Saturday, March 31, 2012

Yemen pipeline sabotaged in drone retaliation

Saturday, 31 March 2012
A US drone attack killed at least five suspected al-Qaeda fighters in southern Yemen on Friday, prompting retaliation from gunmen who blew up a gas pipeline, forcing LNG output to be stopped, officials and energy workers said.
The drone set fire to the armed men’s car in the southern province of Shabwa and killed all its occupants, one official said.
One bystander was also killed and five were wounded, officials and residents told Reuters news agency.
Hours later, gunmen blew up a pipeline which transports gas to a facility whose leading stakeholder is French oil company Total, energy workers said.
Residents said flames could be seen from several kilometres away and a company employee said exports had stopped.
"The explosion took place 28 km north of the Balhaf LNG export plant. Production has been halted," an employee of Yemen LNG, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.
The $4.5 bn Balhaf liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facility opened in 2009 and was the largest industrial project ever carried out in impoverished Yemen.
Oil and gas pipelines have often been attacked by groups affiliated with al-Qaeda, or disgruntled tribesmen.
The pipeline to Balhaf was last blown up in October, hours after an air raid on militants, and took about 10 days to be repaired.
A text message sent to journalists, purporting to come from the al Qaeda-affiliated Ansar al-Sharia (Supporters of Islamic Law), said the group was behind the attack.
"The Mujahideen (holy warriors) blew up the pipeline retaliation for the strike for which Crusader America and its obedient slave in Sanaa are responsible," the message said, referring to the Yemeni government, a close US ally in the fight against al-Qaeda.
Al-Qaeda has reportedly strengthened its hold on southern areas of the Arabian Peninsula, seizing several towns during the past year of protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who left office in February.
The United States has retaliated with a campaign of drone strikes, which has claimed responsibility for operations that include a failed plot to blow up a US-bound passenger plane in 2009.
Earlier this month, US drone attacks killed at least 25 al-Qaeda linked fighters including one of their leaders, and a Yemeni air force raid killed 20, in the biggest airstrikes since the new president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, took office.

Clashes between Yemeni army, militants kill 30

Associated Press |
Saturday, March 31, 2012
Al-Qaida-linked militants staged a surprise attack on a Yemeni army base in the south Saturday, setting off clashes that left 30 dead on both sides before air strikes forced the militants to retreat, military officials said.
The attack reflects how al-Qaida's branch in Yemen has exploited the political and security turmoil following the country's yearlong uprising, managing to take control of large swaths of land in the south and staging increasingly bold attacks on the military.
The militants have overran cities and towns as the government focused its efforts on protecting the regime in the capital during protests against former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Saleh's replacement, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, has made fighting al-Qaida one of his top priorities, but many Yemenis accuse the ousted president, whose loyalists are still influential in the military and in government bodies, of undercutting security operations and the new president's authority.
In Saturday's clashes, army officials said the militants attacked the base in al-Mallah town in southern Lahj province. The town is close to Abyan province, an al-Qaida stronghold.
The army fought back and by the time fighter jets were called in and forced the militants to retreat, 17 soldiers and 13 militants were dead. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media. Al-Mallah is adjacent to Abyan province, an al-Qaida stronghold.
The latest clashes come as Washington appears to be increasingly involved in fighting al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, as the Yemeni branch is known and which is believed to have plotted two failed attacks on American soil.
On Friday, unmanned U.S. drones targeted al-Qaida positions inside Shabwa province, another militant hideout, killing four militants, Yemeni officials said.
There was no immediate comment from U.S. officials, but Washington has carried out deadly airstrikes in Yemen in the past. Last year, a U.S. drone strike killed U.S.-born militant cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and a second American, Samir Khan, an al-Qaida propagandist.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Yemen after Saleh What Next for Yemen?

Bernard Haykel
After the resignation of Ali Abdullah Saleh as president of Yemen, hopes for change in the country were high. Given that the power structure hasn’t drastically altered, however, it is still not clear whether these hopes will be realized.
March 30, 2012
President Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed to relinquish his office in November 2011. He formally stepped down in February 2012 in favor of his vice president, Abed Rabbo Mansur Al-Hadi, who is now president.
Saleh remains, however, a major force in Yemeni politics: he is head of the General People’s Congress party, and members of his immediate family retain key positions in the military and intelligence services. Examples include his son, Ahmad, who heads the Republican Guard, and his nephew, Yahya, who leads the Central Security Services.
So far, all signs point to Saleh’s unwillingness to give up his influence, especially as long as his political rivals remain active and in a position to dominate Yemen.
One group of rivals is the Ahmar brothers, of the Shaykhly family of the tribe of Hashid, who are hopelessly divided against one another and unable to rally around one leader.
Another rival is one of Saleh’s relatives and erstwhile ally, General Ali Muhsin, who commands the first division of the Yemeni army. This trio of rivals, each of whom regards it as his right to rule Yemen, will not give up the competition for power unless all are made to simultaneously exit politics. Their continued presence represents a threat to the emergence of a stable political order in the country.
There is one principal question that policy makers in the Gulf region (as well as in the West) must ask themselves: can Yemen pursue stability and development in spite of the presence and influence of these rival forces, or is their departure is necessary for Yemen’s long-term stability?
At present, Yemen is a tinderbox that could easily become an inferno of violence, leading to civil war and perhaps even the division of the country. The rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh since 1978 has effectively stripped the country of all institutions: he governed in a highly personalized manner, keeping the government deliberately chaotic and tying all actors directly to the president. Institutions did not matter; rather, what did was whether one was in the president’s favor and a beneficiary of his patronage.
For example, after unification in 1990, Saleh re-tribalized the regions of former South Yemen (People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen). This was intended to dismantle the institutions of this state and create personalized links with new tribal leaders, many of whom engaged in predatory practices by expropriating land and other economic resources in the south. This is one reason why so many southerners feel that Saleh’s rule represented an occupation of their portion of the country, and the reason why some sought to secede.
This dream of separation will remain alive in the south so long as Saleh (or members of his family) remain in power. And it is this southern sentiment of being dispossessed and misgoverned that has allowed Al-Qaeda, and like-minded groups like Ansar Al-Sharia, to find refuge and support in these regions.
Saleh’s resignation came in the form of a deal to transfer power brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council. This deal allowed Saleh to resign in return for immunity from prosecution; however, it did not address many critical issues, such as Saleh’s continuing political role or that of his entrenched and heavily armed rivals.
The army remains divided, and large swathes of the country are under the control of forces not beholden to the central government, such as the northern regions under the Zaydi Huthis and portions of the south under Al-Qaeda affiliated groups. In short, the GCC deal has brought about some political changes in the form of a new government and a new president, but it does not provide an outline or program for the needed structural reforms that will set Yemen on a course towards stability and order.
Furthermore, providing Yemen with much needed economic aid—while perhaps necessary—will not solve the country’s profound developmental problems. The country struggles with generalized malnutrition and overpopulation, the collapse of all social services, a calamitous decline in water resources, and staggering corruption and government incompetence.
Making matters worse is the fact that the policy of the United States toward Yemen is exclusively focused on Al-Qaeda and the security threat it poses. In practical terms, this means that the US views Yemen through a military prism that involves a combination of training certain units of the Yemeni army and the use of drones and airpower in the fight against Al-Qaeda.
Thus far, this policy has empowered those units under Saleh’s family command, turning many Yemenis against the United States for effectively supporting Saleh’s dynasty, as well as ignoring the real problems of misrule and underdevelopment.
Given the array of problems listed above, where does the solution lie? There is no simple answer to Yemen’s problems. The political field is highly segmented and the country has few if any functioning institutions.
The solution, if one is to be found, must come from the Yemenis themselves and must involve the creation of a system of rule that unites the different actors around a set of shared goals rather than the zero-sum power struggle in which they are presently engaged.
The regional actors, led by Saudi Arabia, also have a key role to play in helping Yemenis begin the long journey toward stability. The Kingdom is the only country with the intimate historical knowledge, longstanding contacts, and financial and political resources to help initiate the necessary reforms.
These must include finding a way for Saleh, the Ahmar Shaykhs and Ali Muhsin to devolve power to other actors who have a cleaner record and reputation. President Hadi’s ascent to the presidency is a good start, and now is the time to help him build a base of support that is independent of Saleh.
Should the reform of the Yemeni political system fail to materialize, the country would become a failed state and civil war and secession would be a strong possibility. Furthermore, Iran has been offering its support—financial and political—to any dissident Yemeni forces willing to accept it.
This does not bode well for the future, since it might mean another proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, with the battleground in another Arab country. This is the time to prevent this from happening, by supporting a new and reformed political order that represents a clean break from the rule of Saleh and his rivals.

Bin Laden widow reveals details

March 30, 2012
ISLAMABAD (AP) — A widow of Osama bin Laden has told investigators that the al-Qaida leader lived in five safe houses while on the run in Pakistan. And she says he fathered four children — two of them born in government hospitals.
These details of bin Laden's life as a fugitive in Pakistan are contained in the interrogation report of the widow, who was from Yemen. They raise fresh questions about how bin Laden was able to remain undetected for so long.
The widow is currently in Pakistani custody, along with bin Laden's two other wives and several children.

Yemen: Airstrikes kill 4 al-Qaida militants

Mar. 30, 2012
Associated Press
SANAA, Yemen -- Yemeni military officials say an airstrike has killed four al-Qaida militants in a southern district that has been under the group's control for around a year.
The military officials from Shabwa province say that an unmanned U.S. drone carried out Friday's attack, which struck a vehicle carrying seven militants in the district of Azan. The officials say four were killed and three critically wounded.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with military regulations.
There was no immediate comment from U.S. officials, but Washington has carried out airstrikes in Yemen in the past.
Al-Qaida's branch in Yemen is believed to be one of the world's most active. It has taken advantage of a year of turmoil to take over parts of southern Yemen.