“US Maintains Intelligence Relationship with Houthis”
Al-Monitor, January 22, 2015
“Speaking at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank, as Houthi fighters surrounded the residence of [since-resigned] Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, [Michael] Vickers, a special forces veteran and current [US] undersecretary of defense for intelligence, presented a more nuanced view of the Houthis’ recent advances and aims than has been reported in much of the Western and Sunni Gulf media. While news reports have focused on Iranian support for the Houthis and suggested that they represent a threat to US operations against al-Qaeda’s most potent franchise, Vickers, in response to a question from Al-Monitor, stated, ‘The Houthis are anti al-Qaeda, and we’ve been able to continue some of our counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda in the past months.’ Asked after the public event whether that included lines of intelligence to the Houthis, Vickers said, ‘That’s a safe assumption.’ Vickers also said that it was not clear that the Houthis’ intent is to take over the Yemeni government and try to rule a chronically splintered country. ‘I don’t know yet if their aim is to take over the state as much as it is to exercise influence and refashion it in a way that they think is more in line with their interests,’ Vickers said. … Supporters of Hadi, especially Saudi Arabia, have accused the Houthis of being proxies of Iran and compared them to the Lebanese group Hezbollah. [Yemen expert Charles] Schmitz said that Iran has provided support in recent months but that the Houthis would have rebelled against the government with or without Tehran’s backing. ‘From 2004 to 2010, the Houthis won wars against the Yemeni government without Iran,’ Schmitz pointed out. ‘Iran’s role now is non-essential, and the Houthis won’t take orders from them.'”
Quickie Analysis: Yemen observers are still trying to figure out what the Houthis want and how to work with them, but given that the Houthis are arguably the fiercest opponents of al-Qaeda in the Gulf, that should automatically make them worth talking to — assuming that one understands that if the Houthis aren’t taking orders from Iran, they won’t be taking orders from the US either.