AL-MUKALLA: At least nine people were killed on Monday in clashes between Yemeni security forces and local tribesmen suspected of sheltering Al-Qaeda members in Yemen’s southern province of Abyan, residents and local officials said.
Clashes erupted in Abyan’s Moudea as Security Belt soldiers encircled a village and demanded that local tribesmen give up at least 15 suspected Al-Qaeda militants who had prepared a fatal ambush on pro-independence forces on a nearby road.
The tribesmen denied sheltering the terrorists and launched an attack, which resulted in the killing of five tribesmen and four soldiers.
Mohammed Qassem Atwah, commander of the Abyan military axis, told Arab News on Tuesday that hours before the tragic battles with the tribesmen, one of his soldiers was killed and another was wounded when their vehicle triggered a roadside bomb planted by militants in the Omaran valley of Abyan.
At least 15 militants opened fire on military vehicles transporting the dead and wounded, killing three security officers and injuring seven. The attackers then fled to the neighboring village of Al-Bagera.
“They took refuge inside the village after assaulting our men. We pleaded with the tribesmen to give them up and informed them that we had come to safeguard them,” Atwah said.
The tribesmen refused the request and retaliated with gunfire at the security personnel, accusing them of breaking into their homes and detaining residents.
Locals have complained about arbitrary arrests and raids by Security Belt personnel following attacks and roadside bomb detonations, despite their agreement over the expansion of Al-Qaeda in the area.
“The Omaran valley has been a safe haven for Al-Qaeda for a very long time. We would not let them regain a foothold,” Atwah said.
Five months ago, the pro-independence Southern Transitional Council launched a military offensive to drive Al-Qaeda militants from their hideouts and military facilities around Abyan’s expansive mountains and valleys, including Omaran.
Yemeni military members were met with lethal guerrilla tactics used by militants in Abyan’s highlands and valleys, including the placement of roadside bombs, landmines and IEDs, as well as hit-and-run operations that killed at least 70 people and injured more than 175.
Yemeni terrorism expert Saeed Obeid Al-Jemhi told Arab News that the militant group had been significantly weakened through operations by military and security forces, defections and dwindling financial resources.
He added that the militants’ planting of landmines and roadside bombs was evidence of Al-Qaeda’s “poor” military performance.
“The group’s military effectiveness on the ground has deteriorated, and its operations have evolved into lightning assaults by attacking a military post or laying roadside explosives — activities that do not even approach the level of guerilla warfare that the group employed in its early phases,” Al-Jemhi said, but adding that the decline does not indicate that Al-Qaeda will perish.
Yemeni analysts argue that the separatist forces combating Al- Qaeda in Abyan have exaggerated their military accomplishments against the terrorist organization while underestimating Al-Qaeda’s risks and its long-standing alliances with local tribes.
“Opponents of the group exaggerate in the media about obtaining sweeping and definitive triumphs over it, but the group is still active in some parts of those places and may score achievements, which may surprise the armed forces following it,” Al-Jemhi said.