Saudi-led coalition targets al-Qaeda in Yemen

Friday 18/03/2016
Yemen is facing major humani­tarian catastrophe

LONDON - Yemeni government forc­es have clashed with suspected al-Qaeda mili­tants in the port city of Aden, the first time since the start of the one-year war the internationally recognised Yemeni government, backed by a Saudi-led coalition, has targeted the global terrorist network.
Apache helicopters from the Saudi-led coalition targeted ar­moured vehicles and a government compound under the control of the jihadists in Al-Mansoura district in north Aden on March 12th-13th, witnesses said. Medical officials said 17 suspected militants and one civilian were killed, and 23 civil­ians and militants were wounded.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Pen­insula (AQAP) has been active in Yemen since 2009, when a severe crackdown on al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia led to a merger between both the Saudi and Yemeni branch­es of the group.
Analysts said the targeting of the terrorist group by the Saudi-led coalition was long overdue.
“You had al-Qaeda’s growth ba­sically continuing unchecked in Yemen,” said Adam Baron, an ex­pert on Yemen and a visiting fellow at the European Council on For­eign Relations.
“There has been a mistake from some quarters labelling this a local issue, but in reality this represents a tremendous threat to the rest of the peninsula and for that matter to the West as well; so in a lot of ways I’m surprised it’s taking this long for the collation to act,” Baron said.
Fighters within the Yemen’s Southern resistance, many of whom were leading militias fight­ing Houthi rebels, have long com­plained about the lack of support in the fight against al-Qaeda.
“In every conversation I’ve had with them, they ask why aren’t they helping us against al-Qaeda, why aren’t we getting more help fighting al-Qaeda, but better late than never,” Baron added.
He said it was likely the Saudi-led coalition and the United States would collaborate in the fight against al-Qaeda in Yemen.
“US drone strikes against al-Qae­da never stopped and have con­tinued despite the Saudi-led fight against the Houthis. When you have two separate air forces, shar­ing the same sky over the same country that means cooperation is inevitable, so I would imagine there would be a bit of coopera­tion between the coalition and the United States on this issue,” Baron said.
In a related development, two Emirati fighter pilots were killed when their jet crashed on a mission targeting the Iran-allied Houthi rebels. The two pilots died when their Mirage jet crashed due to what it described as technical fail­ure, the official Saudi Press Agency said without elaborating further.
Local Yemeni officials said the plane was flying low when it crashed into a mountain after a bombing raid in north-western Aden where Islamist militants are based.
The Emirati jet is the third coa­lition plane to go down since the start of operations last March. A Bahraini F-16 jet crashed in Saudi Arabia in December of last year, while a Moroccan piloted plane did so in Yemen in May. Both accidents were also blamed on “technical er­rors”.
The war in Yemen began in March 2015 when an Arab coali­tion led by Saudi Arabia began air strikes against the Houthis to re­store the UN-recognised Yemeni government to power.
More than 6,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed and the country is facing a major humani­tarian catastrophe.
Last week, in what appeared to be a small diplomatic break­through, Saudi Arabia conducted a prisoner exchange with Houthi rebels after a Houthi delegation travelled to the kingdom to discuss a de-escalation of fighting along the Saudi-Yemeni border. Seven Houthi fighters were released in exchange for Saudi Corporal Jaber al-Kaabi.