Victory claims over Al-Qaeda do not mean Yemen is safe |
Arab News - 25 June, 2012
Author: Jarmin W. Wharton
Sucking the air out of celebrations marking victory over Al-Qaeda forces in two key strongholds, the terror group quickly struck back at the US-backed Yemeni Army, assassinating the top military commander in the southern region.
The attack that killed Gen. Salim Qatan raised questions about what sort of strategy the local Al-Qaeda franchise — Al-Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) — will adopt as it continues the struggle even after the army has claimed success in the battle for control of volatile Abyan province and other areas in the southern part of the country.
Qatan died in a blast by a suicide bomber as he left his home for work. The attack, carried out by a young Somali man in the port city of Aden, along the Gulf of Aden adjacent to Abyan, supported the belief that Al-Qaeda has moved into a “suicide insurgency.” Last month, a young man infiltrated a military parade rehearsal in the capital city Sana’a and blew himself up, killing nearly 100 cadets. The group claimed responsibility for the attack on its official Facebook page, citing retaliation for crimes committed by the military in Abyan in recent weeks.
“AQAP and Ansar Al-Shariah have extended their reach into areas previously not associated with their activities,” United Nations special envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar, told the 15-nation Security Council in New York on May 29. He was referring to their increased presence in tribal-controlled provinces around Abyan, where anti-government sentiment runs high.
He also recalled “the recent foiled (US-bound) airliner bomb plot,” which, taken together with the May 21 suicide blast, “are reminders that AQAP remains the most lethal Al-Qaeda affiliate intent on striking both Western and regional targets.”
The month-long military offensive, which one of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s top advisers called a “full-scale war,” appeared to have purged much of Abyan of the insurgent Al-Qaeda group.
It seemed a key victory in Hadi’s bid to mend the broken country and lead it toward democratic elections in less than two years, as outlined in a Gulf Cooperation Council deal brokered in late 2011, which included the departure of longtime ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Under the GCC plan, Hadi is tasked with orchestrating a national dialogue, drafting a new constitution and reforming the country’s nepotistic military and security forces ahead of multiparty elections now set for early 2014.
“The target of this latest war on Al-Qaeda we’ve seen over the last several weeks under President Hadi was to destroy their attempt to build a mini-state,” Haykal Bafana, a security analyst based in Sana’a told The Media Line.
“But it appears they didn’t plan beyond that objective. For me it makes it worse, I would much rather have (Al-Qaeda) concentrated in known areas than chase them out into the Wadis, valleys and mountains. Now they’re scattered who knows where across Yemen. Where is this so-called victory?” Bafana questioned.
Another security professional, who requested anonymity due to the delicate nature of the situation, revealed that beginning June 12, most of the Al-Qaeda fighters fled Abyan eastward to the city of Azzan, their main stronghold in neighboring Shabwa province. After scuttled negotiations with local tribesmen there, the terrorists then fled to tribal-controlled Marib and Hadramout provinces, as well as northward in Shabwa. “They’re going back to their homes. They’re going all over Yemen,” he said.
Based on the recent suicide bombings, Bafana admitted he was not optimistic about the military’s ability to defeat Al-Qaeda. “(Gen. Qatan) stopped in the Aden neighborhood because the Somali was waving to his car to ask for some help waving pieces of paper. He stopped. The guy went to the window and exploded himself. It’s incredible, he’s a general. He’s in charge of the war on Al-Qaeda,” he exclaimed. “They’re too naive, people in the army here. They don’t even take the most basic precautions,” Bafana said.