Yemen: Road Warriors Under Siege


September 22, 2010: Troops have cornered several dozen armed men in the town of Houta, in Shabwa province (in the mountains along the southeast coast). The gunmen are believed to be members of al Qaeda, and officials believe one of them is Islamic radical cleric Anwar al Awlaki. About half the 20,000 of civilians in Houta, and surrounding areas, have fled the military operation. Some were prevented from leaving, by gunmen, and used as human shields. This operation began three days ago, and troops destroyed five homes believed used by the terrorists. The army believed that some 120 al Qaeda men were living in the village, which they used as a base.  Efforts to get tribal elders to negotiate a surrender were not successful. This operation is part of an effort to shut down dozens of homes and villages known (or suspected) as al Qaeda refuges in the south, and bases for terror attacks.

The government has persuaded (via bribes or threats of violence) a growing number of tribes and clans to stop supporting al Qaeda and southern separatists. These kinds of negotiations are a major component of any conflict in Yemen, but do not lend themselves to headline grabbing media stories. What does get media attention is troops setting up roadblocks, which is the most effective tactic against uncooperative tribes. The roads are very important, as the population explosion of the last century has made most parts of the country dependent on trucked-in food supplies. All manner of goods are brought in over the roads, and people in the most rural areas have become accustomed to getting on a bus or other vehicle and travelling to distant parts of the country. Cut off that access, and the tribes notice it, and don't like it.

There are lots of troops in Shabwa province, as that is where the natural gas fields are, and a pipeline that takes the gas to the sea, where it can be compressed and shipped. Terrorists have made several attacks on the pipeline, with hand grenades, which caused minor damage. While the gas still flows, the growing violence has cut tourism over 80 percent. Normally, tourism comprises three percent of GDP, but nearly all of it has disappeared in the last two years because of terrorist attacks (that have killed tourists), kidnappings (of tourists) and more violence in general.

American and British intelligence officials believe that, while at least half of al Qaeda's senior officials and operatives are still based in Pakistan, much of the remainder are showing up in Somalia and Yemen. Somalia is favored because no one is hunting for terrorists inside Somalia. Yemen is favored because, unlike Somalia, it has better infrastructure and access to the outside world. But in Yemen, strong government security forces are at war with al Qaeda. That said, the remaining base areas for al Qaeda (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen) are all dangerous and difficult places to be.

The U.S. wants to expand military and economic aid to Yemen, from $150 million a year now, to about $300 million a year for the next four years. But there is a major problem with local corruption, and ensuring that the aid is spent on the people and troops it is intended for and not stolen by the many larcenous officials who run the country.

September 20, 2010: Al Qaeda claimed they had an intelligence official who was kidnapped in the north last month. Al Qaeda gave no proof that the man was still alive, and demanded the release of two al Qaeda members, also taken in the north (by tribesmen) and handed over to the government, within 48 hours. Nothing happened.

A Yemeni coast guard patrol boat fired on a pirate speedboat that was trying to get close to a cargo ship, so that the pirates could board. The pirates fled when fired on.

September 19, 2010:  In the south, five al Qaeda and one coast guard sailor were killed, in several incidents. Meanwhile, Abyan province has banned the use of motorcycles or scooters in cities and large towns. Motorcycles are favored by al Qaeda assassins, and in the last three months, to kill 30 security personnel. There are about 5,000 motorcycles or scooters in the province (which has a population of about half a million).

A Yemeni journalist was charged with spying for al Qaeda. Journalists have access to government buildings and the accused journalist passed on floor plans and security procedures to terrorists.

September 18, 2010: In the north, violence involving Shia rebels left a soldier and a pro-government tribesman dead. In the south, Abyan provincial Deputy Governor Ahmed al Rahawi escaped injury when his convoy was attacked by a roadside bomb and gunfire.

September 15, 2010:  Down south, in al Dalea province, three small bombs went off, but there were no injuries.



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