Yemen Economic Corporation (YECO). YECO is a nominally independent economic corporation, but it is run by active duty military officers. YECO used to be a dominant economic force that controlled most basic commodities. With the end of subsidies, YECO got out of the commodities business. Instead, it controls large swaths of land and various parastatal enterprises, primarily from the old South Yemen. Land ownership and registration famously lack transparency and clarity in Yemen, and are rife with corruption. The military, either directly or through YECO, can claim land for military use, and then turn around and sell it for private gain to developers. 'Tourist City' in Sana'a is among the most well-known economic enterprises of YECO.
Payoffs to important security elites work in much the same way as in the military, but on a smaller scale. Security forces are thought to number 70,000, with 20,000 of that number coming from tribal levies. While the military's budget appears as a single line item, security sector budgets are even less transparent. Security sector monies come in large measure through discretionary budgets. End of fiscal year supplementary budgets are especially large in Yemen and entirely discretionary, expanding opportunities for corrupt behavior.
Defense relations between Yemen and the United States are improving rapidly, with the resumption of International Military Education and Training assistance and the transfer of military equipment and spare parts. In FY 2011 approximate funding for U.S. Foreign Military Financing (FMF) for Yemen was $20 million, International Military Education and Training (IMET) was $1 million, and Non-Proliferation, Anti-Terrorism, Demining and Related Programs (NADR) was $4.5 million. In FY 2011 Yemen also received approximately $26.6 million in Economic Support Funds (ESF).
Of the $497 million in total security assistance allocated to Yemen between fiscal years 2007 and 2012, DOD allocated over 70 percent ($361 million) to its Section 1206 and 1207(n) programs. DOD has assisted several components of the Yemeni MOD. For example, DOD has provided vehicles, communications equipment, and other support to the Yemeni Border Security Force to enhance Yemen’s capability to detect and detain terrorists along its borders; helicopters, maintenance, and surveillance cameras to Yemen’s Air Force to support counterterrorism operations; and weapons, ammunition, and boats to Yemen’s special operations forces to build their counterterrorism capacity.
Although Yemen has received more Section 1206 and 1207(n) assistance than any other country, as of early 2013 DOD had yet to evaluate these programs to determine their effectiveness in developing the counterterrorism capacity of the Yemeni security forces receiving assistance. DOD headquarters officials attributed this to safety and security concerns, explaining that, given the unstable security environment in Yemen, it was not feasible to send officials to Yemen to observe or interview members of the individual units receiving Section 1206 or 1207(n) assistance.
Before the unrest of 2011, DOD personnel were embedded with the Yemeni units receiving U.S. training and equipment, which facilitated their ability to collect real-time information on the units’ capabilities. However, no DOD personnel have been embedded with Yemeni security forces since 2011. While security-related constraints on providing training remain, DOD has taken steps to mitigate the effect of the security environment on its training activities by conducting training outside of Yemen. For example, DOD arranged for Yemeni personnel to receive helicopter training in Texas and plans to provide training on a fixed-wing aircraft in Spain in early 2013.
President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi was sworn in on 25 February 2012 and on 27 February 2012 former President Saleh officially resigned from his post. Interim President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi of Yemen hoped to rebuild his government by purging remnants of the Saleh family that ruled the country more than 30 years. Among those remnants of Saleh family are high-ranking army generals who have refused to step down. After becoming interim president, Hadi bided his time before making his first moves to weed out elements of the Saleh government.
Lucas Winter of the US Army Foreign Military Studies Office noted in December 2012 that "Ali Abdullah Saleh may have renounced the presidency, but his and his family’s influence is deeply embedded in the system. The degree to which the president’s family, as of late 2011, is in control of key security institutions is astounding. These include the Republican Guard and Special Forces (the president’s son and one-time purported heir Ahmed), the Central Security Forces (nephew Yahya Mohammed Saleh), the National Security Bureau (nephew Ammar Mohammed Saleh), the Air Force (half-brother Mohammed Saleh al-Ahmar), and the Presidential Guard (his nephew Tariq Mohammed Abdullah Saleh).4 His younger son Khaled Ali Abdullah Saleh was put in charge of a newly created division shortly after graduating from Sandhurst. His nephew Tayseer Mohammed Saleh al-Ahmar is the military attaché in Washington. Other relatives and kinsmen hold important political, economic and military leadership positions." Two counterterrorism units — one each within the Yemeni MOD and MOI — have been among the largest recipients of U.S. security assistance. However, US DOD officials noted that MOI’s counterterrorism unit played a limited role in attacking AQAP strongholds in southern Yemen, while MOD’s counterterrorism unit did not make any contribution to those operations. DOD officials stated that this limited involvement was due in part to the nature of the conflict against AQAP — an effort to regain control of territory that was more suited to a response by conventional military forces. However, the MOI and MOD counterterrorism units were under the leadership of the former president’s supporters at the time of the operations against AQAP and were consequently unwilling to strongly support the new president’s counterterrorism initiatives. Recent actions by the Yemeni government have addressed some of these challenges.
In December 2012, President Hadi announced a number of decrees to, among other things, remove several key leaders of Yemeni security forces units—including the heads of the MOD and MOI counterterrorism units. President Hadi’s decrees also called for further reorganization of the Yemeni security ministries—specifically, consolidating the MOD and MOI counterterrorism units under a newly created Yemeni special operations command under MOD. As of February 2013, this new special operations command had been formed, and was overseeing the MOD counterterrorism unit, while planning was under way for the MOI counterterrorism unit to be absorbed under the new command.
Despite two rounds of presidential decrees stripping the ex-president’s relatives and loyalists of top military posts, the two most powerful commanders — Saleh’s eldest son Ahmed of the Republican Guard, and the former president’s kinsman Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who last year defected from the Saleh regime to protect anti-government protestors with his First Armored Division — still control their respective divisions of the fractured army.
As his first move, Hadi announced the removal of Ahmed Ali Saleh, the ex-president’s eldest son, ex-head of the powerful Republican Guard and former heir-apparent to rule Yemen. He was appointed ambassador to the United Arab Emirates. A Saleh nephew who was deputy chief of intelligence became military attaché in Yemen’s embassy in Ethiopia. Another Saleh nephew who headed of the Presidential Guard was named military attaché in Germany. Yet another Saleh military man to get removed was Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who commanded 50,000 troops of Yemen’s First Armored Division in Sana’a. The general was effectively neutralized by being appointed presidential adviser.
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