Yemen: Al Qaeda Suffers A Major Defeat

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June 1, 2014: During May there was an increase in violence by the Shia rebels in the north. This was apparently meant to influence the upcoming implementation of the new federal government structure. This agreement was reached last February and divides the country into six federal regions. The Shia wanted this but now complain that their region is too small and isolated (from the sea). That was done on purpose because the rebellious Shia tribes have received arms shipments from Iran via the sea. Now the coast of there is heavily patrolled, by Yemenis and Saudis. There are also Shia tribes on the Saudi side of the border, although the Saudi Shia have not been troublesome, if only because economic conditions are a lot better on the Saudi side of the border. Sometimes people do vote with their wallets.

Meanwhile AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) has suffered a major setback in the last month. In addition to losing their last few major bases and several hundred armed members they have also lost the support of most of the southern tribes that have provided sanctuary, new recruits and much else. The tribesmen have found AQAP to be a costly ally. The constant presence of soldiers and the growing use of American UAVs over the few years has disrupted life for the tribes and been nothing but trouble. Traditionally the tribal leaders controlled the rural tribal territories. Police, soldiers or government officials entered only with permission. Forcing your way in meant you were suddenly at war with several thousand armed, angry and unpredictable tribesmen who had, as far as they were concerned, a license to kill. For a long time this gave AQAP men lots of protection, but then came the UAVs and more aggressive police and soldiers.  As a result AQAP has had far more defeats than victories lately. Worse, the growing number of foreign AQAP members are often insensitive to tribal customs and dangerous to be around (because of the threat of army or UAV attack.) Much of what the UAVs do is to simply report the location of AQAP men, which is often followed by an army raid. The tribes frequently get caught in the middle and suffer casualties and economic losses. So the recent offensive not only cost AQAP its last few bases but also most of the support it had from the local tribes. The tribal leaders have made deals with the government to be “neutral” in the ongoing battle between the government and AQAP. The Islamic terrorists of AQAP are looking for a new home and having a hard time of it.

A major reason for the April offensive was intelligence obtained by the Saudis and Americans indicating that many Saudi, Iraqi and Yemeni Islamic terrorists fighting in Syria had agreed to move to Yemen and plot a major operation against Saudi Arabia. After all AQAP was created to overthrow the Saudi monarchy, even though Saudi Arabia has proved to be too hostile an environment for Islamic terrorists to operate in. AQAP was formed in 2009 after the remnants of the Saudi al Qaeda organization (several thousand full and part time members at its peak) fled to Yemen and merged with the Yemeni al Qaeda branch. AQAP also benefitted from hundreds of Iraqi al Qaeda members who arrived after the defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq in 2007-8. Growing unrest in Yemen (against the long-standing Saleh dictatorship) enabled AQAP to recruit locally and take over several towns in southern Yemen by 2011. Then the new post-Saleh government launched a counteroffensive in 2012 and AQAP got hurt very badly. That offensive continued, along with the growing use of American UAVs in Yemen. The April 2014 offensive succeeded in capturing all the new bases AQAP had established in remote mountain areas after their 2012 defeat. While the al Qaeda situation is desperate in Yemen, AQAP is still al Qaeda’s most capable branch and the only one that has shown any ability to support attacks (few successful so far) in the West. Now that capability is in doubt, for a while at least. All this has been good news for Saudi Arabia which has always been the primary foreign target for AQAP attacks but now is seeing that threat diminished, for a while at least. .

In the midst of all this counter-terrorism success Yemenis in particular and Arabs in general wish Western countries would pay more attention to the economic and social problems in Yemen. Yemen wants more aid, but even the many Arab aid donors agree that the corruption in Yemen makes it difficult to put the aid to work. Too much of it is stolen by dishonest local officials or armed groups. Yemen has not been very enthusiastic or successful at dealing with the corruption.

May 31, 2014: In the south (Lahij province) an intelligence officer was killed by an assassin on a motorbike.

May 29, 2014: In the north Shia rebels attacked a checkpoint and two assembly areas manned by pro-government Sunni tribesmen. The attacks were repulsed leaving seven Shia and five Sunnis dead.

In the southeast (Hadramout province) an assassin on a motorbike killed an army intelligence officer and his son.

May 28, 2014: In the capital police raided an Islamic terrorist safe house and shot dead two wanted al Qaeda assassins in a brief gun battle.

May 27, 2014: In the capital a bomb was found and disabled in an army base. Some fifty kilometers north of the capital Shia rebels attacked three army checkpoints killing five soldiers and wounding several others. The attackers were repulsed but carried most of their dead and wounded with them as they retreated.

May 26, 2014: In the east (Marib province) a tribal feud left one tribesman dead and three wounded.

May 25, 2014: Outside the capital a failed al Qaeda attack on an army checkpoint left six troops and at least three Islamic terrorists dead. Troops also raided an AQAP car bomb workshop and killed three Islamic terrorists and captured three others who were there to rig cars with explosives and turn the vehicles into car bombs. Four such vehicles were destroyed in the raid.

May 24, 2014: Early in the morning American UAVs made two missile attacks about 20 kilometers north of the capital. The missiles apparently did not hit the Islamic terrorists in the area but came close enough to cause terrorists to leave the area and move to a nearby village where they were attacked by Yemeni commandos. This left six commandos and three Islamic terrorists dead and another dozen arrested. Eight of the prisoners were from Saudi Arabia. Some of these prisoners admitted that they had recently fought in Syria.  U.S. UAV attacks are often coordinated with Yemeni troops so the area attacked can quickly be searched and documents and live prisoners taken. Even the dead yield valuable information (like their cell phones and identities.)

May 23, 2014: In the southeast (Hadramout province) as many as fifty AQAP suicide bombers and gunmen attacked several army bases in the town of Seiyun killing fifteen soldiers and police. The attackers came in at least twenty vehicles, several rigged as car bombs and were repulsed leaving at least 15 dead behind while carrying some dead and wounded with them . Five of the dead attackers were later identified as being Saudi citizens, as was one attacker who was wounded and captured. The size and intensity of this attack was surprising because in the last month al Qaeda had lost its few remaining bases. Apparently some of the surviving al Qaeda men prefer to make impromptu suicidal mass attacks like this rather than retreating deeper into the mountains and rebuilding their bases. Some of the terrorist dead in this attack were experienced organizers of attacks, not the sort of men who are actually sent out on the attack missions. The government also made much of the fact that a third of the dead attackers were foreigners.   Fear of foreigners is often a major reason why some Moslems embrace Islamic terrorism in the first place. But increasingly it’s not just the presence of foreign soldiers that inspire Islamic terrorists to kill, but the presence of foreign Islamic terrorists who are seen as unwelcome rivals and worthy of death by local Islamic terrorists. This is not a new problem but it is becoming more common. This sort of thing not only creates internal problems for Islamic terrorists but the governments that Islamic terrorists are fighting often accuse the terrorists of bringing in a lot of foreigners and pointing out that is a bad thing. Yemen recently accused the al Qaeda organization in Yemen of being 70 percent foreigners. Al Qaeda denied the 70 percent figure but not that they had a lot of foreigners. This terrorist dead in this attack were proof of that.

In the north an AQAP suicide car bomber attacked a Shia checkpoint killing three of the Shia tribesmen manning the position. The car bomber was apparently headed for a nearby Shia cultural center but was unable to get past the checkpoint.  

May 22, 2014: Today is the 24th anniversary of the reunification of Yemen. All the violence in the last decade is largely a result of that reunification and the large number of Yemenis who are not happy with the results. In the south (Aden) several thousand separatists turned out to rally in support of Yemen being partitioned again.

May 21, 2014: The government announced a new measure meant to discourage tribesmen from attacking oil pipelines and electricity transmission towers (in order to get some concession from the government). From now on those who make these attacks will be considered “terrorists” and receive the harsher treatment (shoot on sight, shoot to kill) that terrorists receive. Misbehaving tribesmen are traditionally handled less harshly, which the government feels those who attack the oil and electrical facilities were exploiting.

North of the capital two days fighting between soldiers and Shia rebels (over control of an important hilltop) left 11 soldiers and 16 rebels dead. The army kept control of the hill and its commanding view of the surrounding territory. Not all the fighting was about the hilltop, but that piece of geography was at the center of most of the action.

May 19, 2014: In the southeast (Hadramout province) two soldiers were killed when their patrol was fired on.

May 18, 2014: In the south (Shabwa province) the army raid resulted in the death of a much wanted AQAP leader and four of his followers.

May 17, 2014: In the south (Shabwa province) the army reported it had taken control of the town of Azzan, long a major base for Islamic terrorists. In winding up that operation two more Islamic terrorists were killed and both were found to be from Saudi Arabia. Elsewhere in Shabwa Islamic terrorists tried to ambush an army patrol but the soldiers detected the plan and attacked first, killing five terrorists while losing two of their own. Elsewhere in the north Sunni and Shia tribesmen battled leaving at least eight dead.

May 16, 2014: In the south (Lahaj province) troops captured a known AQAP master bomb builder. Elsewhere in the south over a dozen AQAP members were killed or captured.

May 15, 2014: In the capital police and troops detected and disabled several AQAP bombs. The government commented that this was more evidence that the April offensive against AQAP was succeeding and would continue until AQAP was crushed (or at least not very active or noticeable). Late in the day the government announced troops had killed a senior AQAP leader in the southern town of Azzan.

May 14, 2014: In the south (Shabwa province) the army and AQAP fought leaving eight soldiers and ten Islamic terrorists dead.

May 13, 2014: In the east (Marib province) Yemeni warplanes attacked three AQAP trucks carrying weapons and ammo near the border with Shabwa province. The three trucks were destroyed, some of their cargo exploded and several Islamic terrorists were killed. Later a helicopter landed near the burned out trucks and soldiers arrested a tribesman who was going through the wreckage looking for ammo or weapons that were still intact.

May 12, 2014: In the east (Marib province) an American UAV missile attack left six AQAP men dead.

May 11, 2014: In the capital Islamic terrorists attacked a checkpoint but were repulsed, leaving three dead behind.

In the southeast (Hadramout province) a suicide truck bomb was used against an army base and killed 12 soldiers and one civilian.

May 10, 2014: In the south there was continued fighting against Islamic terrorists, who were being driven from their last remaining bases and chased down.

 

 

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