Yemen leader vows to oust rebels, unite army |
Gulf Times - 06 May, 2012
Yemen's President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi vowed yesterday to defeat an Al Qaeda-linked insurgency in the south of the country to allow thousands of displaced people to return home.
Militants linked to Al Qaeda have seized significant chunks of territory in the semi-desert regions of southern Yemen in recent months, after taking control of several towns. Fighting has displaced tens of thousands of people, many of whom have fled to the port city of Aden.
“The fight with Al Qaeda terrorism will not end until after each district and village is cleared and displaced persons return to the safety of their homes,” Hadi said, quoted by state media.
The growing Islamist insurgency in Yemen is of serious concern to the US and Saudi Arabia who both fear that a year of unrest that toppled the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, could give Al Qaeda’s regional wing a foothold near oil shipping routes through the Red Sea.
Hadi, who had been Saleh’s vice president, was elected president unopposed in February under a US-backed power transition plan brokered by Yemen’s Gulf neighbours to end the political upheaval.
More than 250 people have been killed since government forces intensified a crackdown on the militants who the authorities accused of attacking a military camp near the southern city of Loder last month.
Hadi also faces challenges from Shia rebels in the north and southern secessionists.
Hadi said his government would battle Al Qaeda and encourage “elements of the terror organisation to give up their weapons and their ideas that are in contradiction to Islam”.
The president also vowed to unify the army.
“I reiterate here that, by virtue of my authority and backed by the popular legitimacy of the constitution and laws, I will not allow the split in the armed forces to continue,” Hadi said in a speech at a military academy graduation ceremony.
Hadi, tasked under the transition plan to unify the armed forces, has removed about 20 top commanders, including some of Saleh’s relatives.
Officials said on Thursday that a nephew of Saleh had resigned from his post as commander of an elite military unit. His departure was seen as a success for Hadi’s efforts to restructure the army.
Hadi’s assertiveness has caught Saleh and many in his camp by surprise.
According to one top diplomat in the country, few among Yemen’s political and military elite believed the new leader was strong enough to take over the reins.
“They all thought they could influence him and get what they want,” said the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. “But he doesn’t want to be swallowed by any one side. He has started asserting himself.”
The battle to restructure Yemen’s military, however, a condition stipulated in the Gulf-sponsored and UN-backed transition plan that forced Saleh out of power in February after 33 years, is not over.
On the hilltops surrounding Sanaa, elite Republican Guard troops, commanded by Saleh’s son Ahmed, stand watch.
They are one of the best-trained and well-equipped units in the military, and for the time being, they literally have the high ground.
So far there is no talk of replacing Ahmed and there are still at least two other nephews of Saleh who hold key posts in the military: one heads Yemen’s counter-terrorism unit, while the other heads the national security forces.
But Saleh’s control over the military extends far beyond that, with dozens more of his clan members placed throughout the country’s security forces, and they are not likely to go quietly, stoking tensions in an already tense capital.
“There are some that want to put obstacles in front of the transition,” General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar said at his headquarters in Sanaa.
One of Yemen’s most powerful generals, Ahmar defected from Saleh’s regime during last year’s Arab Spring uprising and joined the protesters in calling for his ouster.
His forces, the First Armoured Brigade, battled the ex-president’s loyalists for months in fierce urban clashes that, together with a brutal government crackdown, left hundreds dead and thousands more wounded.
Ahmar suggested that Saleh, who was given immunity for agreeing to step down and continues to live in Sanaa, should leave the country and not “meddle” in the affairs of the new government.
If Saleh “loves Yemen and its people” as he has repeatedly claimed, then “he must let his actions reflect his words”, he said.
“The security and stability of Yemen requires that the president’s orders are followed without delay.”
Hamid al-Ahmar, one of Yemen’s most prominent politicians and businessmen, was more critical of the former regime.
“There is only one explanation,” Hamid said in his Sanaa home. “They believe they own the army and Yemeni state, that it is theirs and they are just leaving on a temporary basis and coming back.”
Hamid’s brother, Shaikh Sadeq, is the chief of Sanaa’s most powerful tribe and has an army of his own. His troops patrol neighbourhoods considered to be his territory, just like General Ahmar’s troops patrol their own.
The capital city is visibly divided into fiefdoms, and reining them all is one of the biggest challenges Hadi faces.
“I think he wants to do it,” said Brookings Institution Middle East analyst Bruce Riedel. “But on the question whether he is strong enough, it is unknown right now, (though) it appears unlikely.”
Riedel argues that Hadi lacks the necessary power base as a president from the former South Yemen, whose residents continue to call for autonomy or independence from Sanaa.
“He was chosen because everyone assumed he was too weak to do it... because he didn’t threaten anybody. And now he’s supposed to threaten everyone,” he said.
A Saleh loyalist and top official from the ex-president’s once ruling General People’s Congress, Sultan Barakani, argues that restructuring Yemen’s “non-existent” military is not about “removing individuals but rather about rebuilding an institution”.
That does not necessarily mean “getting rid of Ahmed, or Tareq, or Yahya”, he said, referring to Saleh’s son and nephews.
“This is a very superficial interpretation of what it means to restructure the military.”
Indeed, the problem is much bigger than that. In the diplomat’s words, in Yemen there are “parallel armies, each with their own leader.”