Conflict & Justice

South Yemen: The new frontline in the fight against Al Qaeda?


An armed tribesman in Yemen's second-largest city Taiz. Since August, some 1,000 tribesman loyal to the Sanaa government have been fighting against militants from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsular, which US officials deem to be the most serious Al Qaeda threat to US security. (MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)



Little noticed amid the historic scenes unfolding in Libya and Syria and dwarfed by the political crisis playing out in the capital Sanaa, the conflict against Al Qaeda in south Yemen has worsened significantly over the past few days in what is a serious national security issue for US counter terrorism officials. 

"Every time we kill 100 of them, another new batch of 100 arrive to the fight,” Abu Abdullah, a tribal fighter in Dofas in the southern province of Abyan told Global Post.

“We do not know who is supporting the militants. They gathered from all over Yemen and do not get support from the tribes in Abyan. Only about 20 percent of the militants we’ve killed were known to be from Abyan, while others were from outside the province."

Since early August at least 1,000 tribesman loyal to what’s left of the government in Sanaa have been fighting an armed campaign to kill or capture suspected members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsular (AQAP), judged by US counter terrorism officials to be the most serious Al Qaeda threat to US security.

Over recent years America has provided hundreds of millions of dollars to bolster Yemen’s security forces in their fight against AQAP. Two suspected Al Qaeda suicide bombers killed 11 of the government’s tribal fighters in two separate attacks in Abyan on Sunday morning.

In the first attack, in Modiyah district, one of the bombers detonated his explosives at a tribal checkpoint, while officials said the other attacker blew himself up in the middle of a tribal gathering.

The attacks came just a few days after nearby Sharqa fell into the control of Al Qaeda militants who over-ran government troops in a night raid. Eyewitness reports in the local press said that the militants were able to take the town in only around one hour with some 40 to 50 fighters.

Sharqa became the third city in south Yemen to come under the control of AQAP since Zinjibar, the provincial capital of Abyan, fell under the militants’ control in late May and Azzan, a city in neighbouring Shabwah province, came under their control the following month.

Responding to the attacks, Yemeni military and medical officials said early Wednesday Yemeni forces killed at least 30 militants near Zinjibar and that seven soldiers were also killed during clashes in the area.

According to the Long War Journal, AQAP is now fighting under the banner of 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.