Written By: Shuaib M. Al Mosawa
Article Date: Jan 30, 2013 - 2:15:36 AM
The recent military offensive against al-Qaeda militants southeast capital Sana’a was an American motivated campaign aimed at prolonging the U.S. drone campaign against suspected al-Qaeda militants, according to local leaders.
A government military campaign to force out an al-Qaeda group in al-Baitha’a province, some 150 km southeast of the capital Sana’a, breached an agreement and resulted in the death of dozens of officers killed since the offensive was launched two days ago.
The fighting is ongoing in Rada’a district, where militants led by al-Thahab family took its main town in January of 2012 before they retreated to a nearby area called Qaifa after a mediation agreement was struck.
Tareq al-Thahab, a brother-in-law to the US-born Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaqi who was killed by a U.S. drone strike in 2011, seized Rada’a and declared it an Islamic caliphate in January 2012 before he was killed in a family dispute. Qaed, Tareq’s brother, took leadership and retreated with militants to the nearby area Qaifa as agreed upon in a tribal mediation.
Ahmed Abdulwali al-Dhahab, a tribal sheikh yet known to be opposed to the militants, said he, along with senior leaders, proposed to the defense minister a month ago a solution to ending the militancy in their town.
“The basic solution was that the militants who came from other areas were to go out,” said Ahmed.
He said that Qaed al-Thahab then pledged to cease any attack originating from Rada’a and forcing foreign militants out in return for stopping the drone campaign and lifting ban on al-Thahab family’s movement within Rada’a.
“The defense minister, however, did not consider that and have now opted for the military solution that we already warned of.”
The U.S. has escalated its drone campaign targeting suspected militants with President Abdu Rabu Mansoor Hadi’s approval. Hadi praised the drone campaign last year as “having a zero margin of error.”
Ahmed said that the defense minister replied through his secretary with “complete ignorance”.
“The Americans pressed him [not to accept] and pushed for the military campaign aimed to prolonging the drone campaign,” said Ahmed.
He also stated the senior leaders’ proposal came after many civilians were killed in drone strikes, provoking local frustration and anger.
“The government did a stupid thing by opting for the military operation and are now reaping its fruits,” said Ahmed.
Ali al-Tairi, another local sheikh involved in the mediation efforts between government and militants, affirmed in an earlier interview that the agreement Ali discussed was still effective during the last two days.
“Oh my son, we were in agreement and it was still active [until last Tuesday at midnight] when government troops advanced towards al-Tha’alib [a mountain overlooking the militants’ stronghold of Qaifa],” said sheikh al-Tairi.
“Abdulelah Al Thahab [brother to the militant leader, Qaed] called me Tuesday at midnight to say that four of his men were seriously injured and some were killed [by government troops],” said al-Tairi.
“I appeal to you to hospitalize them urgently,” said al-Tairi, quoting Abdulelah. He said that he would seek a return to mediation.
A local living nearby a Republican Guard Brigade based in al-Tha’alib said a sudden fighting broke out Tuesday at midnight probably between the government troops and the militants.
“I can hear the missiles now being fired from the brigade,” said the local.
“May god protect me and help whomever is on the right path, whether it’s the government or al-Qaeda,” he added.
The government retraction from addressing the problem through mediation efforts coupled with randomly shelling villages has provoked the tribes, said Ahmed. Their force have attacked villages where the militants are believed to be hiding.
“Even those who used to be against al-Qaeda now fell sympathy for them,” said Ahmed al-Thahab. “As tribes have seen their government giving the US complete reign to kill the people, they are now moved by tribalism,” said Ahmed.
Whenever we seek a solution, said Ahmed, we are surprised by drones harvesting the lives of civilians.
About 250 civilians are estimated to have been killed by US drone strikes, according to Ahmed. The last strike, he said, claimed the lives of 17 civilians at a wedding ceremony about two months ago.
“The government ignored even [a proposal] to address the problem of innocent civilians [killed by drones] through compensation,” said Ahmed.
Different local media outlets reported that the reason the government launched the offensive was to free three foreigners—two Finnish nationals and an Austrian—who were abducted last December 21, 2012 from the capital Sana’a.
The tribal leaders in Rada’a said the abducted foreigners were not there and that the military campaign was aimed to force out al-Qaeda.
Negotiations have been going back and forth and yet the government refused, they said.
Ahmed said that the government suddenly started attacking al-Tha’alib, a mountainous area overlooking al-Salal and Khibza areas, the strongholds of al-Qaeda linked al-Thahab and Gar’oon families, respectively.
Seven soldiers were held captive when the militants overran al-Tha’alib Brigade on Tuesday.
“They took all weapons, 12 and 23 caliber guns along with three pick-up trucks loaded with weapons,” said a security source in Sana’a who stated that the government is suffering great losses.
About 60 soldiers were killed and 30 were injured since the military started the attack, said Ahmed.
The air force killed Tuesday morning over five militants who were inside a medical center in al-Manasih, another stronghold of the militants. It attacked another building believed to be harboring militants but killed only one.
A large number of militants have arrived to Rada’a during the past few days, said the locals. Those coming from Abyan entered Qaifah though al=Awad Road and those from Marib entered through al-Qaradea’h Road, said Ahmed.
“They came in the hundreds. All areas surrounding the military campaign are full of militants.
The fighting is now concentrated in the valley of al-Tha’alaib.
“I expect al-Qaeda backed the local tribesmen to take over the remaining military sites there,” said Ahmed.
The ongoing fighting has driven locals out of their homes. IDPs, locals estimated to be around 750 children, women and elderly, fled from four affected villages into neighboring areas in Rada’a.
A spokesperson at UNHCR said there is no information as of yet regarding the number of the IDPs.
“The UNHCR is looking into the matter with concern and want to have more information about the caseload of the displaced families in Rada'a,” said Zaid al-Alaya, Senior Public Information Assistant at UNHCR Yemen.
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