The Yemeni Army that Evaporated under his Leadership and Disappeared

Former Yemeni Defense Minister Muhammad Nasser Ahmed Ali
Ali Mayas
February 27, 2024

The Yemeni Army that Evaporated under his Leadership and Disappeared

Former Yemeni Defense Minister Muhammad Nasser Ahmed Ali
Ali Mayas
February 27, 2024

The role played by Major General Mohammed Nasser Ahmed Ali, the former Yemeni Defense Minister, during the military coup in Sanaa, was widely regarded as highly disappointing. Throughout his tenure, the Houthi group, also known as "Ansar Allah" and supported by Iran, made significant advances from Saada Governorate in the far north to the southern capital of Sana'a. Through a series of dramatic military events, the group managed to seize control of the capital through armed force on September 21, 2014.

His time as the Defense Minister was marked by a profound failure in combating terrorism, as the growing influence of extremist Islamic factions in Yemen raised serious concerns within the international community. In 2015, the deteriorating security situation and shifting military dynamics on the ground prompted external intervention, spearheaded by a coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. 

After almost a decade of warfare, Yemenis now harbor deep fears regarding the potential division of the country through military means, under the guise of an "unnational" project. Such a scenario could ignite sectarian and regional chaos, paving the way for endless conflicts that exploit the country's resources without regard for the well-being of its people.

The Minister of Defense was charged with supervising a sensitive ministry at a delicate time in the history of Yemen, and he had to deal responsibly with internal military variables and geopolitical developments. As Minister of Defense, Major General Ahmed was responsible for guarding vital state institutions, including the Ministry of Defense itself. Whereas protecting this institution and other state institutions is a matter and a military duty within the scope of his minimum military honor.

Since his first term as Minister of Defense in 2006, the Ministry of Defense has become powerless in the face of the growing power and influence of the Republican Guard forces, the First Armored Division forces, and other branches of the armed and security forces. Under his leadership, it seemed as if the Ministry had been stripped of its powers and had become clawless, unable to assert its influence and fulfill its role as a vital pillar of the security, unity and territorial integrity of the Republic of Yemen.

The Minister of Defense showed a hidden and weak personality. He failed even to establish effective communications with military leaders and lacked the basic military traits of courage, willingness to take risks and make decisive decisions. Many described him as indecisive, not only in crucial matters but also in ordinary decisions. Throughout his tenure, he seemed detached from reality, content only with the ceremonial presence of a sovereign ministry symbolizing the country's security. Under his administration, the corruption of the Yemeni army was classified as “critical corruption risk,” which is the worst rating in the “Government and Army Combat Corruption Index for 2013” report issued by Transparency International.

Close relationship with Saudi Arabia and the Emirates

During his tenure as Saudi Arabia's Minister of Defense under King Abdullah, Prince Salman maintained a close relationship with Major General Mohammed Nasser Ahmed. The Yemeni Defense Minister has confirmed in various statements the success of achieving the goals he set during his meetings with the Saudis, although he did not explicitly specify the nature of those goals. This confirmation is evident through the numerous public meetings that brought together the two parties.

At the forefront of these meetings, Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz and Mohammed bin Salman, the prince’s advisor, met at a lunch in honor of the Yemeni minister on May 19, 2012. On November 5, 2013, Defense Minister Mohammed Nasser Ahmed personally delivered a written message from the president. Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi addressed King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, through Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, in which he acknowledged the strong relationship between the two countries. Minister Ahmed, after his meeting with Crown Prince Salman in a press interview on December 26, 2013, expressed his satisfaction, saying: “The last visit to the Kingdom was successful by all standards, and our distinguished meetings with Crown Prince His Highness Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz addressed all the important issues that enhance aspects of fruitful cooperation in various fields, with the military field being a priority. Also, our meetings with Saudi military and civilian officials accomplished their goals.” On June 11, 2014, Defense Minister Ahmed met again with Saudi Crown Prince Salman in Jeddah.

  It is reasonable to assume that there were other meetings that were not disclosed, as the Yemeni Defense Minister took advantage of various events and press interviews to express his admiration and appreciation for Saudi Arabia’s support for the Yemeni Ministry and the strengthening of cooperation, especially with regard to the structure of the Yemeni army.

Major General Ahmed strengthened his friendly relationship with His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the president of UAE, as it was clear through their frequent meetings in Abu Dhabi. The first meeting took place on August 14, 2012, in response to the invitation of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, while the second meeting took place on October 14, 2013. During these meetings, various topics of common interest were discussed, although specific details were not revealed, and Major General Ahmed praised the UAE in the meetings. Saying that it "provides generous assistance in various fields."

But Major General Ahmed spoke to the Emirati newspaper Al Bayan in an interview in February 2013, and shed some light on common areas of focus, especially regarding the structure of the Yemeni army. He stated that: “The process of organizing and restructuring the Yemeni defense institution proceeded and continues to proceed according to a deliberate and chronic plan... and the main plan of the Military Affairs Committee regarding the structuring of the defense institution is a chronic plan extending to the year 2014.”

On December 2, 2013, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Tom Kelly hosted Yemeni Minister of Defense Major General Mohammed Nasser Ahmed during the second session of the US-Yemeni Strategic Dialogue at the US State Department in Washington, DC. Emphasizing the success of the opening session the previous year in Sanaa, Yemen. The meetings focused on holding a comprehensive discussion to strengthen bilateral political-military relations, support the political transition process in Yemen, and address efforts to restructure the military and security services, in addition to coordination on security matters.

The  restructure , the army that evaporated and disappeared

The Minister of Defense bears a major responsibility in dissolving the Yemeni army and dispersing its forces. Because the responsibility for restructuring the army fell on his shoulders, his military approach lacked realism and insight. He failed to adequately assess the risks surrounding the country during that critical moment. When Yemen experienced a difficult situation, including a difficult transitional period and fragility in state institutions. These conditions, which the country has never experienced, require a strong military leader capable of crossing it to safety.

In fact, the Gulf initiative did not provide for the restructuring of the Yemeni army in a direct manner. Rather, it called the Military Committee for ending the division in the armed forces and addressing its causes. Instead of avoiding dissolving army units due to the lack of an agreed upon framework, President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, through subsequent side understandings with the ten countries sponsoring the Gulf initiative and with the support of the Joint Meeting Parties, took practical steps to restructure the army. On August 6, 2012, Hadi announced an official decision to restructure the armed forces. It was clear that the restructuring plan was drawn up by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with the support of the UN envoy Jamal bin Omar and the United States of America. This is confirmed by the successive visits of the Minister of Defense to Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, and the holding of meetings with the American officials regarding the restructuring of the Yemeni army.

I It seemed remarkable that hasty decisions with uncalculated consequences were taken during the army restructuring process, and no one noticed the true extent of their danger. Instead of focusing on changing the military leadership of the armed forces and unifying the central command of the army, because that would have been more effective, President Hadi, accompanied by the Minister of Defense, on December 19, 2012, dissolved the Republican Guard forces led by Ahmed Ali, President Saleh's son. These forces were a huge military bloc, professionally trained and possessing modern weapons. Likewise, the 1st Armored Division forces, led by Major General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, was also dissolved.

The Yemeni army was restructured without finding the sufficient time to conduct extensive studies and realistic implementation stages. On the same day as the dissolution of the Republican Guard forces and the First Armored Division forces, a decision was issued to implement the new organizational structure of the Yemeni armed forces. The new organizational plan was not visionary. Many military branches and new positions were created, apparently without clear institutional administrative procedures or proper redistribution of human and material resources. Furthermore, I believe there was a lack of command and control centers, which made it difficult to coordinate military operations effectively. As part of this disorganized operation, well-trained military forces, such as the 17th Brigades of the Republican Guard forces, were transferred from their posts extending mostly from Harf Sufyan to Dhamar, which formed the protective umbrella for the capital, Sanaa. It is clear that the restructuring plan was implemented in haste and served suspicious goals.

The army restructuring phase came at a very sensitive time, given the security unrest and deep political differences at the time. This coincided with the outbreak of armed rebellions here and there, when the Houthi group expanded militarily in the north, and Al-Qaeda took control of some areas in the southern governorates, and the ignition of disputes and the widening of the distance between the political parties during the National Dialogue Conference regarding the form of the state in 2013. Moreover, the Unidentified gunmen blocked the main roads between the governorates, and sabotaged oil pipelines and electricity supply lines. These events continued side by side with the activity of hidden parties that worked to dismantle the organizational structure of the army and undermine its capabilities, and carried out many assassinations that targeted officers from the Political Security Service and members of the Air Force. In addition, Yemeni Air Force warplanes have been repeatedly shot down under the guise of technical malfunctions. Nearly 10 military aircraft fell during the year 2010-2012.

After dismantling and restructuring, the expected result was that the army would carry out its national duties efficiently, after ending the state of division in the army. However, a disaster occurred with the catastrophic collapse of state institutions in September 2014. The country drifted towards more chaos and war, which attracted regional and international military intervention. In the year 2015.

The fall of the capital and the handover of the  military camps

Despite Major General Ahmed's long years of service in the Ministry of Defense, his military experience, his knowledge of the capabilities of the Yemeni army and its components, and his management of a huge military budget, he failed to perform his duty in defending the state and its institutions, and did not respond to the call of the nation and deliver his military oath when the country reached the edge of the abyss.

The Ministry did not undertake its duties to protect the country from the dangers of Al-Qaeda and terrorist groups. Major General Ahmed failed miserably in fighting Al-Qaeda militarily and intelligence-wise. Al-Qaeda launched attacks on the Yemeni Ministry of Defense and Al-Ardi hospital in Sanaa, killing many soldiers and civilians. Major General Ahmed himself survived two assassination attempts by Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda controlled a large area in the south of the country, as it seized areas in Abyan, Shabwa, and Hadhramaut, extending from Al-Qatan District in Hadhramaut to Zinjibar District in Abyan. They took over army camps and carried out assassinations of prominent military leaders, the most important of whom was Major General Salem Qatan, who succeeded in defeating Al-Qaeda in Hadramaut, Shabwa, and Abyan.

Under international pressure to fight terrorism, Major General Ahmed contributed in one way or another to handing over the state camps under the pretext of fighting Al-Qaeda. Major General Ahmed was actually directing the military units in cooperation with the Houthis, who exploited these directives to control the camps and confiscate weapons. In a telephone statement to the BBC, Houthi leader Ali Al-Qahhoum confirmed that Major General Muhammad Nasser Ahmed, the Yemeni Minister of Defense, ordered military units to cooperate with the Houthis in pursuing Al-Qaeda members. This was clearly demonstrated in the clashes between Al-Qaeda and the Houthis in the city of Radaa. It is important to note that fighting Al-Qaeda does not require handing over camps and weapons to the Houthis. In such circumstances, the Ministry of Defense should have dismissed the military commanders who failed to confront Al-Qaeda, rehabilitated the forces, and launched military campaigns to eliminate members of the organization through army and security units.

As the Houthis advanced towards Sanaa, the Minister of Defense also ordered the neutrality of the armed forces, “We would like to emphasize that the armed forces are moving from success to success and that today they are neutral and stand at the same distance from everyone.” He presented misleading interpretations of the constitutional text, which states that the armed forces should not be used for a party, individual, tribe, or sect in order to ensure their neutrality and the optimal performance of their national tasks, even though this text is related to civil disputes and not the armed conflict over power and the possession of force, because The Yemeni constitution explicitly prohibits the establishment of any military or paramilitary formations affiliated with individuals, parties, or bodies.

Issues took a dangerous upward turn after the assassination of Major General Al-Qushaybi, who refused to hand over state institutions and camps in Amran Governorate to the Houthi armed group. It seemed that Major General Ahmed gave his approval for these areas to fall under the control of the armed Houthi group, as evidenced by his appearance in an unforgettable photo with Houthi military commander “Abu Ali Al-Hakim” in the Hamdan district adjacent to Sanaa, following the clashes in Amran and Al-Jawf and the seizure of state institutions and property. Then the Houthis took control of the districts surrounding Sana’a and expanded towards the city.

The armed Houthi group imposed a siege on the capital, Sana’a, through armed gatherings at the entrances and exits of the city under the pretext of dropping “Price Dose” imposed by the government in 2013. It was the duty of Major General Ahmed to sense potential dangers such as the Houthis storming Sana’a, and he should activate the well-equipped military brigades to preserve the state, and mobilize other armed units and formations, if that is necessary. He should have participated in coordinating defensive operations to break the siege of Sanaa, deter the Houthi rebels, and participate in ensuring security in the capital.

On the contrary, the Houthis occupied various vital sites under the control of the armed and security forces in Sanaa, and not just those controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood, as the Houthis were falsely promoting, such as the First Armored Division posts. They were able to control headquarters such as the leadership of the Sixth Division, the military police, Al-Kharafi military Camp, and the Military college, Sanaa Airport, the leadership of the Fourth Brigade of the Presidential Guard, the maintenance camp, the Ministry of Interior, the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces, and the Moral Guidance Department from which government television broadcasts its programs, where the guard members surrendered the buildings without resistance. The Houthis also took over the Central Bank, Parliament, the General Authority of Civil Aviation and Meteorology, and the headquarters of the Ministry of Defense. According to personal observations, weapons stores belonging to the Ministry of Defense were handed over also in Nuqum, Al-Hafa, and other mountainous areas that heavy weapons, including missiles, were stored.

There have been many narratives about the fact that the military camps and state institutions were handed over to the Houthi armed group, but what is certain is that the responsibility for defending these institutions falls on the armed forces, and the Minister of Defense bears a heavy burden as a result of the collapse of the institutions and the handing over of public property to the Houthis. Over the course of two decades, a political and popular movement called for the handing over of militia weapons parallel to the state weapons, but the matter ended with the state weapons which being handed over to these sectarian and fundamentalist groups, and the institutions fell one after another in the north and south.

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