Yemeni crisis needs to be addressed quickly |
Gulf Today - 27 April, 2012
Reports of the latest clashes in southern Yemen indicate that government forces are holding their own against Al Qaeda-linked militants. It is the first time that there is a definite turnaround in the military's approach after the militants scored decisive victories in previous rounds of fighting and reports indicated that government soldiers were suffering from loss of morale.
The defence ministry has been reporting increased casualties among the tanks of Ansar Al Sharia, a group believed to have links with Al Qaeda and which has been locked in a running battle with government forces for nearly one year in the Abyan province in the south.
US Ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein has cheered the military’s crackdown in Abyan as a “strategy to challenge Al Qaeda in ways they have not done in the past months.”
The advances that the military has made could be attributed to several factors.
Ali Abdullah Saleh, a long-time strongman who was forced to step down early this year as president in the face of a popular revolt, had been using the “Al Qaeda card” to secure US support.
Saleh’s strategy was to claim every secessionist faction is Al Qaeda, even though the Shiite Houthis in the far north and the secular socialist factions around Aden are not linked to the group. Often, he told his commanders to give ground to militants here and there in order to show that Yemen faced a major threat of being run over by anti-US militants and to argue that he was the only leader capable of preventing it.
In return for his fight against the militants, he received hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance from the US over the years.
Now that Saleh is no longer in power, there has been a change in the military command fighting the militants, and hence the progress in the offensive.
Today, the real problem in Yemen is created by Saleh, who is using his loyalists whom he had placed in key positions to undermine reforms undertaken by his successor and one-time deputy, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who replaced some Saleh loyalists with new officials in the south.
The US military has also been active, staging drone strikes targeting militants.
Hadi has pledged to restructure the army to enable it to effectively combat militants in the south, but his decisions have met with stiff resistance from Saleh’s allies.
A key problem now is that Saleh’s half brother, air force commander Mohammed Saleh AlAhmar, and his nephew Tariq, who headed the presidential guard, have refused to step aside.
The US has warned that the international community could take steps against members of the former regime if Hadi’s directives are not carried out. But the Saleh camp has ignored the warning.
There is little doubt that Saleh is bent upon making as much trouble as possible for his successor. He seemed to believe that he could make a comeback to power in the next elections and that his best bet is to prove that Hadi is incapable of leading the country.
The crisis has to be addressed as a priority. Delays will only prolong it and make it increasingly difficult to solve it and worsen the suffering of the Yemeni people.