Thursday, March 26, 2015

Middle East War Update: Libyan Civil War Back On; Saudis Attack Yemen

The key bit of news for Libya is that as of March 20th, the Libyan civil war is back on in full swing, and Tobruk government forces are quickly moving to surround Tripoli. They seem to have caught Libya Dawn—who has been focused on fighting ISIS—off guard.

A Quick Reminder of the Players:
·         Tobruk Government: the newly-elected parliament (House of Representatives) and Presidential Council. Backed by the army. Generally considered the legitimate government due to having won the most recent elections.
·         Libya Dawn: the greater Islamist umbrella siding with the “New General National Council,” which was the General National Council until they were defeated in elections and refused to step down. Also called just the “Islamist Government” due to being an alliance of Islamists from the Muslim Brotherhood to Ansar al-Sharia (and the electorally-defeated New GNC is highly Islamist).

Quick 2015 Timeline:
·         January 16th:  Libya Dawn and Tobruk Government ceasefire. Unity Government talks launched.
Jan 21 Map Post-Ceasefire. From Wikipedia. Red = Tobruk Gov't; Green = Libya Dawn; Grey/Black = ISIS.

·         Interregnum period: lots of fighting with ISIS.
·         Feburary 20th: Tobruk Government’s House of Representatives votes to cut off talks with Libya Dawn  / New GNC.
March 20th Map: Greatest Extent of ISIS Control

·         March 20th: Tobruk government re-launches hostilities against Libya Dawn to take Tripoli
·         March 23rd: Tripoli attacked under siege
March 22nd Map With Tobruk Gov’t Assault. Note ISIS Positions Contracting. Note white = Ansar al-Sharia.

The fact that Tobruk Government forces were so quick to make progress to surround Tripoli suggests they were able to conceal the size and position of their forces.

(This is often why military groups are wary of ceasefires, by the way: they give the other side breathing room to regroup, resupply, and reposition. It’s why Ukraine was so bloody upset after Minsk I.)

Despite being beaten back in the past 2 months, ISIS is likely to make a comeback as Libya Dawn and Tobruk focus on each other.

With Iran-backed Shiite Houthis pressing down on Aden (the last major stronghold of elected-government forces), on March 25th Saudi Arabia decided to (at the behest of Yemen’s President) launch a military operation to push the Houthis back and restore the government. They’re claiming currently that they have a 10-country Arab (probably all Sunni-controlled) coalition, and they have amassed heavy weapons and troops along the border, just north of the Houthi’s strongest presence.
The Saudis have launched airstrikes to get things started, likely as they organize for a ground assault with the rest of the coalition. Egypt is sending ships to the area right now for support.

What finally spurred the Saudi intervention was the very rapid advance of Houthi forces towards Aden over the past 4 days--if Aden falls and the President is captured, the government comes very close to being booted out of the war entirely:

 March 22nd. Red = Gov't forces. Green = Houthis. Yellow = South Yemen Separatists. Grey = ISIS/Al-Qaeda.

March 26th

Yemen is the hottest spot right now for the ongoing Sunni-Shiite regional war and the Iranian/Arab regional war, which have very high overlap. Syria’s civil war is the secondary battleground, though outside nations are not committed to invading directly and are wary enough of the strength of ISIS that they are taking a break of sorts. In Iraq, all parties seem so dedicated to beating ISIS that the hottest parts of the Sunni-Shiite fighting have been put aside almost entirely.

Iran will probably not respond militarily here other than to try to beef up Houthi forces; at this point neither the Gulf States nor Iran want all-out war--expect their conflict to continue as a series of proxy wars.

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