YEMEN: Air strikes against Al Qaeda follow bloody week
As Yemen steps up its fight against Al Qaeda, the group is finding plenty of cover in rural areas where the army has little control and local separatists are often engaged in their own battles against U.S.-backed government forces.
On Sunday, the Yemeni army continued a series of air strikes in south Yemen after an ambush on a military convoy (link in Arabic) Saturday killed at least four Yemeni soldiers and a number of suspected Al Qaeda militants. The number of casualties from Sunday's bombing could not be confirmed, but the satellite channel Al Jazeera reported that "a number" had been killed and wounded.
The channel showed footage of Yemeni military trucks rolling through the dusty streets of a city in the Abyan province that had been the site of deadly clashes between government troops and alleged Al Qaeda militants. Sometimes, it's tricky to tell who is whom: Yemeni separatist movements are also active in a region defined by tribal allegiances and a deep disdain for the government.
Over the last several years, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has made Yemen, with its gaping security holes, clan connections and militant sympathizers, a strategic base of operations. Corruption, poverty, water shortages and simmering rebellions in both the north and south contribute to Yemen's instability.
The Yemeni government –– under American pressure –– has become more aggressive in attempts to root out Al Qaeda.
Results have been mixed, and the United States and Yemen have not always agreed on the extent of the threat Al Qaeda poses or the way to go about getting rid of them. Critics accuse the U.S. of exaggerating the threat in order to dominate the regional security order and the Yemeni government of using Al Qaeda as an excuse to crack down on domestic opposition.
The last few weeks have seen an increase in attacks against Western diplomatic and Yemeni security targets, including an attack on a British Embassy vehicle.
Much of the fighting has been concentrated in the Abyan area of the south, where dozens of security and police officials have been assassinated. On Thursday, gunmen thought to be linked to Al Qaeda shot the security chief of the town of Mudiyah, sparking more clashes, which killed eight others.
This weekend's fighting nearly overshadowed what could be considered a small victory for Yemeni authorities in the arrest of two Al Qaeda members.
Salih al-Reemi, suspected of being an important fanancier of Al Qaeda, was arrested at the Sanaa airport while trying to enter the country on Friday. His arrest coincided with that of former Guantanamo detainee Jabir Jubranal-Fayfi, who turned himself in to Saudi authorities from Yemen, according to the Yemeni interior ministry.
-- Meris Lutz in Beirut
Photo: The Yemeni army has little control over rural, mountainous areas where Al Qaeda has found refuge. Credit: Yemeni army media office/AFP/Getty