Coalition dismisses report of secret deals with al-Qaeda in Yemen
LONDON - The anti-Houthi coalition dismissed a report claiming that it cut secret deals with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the deadliest branch of the terror group behind the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States.
An investigative report by the Associated Press claimed many of the victories in recent years against AQAP claimed by a Saudi-led coalition have been a result of backdoor deals with the terror group, in effect paying its fighters to leave key cities and towns.
Coalition spokesman Colonel Turki Malki said the allegations were “unfounded” and there were “no tangible evidence or convincing facts” to back them up.
“The writer should have followed the professional ethics of journalism and fact-checked such information before publication,” Malki said in a statement, adding that the AP writer did not contact the coalition for clarification.
Malki said the coalition was not only fighting the Houthis and AQAP but also the Islamic State (ISIS).
The AP report claimed the US government was aware of the arrangements and quoted a US-based academic calling successful anti-terror operations by the United Arab Emirates a “farce.”
The US Defence Department denied any complicity with regards to AQAP. “Since the beginning of 2017, we have conducted more than 140 strikes to remove key AQAP leaders and disrupt its ability to use ungoverned spaces to recruit, train and plan operations against the US and our partners across the region,” Pentagon spokesman US Navy Commander Sean Robertson said.
A Defence Department report in 2015 stated: “AQAP expanded its safe haven by seizing several towns, including the port city of Mukalla, which has given it access to increased financial resources.” The report added that, despite losing a number of senior leaders, AQAP increased its recruiting and expanded its safe areas in Yemen.
The port of Mukalla at one point generated as much as $5 million in revenue a day for AQAP, mainly from customs duties and smuggled fuel. In April 2016, Yemeni troops loyal to the internationally recognised government, coupled with UAE and Saudi air strikes, captured the city of Mukalla from AQAP and seized the city’s large seaport and airport.
Saudi-led operations in recent years have resulted in the killing or capture of many AQAP members and leaders. In 2017 the United States conducted 75 air strikes against the terror group, killing hundreds of militants.
UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said in a tweet that the counterterrorism strategy was working in Yemen and that AQAP was at its weakest since 2012. He said the group no longer had safe havens, access to funding or the ability to recruit from the local population.
“Local Yemeni forces [are] now leading [on the] effort with support from [the] UAE, [the] US and others, who have all lost troops in the fight,” Gargash wrote, emphasising the human sacrifice tied to the operations.
The Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda has been linked to many high-profile international terrorist operations, including the November 2009 Fort Hood, Texas, shooting and the January 2015 attack on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris.