Armed Forces Overview: 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 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 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 an army, navy, air force, and reserves. In 2004–5 total active troops were estimated as follows: army, 60,000; navy, 1,700; air force, 40,000; and reserves, 40,000. Despite these troop levels, Yemen’s military equipment is considered to be light, outdated, and poorly maintained, particularly when compared with neighboring Gulf states.
Foreign Military Relations: 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 assistance and the transfer of military equipment and spare parts to Yemen have improved defense relations between the United States and Yemen. Yemen received US$1.9 million in Foreign Military Financing in FY2003 and was expected to receive US$14.9 million for FY2004. Non-government sources report that a small number of U.S. troops including Special Forces units and U.S. Navy SEALs have taken part in limited joint exercises with Yemeni forces in recent years, and in 2002 Yemeni Special Forces received training in counterterrorism from the U.S. Special Operations Command. In 2003 Yemen reported that U.S. naval experts were training military technicians in the Yemeni navy in preparation for joining the new Yemeni coast guard, and in 2004 the United States donated seven patrol craft to the coast guard. In 2005 an Australian company delivered 10 patrol boats to assist Yemeni government efforts to combat terrorism and illegal trafficking; the company will train crews to man the vessels.
External Threat: In the aftermath of the 1990–91 Gulf War when Yemen sided with Iraq in its invasion of Kuwait, both Kuwait and Saudi Arabia broke diplomatic ties with Yemen. Although these ties have been restored, tensions remain over the Saudi Arabia-Yemen border. Despite increased border security, fugitive Islamist militants from throughout the Gulf region, especially Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and Iraq, regularly cross what is still perceived as a lax border into Yemen. This poses a security threat to a country battling terrorism on many fronts.
Defense Budget: Yemen’s defense spending has historically been the government’s largest expense. The defense budget increased from US$731 million in 2002 to US$885 million in 2004.
Major Military Units: 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.
Major Military Equipment: 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, an estimated 502 mortars, six Scud B (up to an estimated 33 missiles) and 22 other surface-to-surface missiles, 71 antitank guided weapons, two rocket launchers, three recoilless launchers, 530 air defense guns, and an estimated 800 surface-to-air missiles. The navy’s inventory includes six missile 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 72 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.
Military Service: 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.
Paramilitary Forces: Yemen’s paramilitary force has about 70,000 troops. Approximately 50,000 constitute the Central Security Organization of the Ministry of Interior; they are equipped with a range of infantry weapons and armored personnel carriers. An additional 20,000 are forces of armed tribal levies. Yemen is building up a small coast guard under the Ministry of Interior, training naval military technicians for posts in Aden and Al Mukalla.
Foreign Military Forces: There are no permanent U.S. troops in Yemen, but military personnel have been deployed there in recent years for training purposes.
Military Forces Abroad: 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.
Police: Yemen’s primary and most feared internal security and intelligence gathering force is the Political Security Organization (PSO), led by military officers; it reports directly to the president and operates its own detention centers. The Central Security Organization, which is part of the Ministry of Interior, maintains a paramilitary force and also has its own extrajudicial detention facilities. Also attached to the Ministry of Interior is the Criminal Investigative Department of the police, which conducts most criminal investigations and arrests. According to the U.S. Department of State, members of the PSO and Ministry of Interior police forces have committed serious human rights violations, including physical abuse and lengthy detentions without formal charges. In 2002 the government established the National Security Bureau, which reports directly to the president and appears to have similar responsibilities to those of the PSO, but it remains unclear how the two organizations will coordinate their responsibilities.
Internal Threat: Analysts see the greatest challenge to the political dominance of the General People’s Congress as stemming from a range of security threats posed by Islamist and tribal elements within Yemen. Yemen’s topography contributes to a lack of central government control in the more remote governorates, which in turn has enhanced the authority of the country’s well-armed autonomous tribes. Army and security forces often face a significant challenge from rebellious tribes, as they did in July 2005 when armed tribal militia blocked fuel deliveries in Sanaa to protest proposed reductions in diesel subsidies. Tribesmen, particularly in the north, routinely kidnap foreigners in order to extract political and economic concessions from the government.
In April, October, and November 2005, Zaydi militants carried out attacks against police and soldiers near Sadah; the attackers were believed to be followers of a militant cleric killed by Yemeni security forces in September 2004. Future attacks by these militants are not unlikely. The government also faces a threat from militants from Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and Iraq who routinely cross the Yemen-Saudi Arabia border.
Terrorism: Yemen’s Aden harbor was the site of two major terrorist attacks—the suicide bombing attack against the USS Cole in October 2000 and the bombing of the French supertanker Limburg two years later. In 2004 suspects linked to al Qaeda were prosecuted and convicted in Yemeni courts for the Aden attacks as well as other planned terrorist activities. In 2005 dozens of al Qaeda members were tried and convicted in Yemen of planning and perpetrating terrorist attacks against Yemeni officials and Western targets both in Yemen and abroad, including additional suspects linked to the USS Cole bombing. On February 3, 2006, 23 convicted al Qaeda members, 13 of whom were tied to the USS Cole and Limburg bombings, escaped from the maximum-security prison in Sanaa; most remain at large.
According to the U.S. Department of State, Yemen provides support for the global war on terrorism and has expressed a willingness to fight international terrorists by denying them the use of its territorial seas and ports. The United States and Yemen are cooperating in efforts to strengthen the Yemeni coast guard’s security capabilities. Although a 2001 border agreement between Yemen and Saudi Arabia has improved border security and curtailed arms trafficking, the U.S. government continues to be concerned about cross-border smuggling of arms and militants. There is concern that Yemen’s government is unable to freeze the financial assets of United Nations-designated al Qaeda supporters, and military experts have reported that there are al Qaeda sympathizers in the Yemeni military and government. There are also numerous reports that Yemeni mercenaries, many of whom attended training camps in Afghanistan, are participating in the Iraq insurgency.
Human Rights: According to the U.S. Department of State’s annual report on human rights practices, Yemen’s government has maintained a poor human rights record, continuing to commit various abuses, including the arbitrary arrest of persons critical of the government. Security forces, which are generally considered corrupt, often detain persons for prolonged periods of time without due process, subjecting them to torture and abuse. Violence and discrimination against women have been reported, as well as discrimination against persons with disabilities and against religious, racial, and ethnic minorities. The government often controls the management of unions and trade union federations.
Although Yemen’s constitution protects privacy, government police forces routinely search citizens’ property without warrants and monitor telephone, postal, and Internet communications. Yemen’s constitution also provides for freedom of speech and of the press “within the limits of the law,” but this protection is also violated. Police forces often threaten and harass journalists who are critical of the government in order to influence press coverage. Some journalists have been placed on trial for writing articles critical of the president or reporting on issues deemed sensitive to the government, and newspapers have been temporarily shut down for the same reasons. Foreign publications are monitored for content and subject to censorship.