For Yemen's New President, a Battle for Control and a Tug of War With the
By LAURA KASINOF
Published: June 14, 2012
SANA, Yemen - A military ceremony that took place here last month seemed to
indicate a smooth transition from Yemen's former president,
aleh/index.html?inline=nyt-per> Ali Abdullah Saleh, to its new leader,
sour_hadi/index.html?inline=nyt-per> Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
Mr. Saleh's nephew Brig. Gen. Tariq Saleh ceded his post leading one of the
country's most well-armed military regiments - the Third Brigade, based in
the mountains around Sana - to Brig. Gen. Abdul-Rahman al-Halili, who was
Mr. Hadi's pick for the job.
But as Mr. Hadi tries to assert his new authority and reorganize Yemen's
fractured military, which is engaged in a war against militants with Al
Qaeda in the country's south, the transfer from one military commander to
another turned out to be far less smooth than it appeared. After the
ceremony, Mr. Saleh and his relatives, who viewed control of the Third
Brigade as their family's right, refused to cede power to the new military
It was not until Monday - one day before a United Nations Security Council
resolution threatened sanctions against those interfering with Yemen's
political transition - that General Halili was even able to enter the Third
"All the time, Hadi is struggling," said Salem Bin Talib, a top aide to the
prime minister. "We avoided all-out war over the past year. He doesn't want
that to break out now."
dent-abed-rabu-mansour-hadi.html> Since he assumed power in late February
after a year of antigovernment protests, Mr. Hadi has been slowly shedding
his government of officials from the old administration who are either
members of the Saleh family or staunch Saleh loyalists. This has not always
gone smoothly, as the fiasco with the Third Brigade shows, and the extent of
Mr. Hadi's authority to remake Yemen remains in doubt.
"Even the defense minister said that he himself cannot order the Republican
Guards," Mr. Bin Talib said of a military division still under the control
of Mr. Saleh's son, Brig. Gen. Ahmed Ali Saleh, which includes the Third
Brigade. Meanwhile, this tug of war between the new and old governments
comes at a costly price. Financially struggling, Yemen is facing an
increasingly brazen Qaeda franchise that controls large parts of its
territory in the southern provinces of Abyan and Shabwa. With the government
and army remaining fractured, the militants take advantage of the power
"The military is still divided; commanders are maneuvering politically while
their guns are still pointed at each other, so it is very hard to address
other priorities," said April Alley, a Yemen-based political analyst with
the International Crisis Group.
Even with the military's recent gains against Ansar al-Sharia, a
Qaeda-linked group, militants control vast territory in the south. This is
the case even as American drone strikes have sharply increased and about 20
American military advisers have arrived in Yemen to provide intelligence
Last month, militants allied with Al Qaeda
html> claimed responsibility for one of the deadliest suicide bombings in
the country's history, which killed nearly 100 soldiers practicing for a
military parade on a major Sana thoroughfare.
At the crux of the standoff is the personal conflict that erupted into
warfare last year during Yemen's political uprising between Ahmed Ali Saleh
and Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsin al-Ahmar, a powerful commander.
Military leaders from either camp "refuse to send their troops to the south,
and the troops who are in the south are badly trained and poorly motivated,"
said a foreign diplomat in Sana.
Meanwhile, "Hadi is scared, and at this point he is just trying to stay in
his position," the diplomat said. As a result, the new Yemeni president has
become closer to figures from the anti-Saleh camp, like General Ahmar. In
addition, a number of Mr. Hadi's military and political appointees are from
his family or home region.
er-deal-saudi-arabia.html> Mr. Saleh agreed to leave office last November in
an internationally brokered amnesty deal, Yemenis were prepared for backlash
from Saleh family members who remained in the government, especially those
who were military commanders. After all, Mr. Saleh had spent his long rule
surrounding himself with relatives and other allies from his home village,
Sanhan, in order to cement his authority. Though he was replaced, many of
his loyalists remain in place.
Yemeni officials said that while certain divisions of the armed forces still
remain firmly under Saleh family control, the former president sees his
empire slipping away. One of Mr. Saleh's nephews was replaced as deputy head
of the National Security Bureau after the terrorist attack in Sana, and a
half brother was recently replaced as head of the air force.
"If Mr. Saleh loses the Third Brigade, then he becomes just like a normal
citizen," said Ali al-Sarari, a leader in the Socialist Party.
Mr. Saleh has remained in Sana, despite considering exile in Ethiopia and
the United Arab Emirates. He continues to meet with his loyalists inside his
private residence, does interviews with Arabic-language news media and is
creating a museum housing his old belongings from the presidential palace.
"He wants to show 'I'm still here; I'm still present,' but these for me are
signs of weakness, not strength," the high-ranking Yemeni official said.
The standoff has left Yemen's capital patrolled by soldiers loyal to dueling
commanders. "Sana is not a capital, it is a divided city," said Ali Saif
Hassan, an independent political analyst. "Hadi cannot move outside his
house. Ali Mohsin cannot move outside his base. Ali Abdullah is stuck in his
house. There is no security."
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Received on Thu Jun 14 2012 - 08:37:36 EDT