Advancing Against Al Qaeda (Photo credit: Third Way)
June 18, 2012: In the last week, al Qaeda has pulled its remaining gunmen from most of the towns and villages it had been occupying for the last year. The major al Qaeda strongholds, Jaar and Zinjibar, are now occupied by police. There are no more known al Qaeda strongholds in Abyan province, which has long been the center of al Qaeda power in southern Yemen.
At its peak, al Qaeda has over 10,000 armed followers in the south. Most of these were allied tribesmen, who were seeking autonomy for their tribes and southern Yemen. The pro-terrorist tribesman eventually noted that many of their fellow southerners were hostile to al Qaeda, and that hostility spread as al Qaeda tried to impose its usual lifestyle adjustment in the few areas it took control of. Although many of the southern tribesmen are conservatives, they don’t like being pushed around by a bunch of self-righteous religious fanatics. Earlier this year the Yemeni government got rid of long-time leader (and irritant) Ali Abdullah Saleh and united the armed forces. The southern separatists and their al Qaeda allies had lost their edge. For the last few months it’s been downhill for the al Qaeda/separatist tribes’ alliance.
The tribes are making peace and the remnants of al Qaeda are deserting or looking for a new sanctuary. There aren’t many options. Somalia has become more hostile to al Qaeda in the last few months. The Pakistani military still maintains an Islamic terrorist sanctuary in North Waziristan. Getting there is difficult, but there are smugglers who, for a price, can get anyone or anything from Yemen to Pakistan. Counter-terrorism forces from numerous nations are interested in preventing terrorist escapes from Yemen.
The army began its final offensive on May 12th. The subsequent heavy fighting cost al Qaeda 429 dead, even more wounded and an unknown number of desertions. The security forces lost 78 soldiers, 26 pro-government tribesmen and 34 civilians. The senior al Qaeda leadership had earlier fled for more remote villages in eastern Yemen, where tribal leaders offered sanctuary. How long this sanctuary will last if the army comes after these guys is unknown. Some of the tribes that backed al Qaeda in the south have already switched sides and all have been warned of retribution if they offer sanctuary to the fleeing al Qaeda. That’s one reason for al Qaeda’s defeat in the last few weeks. While the army was able to bring more troops south, if was the addition of over a thousand more tribal militia that spelled the end for al Qaeda. Speeding the defeat was the American UAVs, recon satellites, electronic surveillance and bombing missions. This American assistance was acknowledged in the last few days, although it was always an open secret.
The UN is threatening family, friends and allies of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh with individual sanctions if they do not halt efforts to retain their corrupt privileges. The Saleh supporters are attempting to maintain some of their power, and this often means interfering with the post-Saleh government.
Foreign aid groups are complaining about theft of aid and attacks on aid workers. In some southern provinces, foreigners representing aid providers are not allowed in and must deliver food and other aid via Yemeni groups. This often leads to aid being stolen. Three foreign aid executives have been kidnapped recently and three others have been shot. Many more have been threatened. There is still a major need for food and other aid, but armed and hostile Yemenis keep getting in the way.
In eastern Yemen, terrorists attached a bomb to a police vehicle, which killed three policemen.
June 16, 2012: The army has the last al Qaeda held town (Azzan) surrounded. Tribal leaders are trying to negotiate a withdrawal by al Qaeda fighters. Many of the al Qaeda men are willing to go, and have been selling their weapons and other possessions (some came to Azzan with the intention of staying a while) and are leaving with many other civilians. Some al Qaeda refused to surrender and preparing to fight to the death. That’s why many civilians are fleeing the town, at least until the al Qaeda men can get themselves killed and things quiet down.
June 15, 2012: The last al Qaeda stronghold in Abyan province, the port town of Shaqra, was taken by the army.
June 12, 2012: The major al Qaeda strongholds of Jaar and Zinjibar were cleared of Islamic radicals by advancing troops.