Without any political developments to drag attention away from southern Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh’s information war continues to escalate in the local and international media.
In a report published overnight by the Yemeni Observer, a pro-regime outlet, editor-in-chief Mohammed al-Kibsi boosted casualties over the last three days to 80, up from 30-40. Stranger still, al-Kibsi cites a dated Monday interview with Ali Al Ansi as his source. The head of Yemen’s National Security Agency (NSA) has been tasked to first exaggerate the strength of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), then highlight the regime’s “progress” against terrorism.
"Those who were killed and injured were hundreds, but those who were killed and identified by name were 80," Al Ansi told Al Methaq weekly, a media publication of the ruling General People’s Party (GPC).
As previously noted casualties figures in the hundreds bely estimates of AQAP’s strength, ranging between 300 to 700. “Dozens of militants” have been killed every week since May, when a combination of Saleh’s duplicity and AQAP’s opportunism resulted in the group’s quasi-takeover of Abyan governorate. If AQAP truly recruited and trained so many fighters, the corrupt Saleh and his U.S./Saudi muscles are largely responsible for validating al-Qaeda’s ideology. Some Yemenis suspect the regime of inflating casualties figures to keep the West at bay. Others believe with certainty that Yemen’s strongman literally inflated the death-toll by hiring his own “jihadists” to counter local opposition groups and anti-government tribes. These proxies are interpreted as AQAP by the Western media.
Most suspiciously, Saleh’s U.S.-trained “counter-terrorism” units are nowhere to be found on the southern front.
“The Yemeni government is waging a military campaign to drive out Islamic fighters who overran several southern towns months ago,” writes The Washington Post, a “news source” generally inactive in Yemen. “The militant takeover took place as the government was trying to suppress a nationwide protest movement seeking the ouster of the longtime president.”
“Government forces have been trying to remove the Islamist militants, but have made only modest headway after weeks of fighting and airstrikes,” adds Voice of America (VOA), whose propaganda sounds the same as mainstream U.S. media.
To help explain rising casualty figures and the fact that lesser-armed militants overwhelmed Yemen’s regular army, the Yemeni Observer now warns that 400 al-Shabaab reinforcements recently arrived in Shaqra, 40 miles from Abyan’s regional capital of Zinjibar. These rumors have reversed the arms flow from AQAP to al-Shabaab, speculation propagated by U.S. officials and Hajji Ahmed, Somalia’s consul in Yemen. Washington would like to see them link together as much as the groups themselves, yet this story hasn’t received nearly the attention that it deserves if true, creating doubts over its veracity. While AQAP and al-Shabaab are in communication, material evidence of a troop/weapons pipeline remains elusive.
Yemeni tribesmen have reported Somalis among the dead, so it’s not impossible that al-Shabaab could ship a small cadre of fighters across the Gulf of Aden. However Saleh’s regime (or Riyadh) is equally capable of contracting Somalis and playing them on the wrong side. And after conceding that al-Shabaab militants could smuggle themselves in as refugees, Sadat Mohammed believed that a crossing is too dangerous to be feasible.
"I think it is very difficult for armed Somalis to make it to Yemen, as the anti-piracy western forces are almost everywhere in the sea,” said the deputy head of the Somali community in Yemen.
The Somali angle has been paired with reports that “fighters” from across Yemen - specifically Ma'rib, Al Jawaf, and Sana'a - are flocking to Abyan’s battlefield. If the regime isn’t shipping in its own proxies, Saleh’s lightning rod is providing a sustainable recruitment source for AQAP. Either course is designed to generate instability in the south, with the ultimate objective of erasing Yemen’s revolution. First, Yemeni officials must keep AQAP’s threat high in Washington, justifying the need for Saleh’s regime. Conversely, motion in the south distracts from mass protests in Yemen’s urban cores, where protesters have denounced the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) power-sharing initiative and demanded justice for Saleh’s crimes.
Authored by U.S. and Saudi officials during negotiations between Saleh and the unpopular Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), the GCC’s initiative would devolve a revolution into a “political crisis” and stifle a true democratic transition. The Obama administration and European Union continue to back this “plan” even though Saleh’s regime now speaks of “early elections” - and still refuses to end a bloody crackdown. Western inaction is a testament to how deeply they committed themselves to Saleh’s double-game.
While his remaining security forces lockdown the capital in anticipation of a Tripoli redux, the Republican Guard has maintained its barrage on the local tribe in Arhab district. Located outside of Sana’a near the airport and several military bases, Arhab has suffered a ferocious bombardment over the last month. Hundreds of tribesmen and local protesters have been shelled from the ground and air; the Guard then blocked ambulances from arriving and desecrated the dead, an offense that Yemenis wish to see referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Although the Pentagon and CIA trained the Republican Guard to fight in southern Yemen, the force has busied itself assaulting Arhab throughout the week. In a statement released by local tribal leaders, "We ask media outlets and human rights organizations to take photos of massacres committed against civilians, and explain for the international community the brutality of the Yemeni regime.”
Al Ansi offers the government’s explanation: al-Qaeda operatives have joined tribesmen in Arhab and Taiz, receiving support from defected general Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar along the way.
As with al-Shabaab’s reinforcements, it is not inconceivable that Ali Mohsen’s First Armored Division (FAD) would provide support for AQAP in Sana’a. More likely, the regime is slandering three birds with one stone in an attempt to incorporate AQAP into the popular revolution. Last week Saleh belittled the JMP for “robbing the youth revolution,” blaming Abdul Majeed al-Zindani for inciting them to attack military camps. al-Zindani, a figure linked to AQAP, the Islah party and Yemen’s Muslim Brotherhood, worked on Saleh’s side until defecting during the revolution. Thus his culprits trace back to himself.
In a blatant piece of propaganda, Al Ansi claims that security forces, "observed elements of Al Qaeda in the sit-in squares and inside the FAD, but the opposition made it difficult for us to arrest them."
Just another day in the lie of Ali Saleh.