Yemen’s Houthis have accused the United States of intentionally destroying the country’s air defense systems during the reign of former Yemeni president the late Ali Abdullah Saleh in preparation for Saudi Arabia’s military campaign against the country that was launched in 2015.
A high-ranking Houthi official has provided video to MinPress and other media that allegedly shows U.S. officials working with military members from the former government of Abdullah Saleh to destroy stockpiles of handheld anti-aircraft systems. The video seems to support claims by Houthi officials that a U.S. delegation oversaw the effort, including Program Manager in the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (PM/WRA) with the Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Dennis F. Hadrick, liaison officer Santo Polizzi, technical expert Niels Talbot and Deputy Director of Programs in the Bureau of Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism at the U.S. Department of State, Laurie Freeman.
The delegation, along with a military attaché at the U.S. embassy in Sana’a, held meetings with Yemeni Ministry of Defense officials at the time to pressure them to hand over hand-held anti-aircraft missiles so that they could be destroyed under a classified plan ostensibly created to reduce the threat of black market MANPADS (Man-portable air-defense systems) across the Middle East.
Cables leaked by Wikileaks show that the CIA was concerned about the proliferation MANPADS from Yemen and claimed that they had shown up in battlefields across the Middle East and Africa, they also confirm that starting in 2004, the United States was involved in a concerted effort to reduce Yemen’s stockpile of hand-held anti-aircraft missiles and refused an offer to allow for their destruction in return for more modern anti-aircraft systems.
Weapons buyback program
The U.S. delegation allegedly began the process of assessing and creating an inventory of Yemen’s anti-aircraft capabilities in August 2004 after negotiations with Yemen’s National Security Agency reached while former president Ali Abdullah Saleh was in power ended with an agreement to destroy the defense system in batches in exchange for tens of millions of dollars.
The air defense missiles were destroyed by Runco, a U.S.-based firm that specializes in dealing with explosives. Runco was contracted with the U.S. State Department to oversee the destruction of over 250 air defense missiles and 103 missile batteries.
The first batch to be destroyed included 1,078 Russian-made 9K32 Strela type surface to air missiles among several dozens of surface to air missiles of other varieties. A total of 1,161 missiles were destroyed on February 28, 2005, alone under the direct supervision of the U.S. delegation. The second batch included 102 air defense missiles, Sam 7 Strela missiles, SA-14 portable air defense missiles, and others. They were destroyed at a deserted military base in the Halahlan Valley in Ma’rib on July 27, 2009.
Houthi officials insist that the program reveals that the United States was intent on destroying Yemen’s military capabilities well before 2015 and that it likely did so in preparation for the Saudi-led Coalition’s brutal bombing campaign in the country which is ongoing, heavily backed by the United States, and has resulted in tens of thousands of civilian casualties.
Brigadier General Ammar Mohammed Abdullah Saleh, a nephew of late President Saleh served as deputy director of the National Security Bureau when his uncle was in power. He was allegedly tasked with persuading Yemeni military officials to agree with the surrender and destruction of the country’s air defense systems in exchange for hefty sums of money. Saleh is currently leading the Saudi-led Coalition forces’ assault on Hodeida, Yemen.
Houthis develop new air defense capabilities
Despite efforts by the United States and the subsequent attacks by the Saudi-led Coalition to render Yemen’s air defense systems useless, the Houthis have managed to develop and manufacture new air defense missiles capable of destroying modern military aircraft. The advances have become a real threat to Saudi-led Coalition and U.S. operations in Yemen, claiming multiple advanced drones and military jets, especially in the last few years of the war.
Last week, the Houthis unveiled four domestically-built long-range, surface-to-air missile defense systems including Fater-1 (Innovator-1), Thaqib-1 (Piercer-1), Thaqib-2 and Thaqib-3. An exhibition was held to reveal the new air defense systems and was attended by high-ranking members of Yemen’s Armed Forces loyal to the Houthis.
The new Houthi air defense systems have already proven their mettle. The Thaqib-3 surface-to-air missile shot down a multi-role Tornado fighter jet over the skies of al-Jawf last week, marking a setback for a military alliance known for its air supremacy.