Yemen: Al Qaeda Falls Back


May 28, 2012:  For the last week intense fighting against al Qaeda (foreigners and local tribal supporters) in the south has continued. The southern Abyan province has been a center of al Qaeda (and allied Islamic radical groups) activity for years. The army concentrated 20,000 troops in Abyan for this operation, along with nearly 10,000 tribal allies. The army received assistance from American UAVs (most of them armed with missiles) and the air force.

Troops have pushed al Qaeda out of Zinjibar, the provincial capital, in the last few days. There have been several hundred casualties a day most days in Abyan for most of May. Two-thirds of the dead have been Islamic radicals and their tribal allies. Most of the remainder were soldiers or pro-government tribesmen.

In response to losses in Abyan, al Qaeda has unleashed their remaining suicide bombers in attacks that are supposed to break the will of the government forces. That has not worked, as the attacks simply make the soldiers more eager to get some payback. Most of the casualties are al Qaeda, with the rest split between soldiers and civilians (caught in the crossfire or a terror attack).

The local al Qaeda ally is Ansar al Sharia, and their partnership with foreign Islamic terrorists gave rise to tribal militias opposing religious rule in Yemen. Over 5,000 tribal gunmen have joined with the army in the fight against the Islamic radical forces (which number less than 10,000, most of them local tribesmen). While religious differences are frequently invoked, most of the fighting in the south is over tribal politics. The national government is a coalition of tribal leaders and the uprising last year, that eventually drove president Saleh out of power after three decades running the country, was mainly about Saleh not taking care of the more powerful tribes. The new government is redistributing the goodies and that has brought out tribal militias to help with the fight against al Qaeda.

The prospect of al Qaeda and its allies being wiped out soon has persuaded foreign donors to pledge over $4 billion to help rebuild Yemen. That is a long-shot because the new tribal coalition running the country is as corrupt as the old one.

May 26, 2012: Troops forced al Qaeda fighters back from long held positions in the southern city of Zinjibar.

May 25, 2012:  In the north a suicide car bomb killed 13 Shia tribesmen. Al Qaeda is a Sunni organization and Sunni religious conservatives tend to see Shia as heretics, subject to execution. In Yemen the northern Shia tribes are also seen as allies of Iran, a largely Shia, and Indo-European, nation that has long been the enemy of the Arabs.

May 22, 2012: U.S. warships came to the port of Hodeida to evacuate American personnel who had been training Yemeni coast guardsmen. Two days ago al Qaeda gunmen attacked the Americans, killing one of them.

May 21, 2012:  In the capital a suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest and killed over a hundred soldiers who were practicing for a parade. The bomber was later revealed as a secret al Qaeda supporter who joined the army in order to spy and, if need be, carry out an attack like this. The bomber had actually been convicted of terrorism connections in 2007, but had managed to evade prison and join the army.

In the south troops and tribal militiamen pushed al Qaeda gunmen out of the town of Jaar, a large town in the Abyan province.

May 20, 2012: U.S. military trainers (civilian, ex-military, contractors) were attacked in the port of Hodeida, where the Americans were helping to train Yemeni coast guardsmen. One American was killed in the attack.



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