Friday 20 Jul 2018 | 09:10 | SYDNEY
Friday 20 Jul 2018 | 09:10 | SYDNEY

Yemen hits al-Qa'ida, but how hard?


Rodger Shanahan


21 January 2010 12:46

The unsuccessful bombing plot against an American airliner at Christmas, a plot which had its origins in Yemen, did what my posts on The Interpreter and my Lowy paper (co-authored with a real Yemen expert, Sarah Phillips from Sydney Uni) could not do — focus the media's attention on Yemen. 

It also appears to have focused the mind of the Yemeni Government (which has multiple security issues to worry about), and it has had significant success against al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), if its own statements can be believed. The problem is that not many of them can be verified, let alone believed, so it's pretty difficult to judge fact from fiction.  

Yemeni Government sources claimed a 17 December air strike killed 34 militants in Abyan province, while locals claimed that many civilians were victims of the raid, and that alleged AQAP members conducted a rally at the site the next day. On 24 December another air raid reportedly claimed the lives of AQAP's emir, Nassir al-Wahayshi, along with the Yemeni/American cleric Anwar al-Awlaqi, though this has been challenged in other media reports.  

Last week the Yemeni Government claimed what would have been its biggest success yet — the killing of AQAP's operational commander, Qasim al-Raymi, and five other senior AQAP members. But AQAP has denied the reports and says these members are alive and well (or not so well, as some were wounded).

Regardless of how accurate the claims of success are, what is apparent from all this kinetic activity (as the Americans like to say) is that the Yemeni Government is seeking to attack AQAP's leadership in a manner it has never tried previously.

However, the fact that it has to rely purely on air strikes to engage AQAP and has been unable to 'ground truth' its claims also illustrates how little control Government forces have in the areas in which it is engaging AQAP. And while the Yemeni Government continues to rely on airstrikes in isolated locations over which it has minimal control, we should expect more unverifiable claims.

Photo by Flickr user CharlesFred, used under a Creative Commons license.