Yemen begins southern offensive against AQAP


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Map of Shabwa and Abyan provinces. Map from BBC


Yemeni media reported yesterday that the country's military is preparing for a new offensive against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula on the heels of the three successful US drone strikes last week that killed over 60 militants from the terrorist organization. Yemeni Popular Committees, local armed resistance groups who played a large role alongside the military in pushing out al Qaeda and its local affiliate Ansar al Shariah from Abyan province in 2011, claimed yesterday that this new offensive comes in response to information they received suggesting an AQAP attempt to filter into Lawdar district in Abyan and seize control of it.

A southern commander, Mahmoud al Sabihi, reportedly arrived in Lawdar yesterday in order to lead the offensive against al Qaeda, which is to be supervised by the Yemeni Minister of Defense, Mohammad Nasser Ahmad. Al Sabihi's reception in Lawdar seemed to portend local support for the offensive, as he was greeted by leaders of the Popular Committees and the military commander of Yemeni forces in Abyan, Haydara Lahatal.

Sources within the Popular Committees said that forces from the 115th Infantry Brigade, the 2nd Mountain Patrol Infantry Brigade stationed in Belhaf, and from another brigade stationed in Ahwar would participate in the offensive. These forces had already positioned themselves in line with the military plan by midday, according to local sources.

Reports from later in the day claimed that the military has begun a forceful push towards the al Mahfad region, the location of the powerful April 20 strike. Local Yemeni news sources reported that a significant military force, including bulldozers, armored vehicles, military teams, and Defense Ministry and military soldiers seeks to return the lawless border region that has not been under Sana'a's control for over four years to the central government's jurisdiction. Shabwa and Abyan provinces, which surround the al Mahfad district, were largely under AQAP control from May 2011 till May 2012 when a Yemeni military offensive pushed AQAP militants underground. That offensive also spurred AQAP to move into the lawless border region in al Mahfad and establish a stronghold there as early as June 2012.

A security source told Yemeni news outlets that the offensive targeting al Mahfad is part of a massive government and military mobilization that would include spreading more than 1,500 soldiers across Shabwa and Abyan provinces.

There seem to be no signs of AQAP's retreat from the Abyan/Shabwa area following the three deadly drone strikes last week, the most prominent of which hit an AQAP training camp along the mountainous Abyan-Shabwa border. A tribal leader in Yemen's southern provinces told a Kuwaiti news source that following last week's strikes, more than 200 AQAP militants have resurfaced in the Shabwa-Abyan border region. AQAP militants were reported to have seized hospitals in Shabwa last week, particularly in Azzan, in order to treat those wounded in the barrage of strikes. Reports from those hospitals have confirmed that AQAP fighters brought their own doctors, some of whom were non-Arab, to the hospitals. Doctors from a hospital in Azzan reported that some of their patients spent a night side by side with wounded al Qaeda fighters.



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READER COMMENTS: "Yemen begins southern offensive against AQAP"

Posted by Abu Adam at April 28, 2014 2:01 PM ET:

This offensive will be unsuccessful as well. These kind of operations have been conducted before without any real success on the ground, except perhaps to frustrate AQAP. AQAP resurfaced after every operation as a larger organization (in terms of numbers) and more effective in its fight against government forces.

The government is seen in Yemen (and the rest of the muslim/Arab world) by the Yemeni society as a proxy to the US and its ally Saudi Arabia. This helps in the recruitment of fighters for AQAP. Each operation is viewed by a large portion Yemeni society as yet another attempt by the US and Saudi Arabia to protect its proxy in Sanaa. As such, many Yemenis, Saudis, and others flock to the aid of AQAP every time it is attacked.

The Yemeni government is not seen as serving the interests of it own people. It is seen as a puppet with no will of its own. Therefore, AQAP enjoys a very large support base which allows them to conduct successful operations against the government and its military apparatus, who are corrupt, militarily inferior and ineffective.

On the other hand, AQAP is viewed as a brave, disciplined, and effective fighting machine, which as far from being run by corrupt, fat cats, like those in leadership in government and the military.

The US, Saudi Arabia, the West and their proxies in Sanaa have absolutely no chance of winning this war, unless they decide to eliminate Yemen with a nuclear attack.

Posted by David at April 28, 2014 7:25 PM ET:

The taking over of hospitals just as the offensive is getting under way presents a tremendous opportunity to arrest a large number of wounded AQAP fighters. Even if AQAP evacuates them, their evacuation will be a very large scale operation, and will be visible from the air. The evacuation convoy can be bombed, or followed to its eventual hiding place and attacked.

Fingers crossed...

Posted by Brandon Scott at April 28, 2014 10:47 PM ET:

This is great. It is also indicative of a greater strategic global operations cleaning up some key areas (see Somalia offensives) meant to finally turn insurgencies back into terrorism. Yemen and Somalia are both seeing local/regional forces with US support making great gains and efforts again belligerent forces. Hopefully they will stay providing space for development.

Posted by Eric at April 30, 2014 10:55 AM ET:

Always a good thing when AQ tries to take and hold any territory. They invariably fail to manage the vulnerabilities that come hand in hand with ownership of state. They lose a lot of fighters, bankrupt their own financial resources, and get infiltrated.

The other side to this are the awful treatment of the populace, the poverty brought on them by economic predations of AQ, and the loss of every freedom and feeling of abandonment by their nation.

If you want to see AQ gone, there is no quicker way to bring it about than to have a place to come down on them. It would be good to see US air weapons teams in there, giving close air support and interdiction.

The reporting on the drone strikes may have understated the impact this operation has already had on AQ. Things they normally do well when they make a push for territory are just not happening, and they look to get slaughtered if the Yemenis go mobile and interdict on the roads.