'Golden Swords' in Yemen
Al-Qaeda fighters in south Yemen are being targeted by Operation Golden Swords carried out by the country's army, writes Nasser Arrabyee in Sanaa
Al-Qaeda fighters in Yemen were pushed out of at least two southern towns in the country this week after months of fierce battles with the Yemeni military. Al-Qaeda went on to recognise the defeats, claiming that it had only "withdrawn" from the towns in order to prevent further bloodshed.
A few hours after the Yemeni army recaptured the two towns on Tuesday, the UN Security Council unanimously voted to back newly elected Yemeni President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, who has vowed to crush Al-Qaeda in his home province of Abyan and elsewhere in the conflict-torn country.
Although some commentators are now warning of the possibility of a guerrilla conflict in the wake of the government victories marked by suicide bombings and other tactics, the US-backed army declared victory and vowed to hunt down Al-Qaeda fighters in the rest of the country.
The country's army, acting in cooperation with local tribesmen, says that it is now initiating "Operation Golden Swords" against remnants of Al-Qaeda fighters in the southern provinces of Abyan and Shabwah.
The former strongholds of Al-Qaeda in the southern province of Abyan, including Jaar, Zinjubar and Shuqrah, are almost all now under the control of the Yemeni army or of pro-government tribesmen.
In Zinjubar and Jaar, the popular committees, made up of armed tribesmen fighting with government troops, are now maintaining security and safeguarding property from looting, with the army in turn protecting them from any possible retaliation from Al-Qaeda, according to residents of the towns late on Tuesday.
The governor of Abyan, Jamal Al-Akel, said on Tuesday after the army and tribesmen had taken control of Jaar and Zinjubar, that some 300 fighters including top leaders had escaped, but that these were being chased in an operation called "Battle of the Golden Swords."
The Al-Qaeda remnants are expected to move to Azzan in the eastern coastal province of Shabwah, where they will try to reorganise themselves.
One Al-Qaeda source said on Tuesday that "if the Yemeni government and America think they have defeated Al-Qaeda, they are wrong."
Should president Hadi not implement the advice of the religious scholars who had told him to stop the military campaign in Abyan and to start dialogue instead, then Al-Qaeda "would only get stronger and stronger", the source said, himself one of the scholars.
A group of religious scholars under the leadership of cleric Abdel-Majid Al-Zandani, accused by the US and the UN of supporting terrorism, had asked Hadi at a meeting late last month to start a dialogue with the Al-Qaeda mujahideen, as they refer to them.
Meanwhile, residents of Jaar rejoiced over the defeat of Al-Qaeda in their town on Tuesday after the army and tribesmen had forced the fighters to flee. In what had apparently been aimed as an exercise in public relations, according to some residents of the town, the Al-Qaeda fighters had asked for pardon before they were forced to leave Jaar, in which they had lived for one-and-a-half years, even changing its name to "Wakar Emarite".
The residents found papers signed by Al-Qaeda addressing the residents of Jaar who had been forced to leave their houses more than one year ago.
In the papers, the Al-Qaeda representatives wrote, "this is your town, preserve it and protect it, and please forgive us for not helping you. Forgive us for taking you away from your houses, as we were applying the Sharia of Allah."
Jaar was declared a Taliban-style Islamic emirate in April 2011, followed by Zinjubar in May 2012. Last Tuesday, Zinjubar, surrounded by army and tribesmen in all directions for two months, passed under the control of the army.
Brigade 119 stormed Zinjubar after remnants of Al-Qaeda escaped by boat in the Gulf of Aden, according to military and local sources.
De-mining efforts started immediately in Jaar and Zinjubar, in order to secure the return of about 180,000 people who had been displaced last year, fleeing the fighting to take refuge in Aden and Lahj.
According to military statements, the Yemeni navy sank 10 boats carrying Al-Qaeda operatives trying to escape by sea to strongholds in Abyan and also to Azzan in Shabwah.
The second brigade of republican guards and tribesmen took control of Al-Orkub to the north of the coastal town of Shuqrah on the Gulf of Aden, besieging it from all directions, including from Ahwar in the east and Zinjubar in the west.
Although Al-Qaeda fighters remained in Shuqrah, they were expected to leave during Tuesday night.
Brigade 123 on the eastern coast had also clashed with Al-Qaeda operatives fleeing from Shuqra, Jaar and Zinjubar to Azzan in Shabwah, Yemeni military sources said.