February 8, 2013: The death toll from a two week old operation in the south to free three Westerners (a Finn and two Austrians) has already left more than a hundred dead and the kidnappers still refuse to surrender their captives. The government is determined to rescue the captives but al Qaeda is putting up major resistance and demanding a $4 million ransom. The Finnish government is willing to pay, but the Austrians are not. The U.S. and Britain have always refused to pay ransom to terrorists, knowing that this just encouraged more kidnappings and made possible more terrorist activity. More and more European nations are joining the “no ransom” camp but are doing so in the face of continuing popular willingness to pay. These kidnapping victims become major local news stories and that puts pressure on politicians to pay, no matter what the consequences. Al Qaeda says it paid $150,000 (to the tribal kidnappers) for the three captives (taken in December) and will kill them if the rescue force gets too close. Hundreds of al Qaeda and pro-terrorist tribesmen have joined the fight to stop the rescue effort. The Yemenis are getting tired of the losses (including at least 30 dead among the rescuers) and are inclined to allow a ransom payment to be made. There has been a ceasefire for the last week but the military has the al Qaeda force surrounded. The three captives were taken from an Arab language school, of which there are several in Yemen and these depend on foreign students to survive.
Despite the peace deal two years ago, there are still serious and growing economic problems. Rebel tribesmen continue to interrupt oil exports and still attack the pipelines. Some tribal militias still interfere with deliveries of food, fuel, and other goods. Because of the continuing food shortages, many Yemenis are hungry. The shortage of fuel means more electricity blackouts and fewer vehicles on the roads. There are still several hundred refugees, driven from their homes by over a year of violence. The electricity shortages are much more frequent than before the anti-Saleh demonstrations began in 2011, as part of the Arab Spring. Even as the fuel situation got better the blackouts continued because of tribal unrest. The cause now is poor tribes still angry at the lack of improvement in their economic situation. The Marib power station in central Yemen sends electricity to most of the country via power lines that are easy to damage. The poor tribes, many who do not have access to this electricity, are sending a message to those who do by frequently cutting the power. In the past the Saleh government threat of massive retaliation kept this sort of thing in check. But with Saleh gone, the threat of retaliation no longer persuades as it once did.
February 6, 2013: An explosion in a military weapons warehouse 110 kilometers north of the capital left ten dead, most of them civilians in or near the warehouse.
February 5, 2013: News reports revealed U.S. efforts to keep secret their use of a Saudi airbase for UAV operations in Yemen. This will bring pressure on Saudi Arabia to shut down the UAV operations. That is unlikely to succeed, as the UAVs are the most effective way to keep pressure on al Qaeda and kill terrorist leaders with minimal civilian casualties. The Saudis have managed to keep al Qaeda violence under control and want to keep it that way. Al Qaeda declared war on Saudi Arabia a decade ago but was largely driven out of the country within three years. The closest large force of al Qaeda is in neighboring Yemen, and the Saudis want to eliminate that threat.
February 4, 2013: Iran denied that the weapons in a ship seized by Yemeni patrol boats (on January 23rd) were from Iran. But the weapons are definitely from Iran and Iran has a policy of never admitting that it smuggles weapons to rebels and terrorists, no matter how strong the evidence. This latest shipment was apparently headed for the Shia rebels in northern Yemen. Previous shipments have been captured, with Iran also denying responsibility. This latest shipment contained portable anti-aircraft missiles, explosives, rockets, and ammunition.
In the north Sunni and Shia tribesmen fought at a Shia checkpoint, leaving six dead.
February 3, 2013: In the south (Abyan province) troops and pro-government tribesmen drove al Qaeda out of a remote village in the hills. In two days of fighting nearly 30 people died, about 70 percent of them terrorists.
February 1, 2013: The army has halted its offensive to rescue three foreigners held for ransom by al Qaeda in the south. Local tribal leaders arranged the ceasefire.