Al-Qaeda militants kill 21 troops in south Yemen

Al-Qaeda militants kill 21 troops in south Yemen

Suspected al-Qaeda militants have staged their most daring operation in recent months by assaulting a security post in south Yemen that killed 20 troops and a commander of the secessionist Southern Transitional Council (STC). All eight attackers also died.

The militants mounted their operation on Tuesday after the STC, which is supported by the United Arab Emirates, recently staged a sweep in Abyan province, which they said was “to cleanse it of terrorist organisations”.

While there was no claim of responsibility for the attack, the well-planned assault has been attributed to a group known as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which has survived US, Emirati, and Saudi offensives over the last decade. The US sees it as the most active and dangerous al-Qaeda branch to emerge in the oil-rich Arabian Peninsula, where it established a short-lived emirate during the 2011 Yemeni uprising which overthrew the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Since Saudi Arabia and the Emirates invaded Yemen in 2015 to reinstall the post-Saleh government which was ousted by Houthi rebels, AQAP and Islamic State (also known as Isis) have exploited the security vacuum created by the conflict to regroup, strengthen their paramilitary forces, and strike US, government and secessionist forces.

The Emirati-backed STC’s Abyan campaign also aims to boost its presence in the province at the expense of the Saudi-supported government and loyalist forces.

While the Saudis and Emiratis began the war in partnership, the Emiratis withdrew their ground forces in 2019, relying on allied Yemeni militias to achieve their objectives. This has compelled the Saudis to upgrade their own local units and step up the air war against the Houthis.

The Saudis and Emiratis have conflicting agendas in Yemen. The Saudis seek to defeat the Houthis and reunite Yemen under a Riyadh-sponsored regime. The Emiratis want to use their secessionist allies to gain dominance over Yemen’s southern coast and ports. Saudi and Emirati surrogates have repeatedly clashed, although Emirati representatives sit alongside Saudi figures on the presidential council, which is based in Riyadh.

The return of al-Qaeda offshoots has been one of the unexpected consequences of the Yemen war.

The Saudis and Emiratis expected a quick victory over Houthi rebel tribesmen rather than a protracted stalemate which has fractured rather than preserved Yemen. While the Houthis retain control over the north, where 80 per cent of Yemenis live, the government has a tenuous hold over the vast south and east, and the STC holds the cities of Aden and Mukala and their hinterlands.

Government and secessionist forces have liberated much of the territory in the south and east once conquered by AQAP. However, AQAP continues to hold patches of territory in this region, where opponents have been kidnapped and killed, captured members of the security forces decapitated, adulterers stoned, and music and dance banned.

The humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate in Yemen. More than 377,000 have died from violence, hunger and disease since the war began. Out of a population of 30 million, 23 million are in need of immediate humanitarian assistance, according to the UN humanitarian affairs agency. At least 4.3 million have been displaced, of whom three-quarters are women and children.

Source: Irish Times