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Yemen trapped between two wars for different ends

While the first war helped fuel the second, analysts say, each war has a different goal and technique.

  • Protests
    Yemeni protesters in the southern city of Al Houta on Thursday raise slogansdenouncing government air strikeImage Credit: EPA
  • Protests
    Image Credit:AP
Gulf News

Dubai: Even as the nearly five-month-old war against rebels in the north continues, the Yemeni government is up against another complicated warfront in the south — of fighting Al Qaida.

Sana'a seems trapped between the hammer of "well-trained and popular" movement of Al Houthis near the Saudi border, and the anvil of an "organised and more sophisticated" terrorist group in the south, amid calls for separation.

While the first war helped fuel the second, analysts say, each war has a different goal and technique.

"Al Qaida has no [future] programme, while Al Houthis are mysterious and closed," Yemeni political expert Fares Saqqaf said.

"Al Qaida has no popular base, no political horizon and no alternative [to the existing regime]. They consider the state [Yemen] an enemy because of its alliance with the US," Saqqaf added.

At the same time, "Al Houthis are newly formed, as their first confrontation with the state was in 2004. They are close to people, and are followers of a certain Shiite sect [in the Sunni-ruled country] …. They haven't announced their final targets," Saqqaf, head of a research centre in San'a, told Gulf News.

Al Houthis, he continued, "proved they are organised, trained and have the experience. They are fighting two countries at the same time," Saqqaf said in reference to Saudi Arabia and Yemen involved in fighting Al Houthis.

Possible complication

Experts have warned that the area's terrain is among the reasons behind the possible complication in the fighting. The rebels are waging unconventional warfare in a mountainous region against well-equipped forces but not trained for such warfare.

As for Al Qaida, the second and third generations are weaker and less connected with each other, unlike the first generation led by the group's leader Osama Bin Laden, analysts explain.

"Al Qaida was never a mass movement, and we shouldn't think of it that way," prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashougji said.

"Al Qaida is an organised terrorist group, similar to the extreme leftist groups in Europe during the eighties, including the German Baader-Meinhof Gang.

"It [Al Qaida] exists in Yemen not because it is seen as more attractive [there] and less attractive in Saudi Arabia. The reason is security. If you turn a blind eye on it, it will grow," he said.

"While Al Houthis rely on their popular support in their fighting, "Al Qaida's existence is driven by the serious commitment [of its members] that involves not only going underground, but involves also changing their mindset," said Khashougji, Editor-in-Chief of the Saudi newspaper Al Watan.

Because Al Qaida is not a big group in terms of numbers, it "needs to be more sophisticated to become more effective," he said.

While Al Qaida tries to take advantage of weak security points to strike strategic targets, "Al Houthis seek to be the alternative for the existing regime in Yemen," Khashougji said.

Yemen's engagement in two different wars that could affect the entire region necessitated the attention and assistance of neighbouring countries and Washington, which has spearheaded the war on terrorism since the 9/11 attacks, officials and political experts said.

Bilateral coordination

Yemeni information minister Hassan Lawzi confirmed in an interview with Gulf News the existence of "complete bilateral coordination" between Saudi Arabia and his country. He also confirmed "the comprehensive and close" Yemeni cooperation with the US in fighting terrorism.

According to press reports, the Pentagon has poured in nearly $70 million (Dh257 million) in military aid to Yemen this year, compared to nothing in 2008. Washington also provided intelligence and military assistance to the Yemeni forces to launch the December 17 air strike against Al Qaida bases.

Saudi intelligence is also providing Yemen with information in both wars, as "these are all issues threatening Saudi national security", Khashougji said.

"I can say that Yemen, intentionally or unintentionally has succeeded in attracting attention," Saqqaf said.

"It succeeded in reaching security and economic agreements with other Gulf states, because these groups [Al Houthis and Al Qaida] grow in difficult economic conditions."

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