Yemen: Crumbling Coalitions In A Collapsing Country


August 22, 2011: The fighting is desultory and sporadic. Small groups of al Qaeda gunmen are moving about in the south. Some of these gunmen control parts of three towns in the south. Tribal militias (pro and anti-government, or just anti-terrorist) keep al Qaeda out of most urban areas. The government has about 50,000 troops and police available, plus nearly as many tribal gunmen, available to control most of the country. The government controls several hundred armored vehicles, over fifty artillery weapons, several dozen warplanes and the small navy. But the economy is paralyzed and people are getting hungry and angrier. The government estimates that the national GDP has dropped 40 percent in the last six months, mostly because of oil shipments being stopped by hostile tribes. But that means there are fewer imports, particularly of food.

The main problem is that the opposition is not powerful, or large, enough to overwhelm the pro-government coalition. The opposition is also divided by serious divisions between northern and southern tribes. The government coalition is united by the realization that they lose power and income if they lose control. The core problem is that Yemen is facing exhaustion of its water supplies and continued poverty driven largely by population growth. Yemen is the poorest Arab state, and has been for generations. There has never been a strong central government, as the tribes have always maintained their power. Coalitions of tribes would dominate all of Yemen, and now a new coalition is competing with the one in power.

Over the last few days, attacks on the power transmission lines from the main electricity plant outside the capital has cut off most electric power reaching the city. This leaves most people dependent on batteries and portable generators.

The government is reinforcing its troops north of the capital, where they are confronted by anti-government tribesmen. There have been over a hundred casualties up there in the last week.

August 20, 2011: In the south, two suicide bomber attacks killed eleven people. One attack killed Sheikh Abu Bahr Ashal, the head of the Ashal tribe. The other attacked a tribal checkpoint. Al Qaeda cannot match the tribes in terms of armed manpower, so seeks to terrorize the tribes by killing their leaders and selected followers.

August 20, 2011: The new National Council of opposition groups suffered a setback as 22 percent of its 143 members quit. There were disagreements over how many seats on the council some tribes would get.

In southern Abyan province, two al Qaeda suicide attacks killed eleven anti-terrorist tribesmen.

North of the capital, an attack on an army base was defeated and six of the attackers were killed.

August 19, 2011: Several million Yemenis demonstrated in towns and cities to back the new National Council.

August 18, 2011: In Abyan province, pro-government tribesmen ambushed some al Qaeda members, and killed four of them.

August 17, 2011: Most opposition groups united to form a 143 member National Council.

In the southern coastal town of Shaqra, a group of al Qaeda gunmen came and drove out government officials. The government responded with an air strike which was thought have killed five of the terrorists.

August 14, 2011: In the south, a battle with al Qaeda left 17 terrorists and three soldiers dead.

August 13, 2011: American intelligence believes al Qaeda in Yemen is trying to produce the poison Ricin. While deadly, it does not last long in the hot and dry climate of Yemen. The U.S. is trying to verify whether this Ricin operations actually exists and, if it does, stop it.





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