Saturday, July 2, 2011

Officials: Yemen's wounded president bedridden


The Associated Press

July 2, 2011

SANAA, Yemen — Senior Yemeni officials say President Ali Abdullah Saleh has had "very limited" access to the outside world since he was flown to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment.

Facing months of protests calling for his resignation, Saleh suffered serious burns and other wounds in a June 3 attack on his palace in the Yemeni capital. Little information about his condition has been released.

A Riyadh-based Yemeni official said Saturday that only relatives and Saleh's top adviser have been permitted to visit him.

Another government official in Sanaa says Saleh has been "unable to leave his bed" and has "severe and extensive burns."

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

U.S. Expands Its Drone War Into Somalia

July 2, 2011
WASHINGTON — The clandestine American military campaign to combat Al Qaeda’s franchise in Yemen is expanding to fight the Islamist militancy in Somalia, as new evidence indicates that insurgents in the two countries are forging closer ties and possibly plotting attacks against the United States, American officials say.
An American military drone aircraft attacked several Somalis in the militant group the Shabab late last month, the officials said, killing at least one of its midlevel operatives and wounding others.
The strike was carried out by the same Special Operations Command unit now battling militants in Yemen, and it represented an intensification of an American military campaign in a mostly lawless region where weak governments have allowed groups with links to Al Qaeda to flourish.
The Obama administration’s increased focus on Somalia comes as the White House has unveiled a new strategy to battle Al Qaeda in the post-Osama bin Laden era, and as some American military and intelligence officials view Qaeda affiliates in Yemen and Somalia as a greater threat to the United States than the group of operatives in Pakistan who have been barraged with hundreds of drone strikes directed by the Central Intelligence Agency in recent years.
The military drone strike in Somalia last month was the first American attack there since 2009, when helicopter-borne commandos killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a senior leader of the group that carried out the 1998 attacks on the American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Although it appears that no senior Somali militants were killed in last month’s drone strike, a Pentagon official said Friday that one of the militants who was wounded had been in contact with Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born radical cleric now hiding in Yemen. The news that the strike was carried out by an American drone was first reported in The Washington Post this week.
American military officials said there was new intelligence that militants in Yemen and Somalia were communicating more frequently about operations, training and tactics, but the Pentagon is wading into the chaos in Somalia with some trepidation. Many are still haunted by the 1993 “Black Hawk Down” debacle, in which 18 elite American troops were killed in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, battling fighters aligned with warlords. Senior officials have repeatedly said in private in the past year that the administration does not intend to send American troops to Somalia beyond quick raids.
For several years, the United States has largely been relying on proxy forces in Somalia, including African Union peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi, to support Somalia’s fragile government. The Pentagon is sending nearly $45 million in military supplies, including night-vision equipment and four small unarmed drones, to Uganda and Burundi to help combat the rising terror threat in Somalia. During the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in 2007, clandestine operatives from the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command initiated missions into Somalia from an airstrip in Ethiopia.
Even as threat warnings grow, American officials say that the Shabab militants are under increasing pressure on various fronts, and that now is the time to attack the group aggressively. But it is unclear whether American intelligence about Somalia — often sketchy and inconclusive — has improved in recent months.
This week, Vice Adm. William H. McRaven, who was until recently in charge of the Joint Special Operations Command, told lawmakers that planners were “looking very hard at Yemen and at Somalia,” but he said that the effectiveness of the missions there was occasionally hampered by limited availability of surveillance aircraft like drones.
One day later, President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, said that Al Qaeda’s badly weakened leadership in Pakistan had urged the group’s regional affiliates to attack American targets. “From the territory it controls in Somalia, Al Shabab continues to call for strikes against the United States,” Mr. Brennan said.
Over the past two years, the administration has wrestled with how to deal with the Shabab, many of whose midlevel fighters oppose Somalia’s weak transitional government but are not necessarily seeking to battle the United States. Attacking them — not just their leaders — could push those militants to join Al Qaeda, some officials say. “That has led to a complicated policy debate over how you apply your counterterrorism tools against a group like Al Shabab, because it is not a given that going after them in the same way that you go after Al Qaeda would produce the best result,” a senior administration official said last fall.
American officials said this week that they were trying to exploit the Shabab’s recent setbacks. Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Al Qaeda’s leader in East Africa and the mastermind of the 1998 bombings, was killed on June 7 in a shootout at a security checkpoint in Somalia.
Somali clan militias, backed by Kenya and Ethiopia, have reclaimed Shabab-held territory in southwestern Somalia, putting more strain on the organization, said Andre Le Sage, a senior research fellow who specializes in Africa at the National Defense University in Washington.
Still, American intelligence and military officials warn of increasing operational ties between the Shabab and the Qaeda franchise in Yemen, known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or A.Q.A.P. The group orchestrated a plot to blow up a jetliner headed to Detroit on Dec. 25, 2009, and another attempt nearly a year later to destroy cargo planes carrying printer cartridges packed with explosives. Both plots failed.
American intelligence officials say that the Shabab so far have carried out only one attack outside of Somalia, a series of coordinated bombings that killed more than 70 people in Uganda as crowds gathered to watch a World Cup match last year.
In statements in recent months, the Shabab have pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda and its new leader, Ayman al-Zawahri. American officials said that Mr. Awlaki had developed close ties to senior Shabab leaders.
“What I’d be most concerned about is whether A.Q.A.P. could transfer to Shabab its knowledge of building I.E.D.’s and sophisticated plots, and Shabab could make available to A.Q.A.P. recruits with Western passports,” said Mr. Le Sage, referring to improvised explosive devices.
More than 30 Somali-Americans from cities like Minneapolis have gone to fight in Somalia in recent years. Officials say they fear that Qaeda operatives could recruit those Americans to return home as suicide bombers.
“My main concern is that a U.S. citizen who joins, trains and then gains experience in the field with organizations such as Al Shabab returns to the U.S. with a much greater level of capability than when he left,” said a senior law enforcement official. “Coupled with enhanced radicalization and operational direction, that person is now a clear threat.”
Source: The New York Times

50 Yemen soldiers missing after clashes with 'Qaeda'

(AFP) July 2, 2011
ADEN — Fifty Yemeni troops have been posted as missing after clashes with Islamist militants around the southern city of Zinjibar, a commander said on Saturday, accusing top brass of abandoning them to Al-Qaeda.
"We have lost all trace of 50 soldiers after an attack by Al-Qaeda elements enabled them to recapture control of the Al-Wahda stadium" outside Zinjibar, the commander serving with the 25th Mechanised Brigade told AFP on condition of anonymity.
He was unable to specify whether the troops had been killed, captured or deserted in the battle for the stadium which the army had recaptured from the militants only on Friday.
The commander accused the defence ministry of abandoning the brigade's soldiers to their fate in the face of repeated attacks by the militants of the Partisans of Sharia (Islamic Law) movement who seized much of Zinjibar in late May.
"Senior ministry officials have stood idly while all this has been going on. But we are not going to surrender to the Al-Qaeda militants, we are going to fight to the last cartridge case," he said.
The Sanaa government says the militants in Zinjibar are allied with Al-Qaeda but the opposition accuses it of playing up a jihadist threat in a desperate attempt to keep embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh in power.
Saleh had been a key US ally in its "war on terror" but has faced mass protests against his rule since January and is currently receiving treatment in neighbouring Saudi Arabia for blast wounds sustained in a bomb attack on his palace.
The ancestral homeland of slain jihadist leader Osama bin Laden, Yemen is the home of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, an affiliate of the global network accused of anti-US plots, including an attempt to blow up a US-bound aircraft on Christmas Day 2009.
Near the main southern city of Aden, troops opened fire on a vehicle they considered suspect on Saturday, killing a civilian police identified as Nafee Bakchi and wounding four.

In Yemen, violence fuels economic collapse

July 2, 2011-
SANAA, Yemen — Over months of political turmoil, attacks on electricity plants and oil pipelines have left Yemen’s economy on the edge of collapse, with the most damaging strike carried out in retaliation for a U.S. counterterrorism raid.
Against a backdrop of street protests and military clashes, the country is grappling with electricity blackouts, rising food prices and fuel shortages so dire that ordinary Yemenis can spend days in lines for gasoline.
In March, tribesmen blew up the main pipeline in Marib province, the legendary birthplace of the Queen of Sheba and home to roughly half of Yemen’s oil reserves. The attack was carried out by a powerful tribal leader, Ali al-Shabwani, whose son was killed in a U.S. airstrike in May 2010.
The pipeline funnels crude to the nation’s main oil terminal in the southern port city of Aden for export and to be refined into gasoline. With Yemen bogged down in a popular uprising, the pipeline remains ruptured, with Shabwani and his heavily armed tribesmen refusing to allow the government access to the site until he gets justice for the airstrike, Yemeni officials said.
Around this sprawling, dun-colored capital nestled among jagged mountains, the consequences are apparent, including water shortages, high transportation costs and soaring food prices — posing great hardships in a nation where 40 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day.
Lines stretch for miles at gas stations that sell fuel at government-subsidized prices. On the black market, fuel costs three times as much. At some gas stations, gunfights have erupted.
“The sheik has no right to do this,” said Yahya Saleh Mohammed, 27, an accountant in Sanaa. He had been waiting in line for gas for two days in his green SUV; he was still a mile away from the gas station, a wait that he estimated would take one more day.
“Yes, [Shabwani] has suffered from the airstrike, but how can he make all the people suffer?” he said.
Many restaurants and stores are shuttered. Beggars have multiplied. At night, large portions of Sanaa are enveloped in darkness; electricity is available only for a few hours a day. The attacks on power plants and pipelines have continued, carried out from both sides of a widening political divide.
“Initially, these were anti-government tribes who wanted to place pressure on the regime,” said Adil Abdul Ghani, an official in the Electricity Ministry. “Now, however, they are pro-government ones attacking the plants because they want to show that the state cannot function without Ali Abdullah Saleh,” the longtime president.
‘Everybody is lost’
The contributing role of the U.S. airstrike in the fuel shortage is an indication of the growing fragility of Yemen’s economy during the five-month-old revolt. It also highlights the potential for U.S. policies to have harmful, if unintended, consequences in this politically brittle nation, where Washington has stepped up counterterrorism activities in recent months, with plans for the CIA to work closely with the Joint Special Operations Command in carrying out attacks with armed unmanned aircraft.
Source: Washington Post

Yemeni opposition to form transitional ruling council unilaterally: official

SANAA, July 1 (Xinhua) -- The opposition coalition Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) said on Friday that they are "unilaterally preparing for forming a transitional ruling council after the ruling party along with acting President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi refused to join them," an opposition official told Xinhua.

"The JMP is due to hold meeting on Saturday to discuss the mechanism for forming the transitional ruling council, which would include representatives from the protesters, separatist Southern Movement and Houthi-led Shiite rebels," the official said on condition of anonymity.

Opposition leaders believed that Saleh would be unable to run the country if he returns due to his "severe injuries."

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of pro- and anti-government protesters staged rallies in major provinces across Yemen on Friday.

In Sanaa, the protesters demanding the ouster of Saleh and the departure of his sons and aides gathered in Changing Square, calling for forming a transitional presidential council to rule the country during post-Saleh era, according to witnesses.

Thousands of pro-Saleh protesters also staged a rally in al- Sabeen Square close to the presidential palace. They named the day as "Steadfast Friday", raising pictures of Saleh and shouting slogans to welcome the "soon return" of Saleh from Riyadh.

The 69-year-old president, who ruled the impoverished Arab state for more than three decades, has confronted six-month protests demanding him to step down.

The neighboring Saudi Arabia along with United States fear that Yemen's the prolonged political standoff, which has already severely undermined the security and economic situations, could benefit resurgent al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to expand its activities and gain more control over remote cities.