MANAMA // Yemen's top intelligence official revealed yesterday some of the evidence his government says implicates Iran in supporting al Houthi rebels in Yemen's north. The claims by national security agency head Ali Muhammad al Anisi came during a session of the Manama Dialogue security summit. Also at yesterday's meeting, the US Central Command leader, Gen David Petraeus, called on Arab states to reintegrate Iraq into the Arab world to help it face outside influence - which was understood to be in reference to Iran.
Mr al Anisi said: "In addition to the two spy rings that had been arrested and sentenced in Yemen, a third spy ring which is facing trial now had revealed information that I would not disclose now." Mr al Anisi claimed that the information gathered from the suspected spy rings prove Iranian involvement in supporting the Houthi uprising. "Iran's radio and its Alalam television satellite station had also been airing reports in support of the Houthis in addition to the Friday prayers sermons also expressed support for al Houthis," he said. Mr al Anisi said any expression of support expressed during the weekly sermon is tantamount to government support.
"We had also intercepted a ship loaded with weapons which we believe originated from Iran." He pointed out that Yemen refused mediation efforts because earlier attempts only allowed the Houthis, who are also known as Zaidis, to build up their military strength and readiness. The Yemeni government is determined to win the war backed by wide public support, he said. Earlier, the US assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, claimed that the United States had no intelligence to support the claims that Iran was supporting the Houthis.
The Yemen issue is expected to dominate the upcoming Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Kuwait along with a push for a unified Gulf monetary union. Gen Petraeus renewed calls made on Arab states to take a more active role in dealing with the Iraqi government. "I would remind my Arab brothers if there is concern about certain influences in Iraq then it would be wise to increase the Arab influence," he told the last session of the three-day conference.
He said the situation in Iraq had improved enormously after the United States greatly increased the number of troops in the country in 2007, but now, as the US military has begun withdrawing troops, the country faces numerous challenges. Gen Petraeus instituted the so-called surge while heading the US operation in Iraq and is largely credited with the drop in violence that followed. "Nonetheless as US forces draw down from 115,000 troops to less than 50,000 by the end of next August, Iraqi forces - now nearly 700,000 strong - will continue the process of taking on their country's security missions successfully," he said.
Gen Petraeus also said Pakistan has made headway in the past 10 months in its efforts to fight al Qa'eda and the Taliban. He also revealed that he expected Europe to increase the number of forces it will send to Afghanistan to more than 8,000 from its previously announced 7,000. Those troops will be part of the additional 30,000 US forces Barack Obama, the US president, recently ordered to Afghanistan.
The number is "likely to be more as we approach the London Conference on Afghanistan in January," he predicted. Washington's European allies, had opted not to commit more troops to the Afghan operation until the conference, which will discuss the security situation there and how to hand over security in the provinces to the federal government to allow for a later reduction of international forces.
Before the Manama Dialogue opened on Friday, a senior fellow for conflict and defence diplomacy at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, retired British army colonel Christopher Langton, described efforts of the international forces in Afghanistan as engaging the rebellion to allow the Afghans to rebuild their military and economy. "The troops are 'holding the line' in order that the Afghan security forces can be trained and prepared in a relative atmosphere of stability away from the front line and in order for the Afghan economy to be allowed to grow behind that line that the international and Afghan forces are holding," he said.
He added that the strategy of Gen Stanley McChrystal, who had recommended the troop increase Mr Obama announced last week, focuses on enhancing the training of Afghan troops, justifying the increase in numbers so the process of training can be accelerated. "General McChrystal had also put a focus on protecting the Afghan civilian population and in order to do that he needs to deploy more forces in urban areas where most of the population lives and such operations typically require more troops."