On March 28, Yemen launched a major security operation to regain control of Ja’ar in the governorate of Abyan. Yemeni authorities announced Monday that 45 of 56 wanted militants have been arrested during the operation.
Commanded by Defense Minister Mohammed Nasser Ahmed, hundreds of Central Security police were supported by troops from the 312th Military Brigade. Security forces deployed helicopters, tanks, and armored personnel carriers. Several police were injured in the clashes that have locked down the city for a week under heavy fighting. The militants are well armed, some with experience in Iraq, and use coordinated defensive tactics, including snipers.
The fighting in Ja’ar is ongoing. A large explosion, followed by prolonged gunfire, was heard in Khanfar on Monday.
The operation is targeting militants outside the scope of the Yemeni government’s truce agreements signed with the jihadists in January. In recent months, fundamentalists have attacked government facilities and summarily executed citizens, including suspected homosexuals, “wine drinkers,” and a woman. Homes have been leafleted with warnings against “immoral behavior” . (See LWJ report, A city falls to jihadists).
Four terrorists are reported to have been killed, including jihadist commander Mohammed Hussain al Atif. More than 300 terrorists are estimated to be in Ja’ar. Authorities said Monday that they had captured “Haliman,” one of the militants who stormed a police station in Khafar, Abyan, last month. It is unclear if jihadists Alaa al Hulba and bin al Sha’ir were among the arrested.
Abyan is home to numerous groups of jihadists with cross-cutting affiliation by tribe, ideology, and relation to the state and external terror organizations. Tribes in the region include the Fadhli and the upper and lower Yafae tribes. The current campaign is directed at a Jama’at al Jihad (the Jihad Group) splinter group that had targeted government installations. As a result of the campaign, government facilities closed by militants have begun to re-open.
The siege of Ja’ar followed a January meeting between Yemen’s President and several jihadist factions that culminated in the release of 108 prisoners (See LWJ report, Yemen strikes multi-faceted deals with al Qaeda).
Some militants are fighting on the side of the state. The weekly Al Tajamo noted, “Those who pretended to give up on the work of jihad and acts of violence during the recent years were seen carrying weapons and fighting alongside government forces… (including) Mujahideen affiliated to the security and military leadership in Sana’a, including those who had received the money and jobs paid in February and early March in the wake of the meeting of the President of the Republic Ali Abdullah Saleh.”
Hassaan Dayyan, representative of the Jama’at Al Jihad, said the group met with Defense Minister Ahmed before the assault began and provided information on wanted members. Nadir Al Shaddadi said Jama’at al Jihad planned another meeting with the defense minister and the governor of Abyan to “reaffirm our commitment to the agreement with the State” and discuss the state’s obligations to the group. Members of Jama’at al Jihad were among the militants released from prison in January and promised payments.
Ja’ar offensive may be part of wider campaign in the south
The military buildup has extended to Hadramout and included stationing two additional Central Security brigades in Sayoun. Dozens of tanks were shipped by sea to Mukallah’s Khalf Harbour.
The assault comes in the midst of increasing tensions in South Yemen. Civil unrest has wracked the southern governorates since 2007 (See LWJ report, Security forces blanket Aden). Dozens of protesters have been killed by security forces and over a thousand protesters arrested.
The southern opposition is factionalized in structure but unified in its viewpoint and goals. The southern opposition defines the unified Yemeni state as illegitimate as well as illegal under international law. Southerners reference the non-implementation of UN Security Council Resolutions 924 and 931 that governed the end of the civil war.
Widespread popular grievances center on institutionalized regional discrimination in the years that followed the 1994 civil war. Many southerners consider themselves “occupied” by northern forces and see the wealth of the south as “looted” by Saleh’s regime. The goal of the southern opposition is a shift in the unipolar balance of power within the state. The remedies advocated by various opposition leaders range from confederation to independence. The concept of an internationally supervised referendum on the issue of unity or independence has broad support.
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