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NightWatch 20150327

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For the night of 27 March 2015

Yemen: International news services reported Saudi and Coalition air attacks continued on 27 March. Nevertheless, Houthi militia groups continued to advance easterly, while maintaining pressure on Aden. The Houthis reportedly seized Shaqra port, about 100 km (60 miles) eastern of Aden. With the capture of Shaqra, local sources said that the Houthis control land access to Aden.

Comment: The air campaign has not halted the Houthi attempts to seize more of Yemen.

The Houthis claimed they shot down a Saudi fighter jet yesterday. A US defense department official said that a US helicopter from Djibouti rescued two Saudi pilots whose F-15 crashed in the sea on the 26th.

Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi remained defiant. He vowed not to surrender.

Former president Saleh called for dialogue in the United Arab Emirates or at any UN headquarters. One news outlet reported Saleh fled to a Gulf country; the report has not been corroborated.

The Foreign Minister in President Hadi's government, Riyadh Yassin, also called for talks, provided they recognized the legitimacy of the Hadi government. He also urged a quick end to the air attacks.

Saudi Arabia: Mosques in Riyadh preached sermons against the Houthis and their Iranian allies. Some imams said that the fight is a religious duty. Saudi Arabia's top clerical council gave its blessing to the campaign.

Decisive Storm: Update. During the second press briefing on Decisive Storm. Saudi Brigadier General Asiri disclosed several new items. He said Saudi Apache helicopters and field artillery neutralized Houthi movements along the southern border of Saudi Arabia. Saudi aircraft targeted logistics and personnel convoys moving from northern Yemen to Sana'a and from Sana'a south towards Aden. They also attacked Yemeni military installations, air bases and missile sites, as they did on the 26th. He confirmed that United Arab Emirates (UAE) pilots executed their first missions of the campaign.

Comment: General Asiri's remarks confirm press reports about Saudi ground movements to the Yemen border, though. He also confirmed UAE air participation. He dodged a question about how the pilots distinguish Houthi militiamen from civilians. Asiri's identification of convoys as targets implies that road movement in groups of vehicles constitutes a target identifier. He also has not provided information on casualties or bomb damage.

The bulk of the commentary on the second day of Decisive Storm has avoided mentioning ground attacks. It also has judged that the campaign will be brief, based on the Yemeni foreign minister's statements. General Asiri insists it will last as long as it takes to protect the legitimate government of Yemen.

Nigeria: The Nigerian army announced that it has retaken the north-eastern town of Gwoza, which is believed to be the headquarters of Boko Haram. The army claimed that the insurgents had now been driven from virtually all the territory they had held.

Local witnesses said that the Boko Haram leaders in Gwoza told their men to kill their wives and the elderly so they could be with Allah sooner.

Comment: The Nigerian Army had been moving to capture Gwoza all week. Army leaders probably withheld the announcement of its capture until the day before the presidential election in order to help President Jonathan's electoral prospects. No sources have reported the location of Boko Haram leader Shekau.

Chad-Nigeria: In an interview published this week, Chadian President Idriss Deby criticized the Nigerian Army for failing to coordinate with the central African armies throughout the campaign. He claimed "there was zero contact" between the armies.

"The whole world is asking why the Nigerian army, which is a big army… is not in a position to stand up to untrained kids armed with Kalashnikovs….Two months after the start of this war, we have not had any direct contact with the Nigerian army units on the ground…

"We would have hoped to have at least one Nigerian unit with us. It was even a direct request to the Nigerian government, but for reasons that escape us, up to now we have been unable to work together."

He complained that the lack of coordination required the Chadians to recapture towns more than once because the Nigerians did not prevent Boko Haram from returning.

Comment: It is premature to declare victory over Boko Haram because it is connected to tribal politics and religious rivalries in northern Nigeria. The intervention of the central African military contingents has been critical to the suppression of Boko Haram. Their success should have strengthened security cooperation across borders, but the campaign has worsened relations with Nigeria and deepened central African disrespect for Nigerian military capabilities, security forces and leadership.

A resurgence of Boko Haram in the future could still occur. If there is a next time, it probably would generate a more defensive response by the central Africans. They appear disposed to let the Nigerians handle Boko Haram from now on, as long as it stayed in Nigeria.

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End of NightWatch for 27 March.

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