Militants and Politics Bedevil Yemen's New Leaders
ndex.html?inline=nyt-per> KAREEM FAHIM
Published: April 26, 2012
CAIRO - Two months after a new president took office,
men/index.html?inline=nyt-geo> Yemen's fledgling interim government has
found itself overwhelmed by a set of dangerous new challenges to the
country's stability, including a series of a bold attacks by a resurgent
militant movement in the south and a festering political standoff in the
Yemen's interim government has found itself overwhelmed by a political
standoff in the capital, where protesters, above, have lingered.
In the last few weeks, the new president,
sour_hadi/index.html?inline=nyt-per> Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, has faced open
defiance after he tried to dismiss or reassign officials loyal to his
aleh/index.html?inline=nyt-per> Ali Abdullah Saleh, who ruled Yemen for 33
years. In the south, hundreds of people have been killed in clashes that
intensified after insurgents attacked an army base and seized heavy weapons,
A military officer in Lawdar, one of the centers of the fighting, said that
soldiers had not been able to recapture an army base that they were forced
to abandon after an attack by the militants in early April. "The situation
is now out of control," said the officer, who requested anonymity because he
was not authorized to speak to the news media.
Yemen has staggered from crisis to crisis since early last year, when a
popular uprising against Mr. Saleh spread to cities across the country. Many
Yemenis hoped that Mr. Saleh's resignation in February as part of a
foreign-brokered power-transfer deal might open a path out of a crippling
impasse. But Mr. Hadi's first weeks in office have served as a reminder of
Yemen's persistent divisions and vulnerabilities, complicated by a year of
political revolt against a generation of Mr. Saleh's autocratic rule.
Jamal Benomar, a United Nations envoy responsible for shepherding the
political transition, flew back to Yemen's capital, Sana, last week to help
start a national dialogue conference that is supposed to address some of
Yemen's most intractable problems, and the protesters' still unresolved
complaints. Instead, he found himself trying reconcile feuding leaders. "If
this conflict is not resolved, it can get out of hand," he said. "There is a
lot that has to be done. We're trying to get everyone to stay focused, and
The latest troubles started after Mr. Hadi's most far-reaching confrontation
with the old guard. In a decision announced on a weekend, Mr. Hadi said he
was replacing or reassigning about 20 top military commanders and the
governors of four provinces, a purge that included several of Mr. Saleh's
loyalists. The former president's half-brother, Mohammed Saleh al-Ahmar, who
commanded the air force and has refused to leave, was accused of shutting
down the airport in protest. He and other officials denied he was
"Hadi is playing a balancing game," said April Longley Alley, a Yemen-based
analyst for the International Crisis Group. "He went after the Saleh side,
because militarily, they were more powerful."
The protests by Mr. Saleh's supporters - and by Mr. Saleh himself -
notwithstanding, Mr. Hadi has been wary of upsetting the power balance too
much. While he reassigned Mr. Saleh's nephew, he left the former president's
son in place as the head of the country's powerful Republican Guard. At the
same time, officials and analysts said Mr. Hadi appeared to have taken a
page from Mr. Saleh's playbook in trying to build his own power base by
appointing allies from his home province of Abyan to key posts.
Abdul-Ghani al-Iryani, a Yemeni political analyst and the head of a group
that campaigns for democracy, said the latest crises - which included power
blackouts in Sana - were most likely related. "Whenever there is a
bottleneck in national politics, there has been a pattern," he said. "There
are links between the biggest political groupings in Sana and violent
extremist militias in other parts of the country."
Whether related or not, the latest explosion of violence in the south
occurred days after Mr. Hadi announced the shakeup. Over the last year, the
government's security services pulled out of many areas of the south, and an
affiliate of Al Qaeda, Ansar al-Sharia, moved into the vacuum. Its militants
have staged a number of brazen attacks on military posts, sometimes
capturing government soldiers. The group is also serving as a kind of de
facto administration in some towns, providing services the government ceded,
in a region that has long complained of official neglect and discrimination.
In early April, Ansar al-Sharia raided an army barracks in the city of
Lawdar, a few miles from Mr. Hadi's hometown, in what many Yemeni analysts
perceived as a warning to the new president. The militants - including
foreign fighters, local officials said - captured several tanks,
rocket-propelled grenade launchers and light arms.
Hundreds of militants and dozens of soldiers have been killed since the
first attack. "They stage raids, exploiting the vacuum," said the military
official in Lawdar. "There are no reinforcements," he said, adding that
soldiers had recaptured some of the weapons that were seized.
Adding to an already combustible mix, the fighting has been joined by
so-called Popular Committees, citizen's groups that started forming last
year to fill the void left by the government. Ali Ahmed Abdu, a member of
the Popular Committee in Lawdar, suggested that the thousands of men who
joined the group were civilians' only defense against the militants. "The
government sent reinforcements," he said. "Five days ago, they sent us kids
from central security who don't have any training or fighting skills."
The United States, which recently announced it was increasing its
antiterrorism cooperation with Yemen, also appears to be stepping up its use
ial_vehicles/index.html?inline=nyt-classifier> drone attacks in the country,
according to reports collected by <http://www.longwarjournal.org/
> The Long
On Sunday, the American ambassador to Yemen, Gerald M. Feierstein, urged
Yemeni officials to support Mr. Hadi's reforms and praised the new
leadership for "a strategy to challenge Al Qaeda in ways they have not done
in the past months." The government has claimed successes in the last few
days, saying it had killed dozens of militants near Lawdar and the city of
Zinjibar, in attacks that included airstrikes.
Mr. Iryani said he thought the increased involvement by the United States
could inflame the situation in the south, and possibly draw in more foreign
fighters. "I think it is going to be counterproductive," he said. "We have
new leadership. The Yemeni military should deal with this itself."
And he said there was general support for Mr. Hadi's approach, so far. "Most
people are pleased by his caution and his calculated moves. He's been doing
O.K.," Mr. Iryani said, but added that the new president needed to focus
more on reforming the country's institutions. "The key is to disengage the
military from politics, while maintaining a balance," he said. "If we upset
the balance, I'm afraid we will have a new military dictatorship."
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Received on Thu Apr 26 2012 - 07:30:51 EDT