Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has taken control of yet another town in southern Yemen. The town of Al Koud fell to the terror group on Monday after heavy fighting over the weekend.
“Al Koud town, also known as Koud, has fallen into the hand of fighters of the al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) as the Yemeni army forces have been continuously shelling the militants since Monday afternoon,” a Yemeni security official told Xinhua.
Al Koud, which is on the coast of the Gulf of Aden, is just several miles south of Zinjibar, the provincial capital of Abyan. Zinjibar is currently under AQAP control, and the terror group has battled government forces to a standstill since the city fell in late May. Three Yemeni Army brigades – one infantry, one mechanized, and one armored – are involved in the fighting in Zinjibar. Yesterday, Yemeni troops killed seven AQAP fighters, including an Iranian, a Pakistani, and two Somali nationals, during fighting in Zinjibar.
Al Koud (or Al Kawd as it is shown on the map above) is the latest population center to fall under AQAP control. The cities of Ja’ar, Shaqra, and Rawdah in Abyan are currently run by AQAP. The terror group also controls Azzan in Shabwa province.
Background on AQAP and Ansar al Sharia
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has been fighting under the banner of the Ansar al Sharia, or the Army of Islamic law. Ansar al Sharia constitutes “AQAP’s version of the Islamic State of Iraq,” which is al Qaeda’s political and military front in Iraq, a senior US intelligence official told The Long War Journal. “Ansar al Sharia is pulling in allied Islamist groups and sympathetic tribes into its orbit, and seeks to implement an Islamic State much like the Taliban did in Afghanistan and al Qaeda attempted in Iraq,” he said.
In an official statement released by Ansar al Sharia in May 2011, the group said it wishes to take control of “all administrative, political, economic, cultural, monitoring, and other responsibilities” in Yemen.
AQAP is seeking to build an army to back up its Islamic state. In 2010, Qasim al Raymi, the military commander for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and Mohammed Said al Umdah Gharib al T’aizzi, a senior AQAP military commander in southern Yemen, both claimed that the terror group had raised a 12,000-fighter-strong army in the southern Yemeni provinces. Yemeni officials recently told Al Hayah that “al Qaeda fighters in Zinjibar (the capital of Abyan) number in the hundreds, and perhaps exceed 2,000 gunmen.”
The terror group continues to use al Qaeda’s tactic of suicide bombings. In August, Ansar al Sharia released a videotape of a suicide bomber attacking a Yemeni armored column as it traveled from Aden to Zinjibar.
AQAP has taken advantage of the political turmoil in Yemen to seize control of vast areas of the Yemeni south. Since the onset of large anti-government protests in March, AQAP has openly taken control of areas in Abyan, Shabwah, Hadramawt, Marib, and Lahj provinces. Government forces have withdrawn from several major cities in the south, leaving an opening for al Qaeda and allied Islamist groups to seize control of several areas. Yemenis have described the southern port city of Aden as ripe for an AQAP takeover.
The US is taking advantage of the security vacuum in Yemen to step up attacks against AQAP’s top leaders and its network. The US has killed two American AQAP propagandists, Anwar al Awlaki and Samir Khan, in a Predator airstrike in September, and has targeted AQAP emir Nasir al Wuhayshi and media emir Ibrahim al Bana. Wuhayshi and al Bana are believed to have survived the strikes.
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Its amazing that these militants in abyan have been able to go toe to toe with an armoured brigade and still hold their own, thats something that the islamic insurgencies in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia have been unable to do. Either the Yemeni armoured units in Zinjibar are poorly equipped or the militants have pilfered large amounts of advanced weaponry. A very worrysome situation indeed.
As interesting as the ability of the AQAP fighters (both indigenous and 3rd country) to stand toe-to-toe to the Yemeni defense forces (of limited capacity, espirit de corps, nationalism and resources) is the lack of reporting on the stance of the tribes’ to the incursion of AQ ideology in their regions (Ma’rib, Lahj, Hadramawt). A reporter with access to national policy makers should ask what the US’s stance is on the tribes. Yes, each tribe and sub-tribe has its own interests and equities, but they are not of the nature to subserviate to outsiders. Beyond mutual benefits currently enjoyed, I suspect the tribes see the danger to their own people and future increase in influence and access by aligning with radicals like AQAP. Potentially the camp with the greatest influence on this topic on Capital Hill are also oversold on the narrow approach to the problem set being articulate by the two organizations leading the WOT in the region. Is there another approach that involves different points of access into the country and the tribes?
Well before 1967 the entirety of south yemen was divided into various petty kingdoms and states, many along tribal lines. These various local rulers were ousted by the socialist National Liberation Front. If the country is doomed to fragmentation then it might be a good idea to reach out to these old royal houses to try to forment some order in the region. It would be better to have a dozen minor orderly states than one or two teetering on the brink of anarchy. For example, the area of the former Mahra Sultanate has very little aqap activity and seems to be generally well ordered. If Yemen breaks into anarchy with no central government it might be advantegous to have the former Mahra polity reinstated in some fashion so as to ensure the area stays orderly in the same manner as Somaliland has during the Somali Civil War.