Yemen: Al Qaeda Suffers A Big Setback

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May 5, 2016: The April 10 truce is in trouble but the peace talks resumed on the 4 th after being suspended three days by the government to protest the Shia rebels seizing a neutral army base north of the capital Saana. The truce has halted fighting between government forces and the Shia rebels which has freed government forces to go after the Sunni Islamic terrorists in the south. The Shia rebels are holding out for more favorable peace terms (that will include autonomy in the north and minimal disarmament). The Sunni majority opposes autonomy or weapons for the Shia up north because those two things have made the Shia tribes a constant source of trouble for centuries.

Iran is believed to still support the Shia rebels but the air and naval blockade has been very effective and most, if not all, recent Iranian smuggling attempts have been detected and blocked. Cut off from material (as opposed to diplomatic and media) support the rebels are in a bad situation that is getting worse.

Defeating the Shia rebels won’t end the fighting. There are still separatist tribes in the south who want to partition Yemen. These tribes have put that cause aside until the Shia rebels are eliminated. Then there are the pro-government Islamic conservative militias doing a lot of the fighting. The only thing that separates these groups from Islamic terrorists is militia willingness to operate within a secular government (elected or dictatorship). These groups try to get laws passed to make Islamic law applicable to everyone and are a primary source of recruits for Islamic terrorist groups.

April was a bad month for AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) as they lost control of their most valuable territory in the southeast, particularly the second largest port in Yemen (Mukalla). AQAP is now trying to hold onto two smaller ports (Zinjibar and Shaqra) about 400 kilometers southwest of Mukalla and closer to Aden. While AQAP has been active in the southeast for years once the civil war began in early 2015 the Islamic terrorists were able to gain control of coastal towns and cities in the southeast.

Until late April AQAP controlled more territory than the Shia rebels. This included the southeastern port of Mukalla, about 600 kilometers of coastline and much of the surrounding Hadramawt province. AQAP took control of Mukalla in April 2015. For over a year AQAP controlled most of the roads near the southeastern coast. As a result government forces or anyone else was subject to attack or, if armed, a request for a contribution of cash or goods before passing without violence. As a result of this government forces had to move in heavily armed convoys to avoid ambushes or extortion attempts. Aid convoys are also subject to demands for “taxes.”

AQAP was trying to operate like a government in the southeast but was hampered by a shortage of money and regular air attacks by the Saudi led coalition and American UAVs. AQAP obtained most of the cash needed to run its “government” by taxing everything (commercial goods and aid supplies) coming through Mukalla. This income enabled AQAP to pay most of its “government” workers on a regular basis. In contrast rival ISIL is scattered in remote locations or urban bases in Aden and subsists on plunder. This reflects the different strategies of the two groups AQAP believes in slowly expanding while ISIL favors aggressive attacks and boldness. Neither group is doing particularly well although spectacular terror attacks attract some international media attention. Islamic terrorist defeats are not as newsworthy.

May 4, 2016: The UN is setting up a naval force to inspect all shipments headed for rebel or Islamic terrorist held ports. The Shia rebels hold some coastal towns in the Red Sea while AQAP controls some on the southeast coast. The UN inspection effort is meant to ensure that the weapons embargo remains in force.

May 1, 2016: The government withdrew from the peace talks to protest the rebel seizure earlier today of the Umaliqa military base north of the capital. Umaliqa, in Amran province, is one of the several bases in the country held by soldiers who have not taken sides. These bases do contain weapons, ammunition and equipment the Shia rebels because several Iranian attempts to send in weapons and ammo by sea have failed. Several soldiers died defending the base and the rebels promptly moved large quantities of weapons and ammo out of the base.

In the south (the port city of Aden) a suicide bomber attacked the vehicle carrying a senior security official (Shallal Shayei) and the governor of Aden. Both men were unharmed but five of their bodyguards died. This is the third such attack on Shallal Shayei in a week. Both AQAP and ISIL want Shayei dead because his efforts to identify and kill or catch Islamic terrorists have caused both terror groups heavy losses since late 2015.

April 30, 2016: Saudi Arabia released another 40 Shia rebel prisoners as a good will gesture to keep the peace talks going. Twenty of these Yemeni Shia were arrested outside of Yemen (presumably in Saudi Arabia).

April 28, 2016: In the south (Lahj province, just north of the port of Aden) government forces drove AQAP from the few areas where they had established themselves over the last year. Most of the AQAP men fled although some were killed or captured.

April 26, 2016: In the south (Abyan province) an American UAV fired a missile at the car of an AQAP leader. Only the driver was killed because the AQAP leader had gotten out earlier.

April 25, 2016: In the south (Shabwa province) an American UAV used missiles to kill nine Islamic terrorists travelling in two vehicles.

April 24, 2016: In the southeast (Hadramawt province) government forces, spearheaded by UAE Arab coalition troops, drove AQAP out of the port city of Mukalla after a 48 hour battle. UAE officers planned the assault and prepared the way by making deals with pro-government tribes that made the local tribal militias willing to follow a schedule that had all the pro-government moving on Mukalla in a coordinated way. The attack was a surprise and AQAP leaders quickly realized that they would be trapped by a larger force if they stood and fought so many of the Islamic terrorists voluntarily fled the city. AQAP later explained that it had withdrawn from Mukalla voluntarily to avoid civilian casualties. The attackers claimed to have killed over 800 Islamic terrorists losing 27 dead and over sixty wounded.

In the south (Shabwa province) government forces drove AQAP men from the town of Azzan which the Islamic terrorists had held for two months.

April 17, 2016: In the south (outside the port city of Aden) a suicide car bomber killed four soldiers at an airport checkpoint. Inside Aden another car bomb was discovered and disabled before it could be set off. It was unclear if ISIL or AQAP were responsible for either of these bombs.

 

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