Yemen would-be model Aden Plagued by bombs, instability
It has become a sign of Yemen’s woes
On a rocky hill overlooking the Arabian Sea in the city of Aden sits the palace of Yemen’s internationally recognized president. It’s one of the few safe places in the country for him and his government, protected by troops at the gates, artillery and truck-mounted machine guns in the surrounding mountains and ships at sea.
The rest of the southern city remains unstable. Only a 10 minute drive from the palace, a suicide bomber struck days ago at the Sawlaban military base, killing 52 soldiers. It was the fourth time militants have hit the base in the past six months. The last strike was only about a week earlier. All told, the attacks have killed more than 180 people.
The bombings underscore how President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and his main backer, the Saudi-led coalition, have failed to bring stability to the southern territories that his government controls in the civil war with Shiite Houthi rebels. Yemen’s second largest city and once its commercial hub, Aden was intended to be a model of Hadi’s legitimacy.
Instead it has become a sign of Yemen’s woes. Multiple armed groups compete for influence, chief among them a force known as the Security Belt, created and funded by the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and their allies. Commanded mainly by Muslim ultraconservatives, it has been accused by critics of heavyhanded methods, abusing opponents and resisting Hadi’s authority. On Friday, the governor of a neighboring province said fighters from the groups fired on his car as he tried to visit Hadi’s palace for prayers.
‘We live in fear’
Aden was where Hadi’s government made its last stand after the Houthis and allied troops loyal to a former president overran the capital Sanaa in 2014, took over much of the north and stormed south. Hadi was forced to flee the country, and a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia launched its intervention in March 2015, preventing Aden from falling. By July of that year, coalition-backed southern fighters pushed the rebels out of much of the south.
Hadi’s government hoped the restoration of Aden would mark the beginning of the end for the Houthis. But 18 months later, the rebels still control Sanaa and much of the north, while security remains elusive in the south. Hadi moves back and forth between Aden and the Saudi capital Riyadh, most recently arriving in the Yemeni city in late November.
Suicide bombings and assassinations, mostly by Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group’s local affiliate, regularly target top military and government officials, army recruits and senior Muslim clerics. Aden’s governor and security chief were assassinated last year. In October 2015, the thenprime minister and his entire Cabinet came under attack by suicide bombers at a five-star hotel in the heart of the city.
Aden residents have burned tires and blocked roads in protests against fuel shortages, power cuts, delayed salaries and a lack of services. Others hold demonstrations demanding that southern Yemen, which was independent until 1990, secede again. “The general scene is foggy and we live in fear,” said Shakeb Rageh, a reporter at Aden’s radio station. “The explosions are terrifying people here.”
Hadi relocated the Central Bank to Aden in September, enabling his government to pay salaries for the first time in nearly four months. But remnants of the army, police, and intelligence agencies under his Interior Ministry remain poorly equipped and trained. Courts, judges, prosecutors, and policemen have not returned to work out of fear for their safety. The groups of local fighters known as Hirak, who fought off the Houthis, have fragmented after Hadi’s promises to integrate them into the army failed to materialize.
The Security Belt force, created by the Saudiled coalition, presents itself as the new powerhouse to bring security in the absence of state institutions. The force is made up of some 15,000 southern fighters deployed across four provinces and mainly commanded by hard-line Muslims known as Salafis.
Nabil Al-Washoush, the Belt’s top commander, told the Associated Press that his force receives funds directly from the Saudi-led coalition. Still, he said it answers to “our guardian president,” Hadi, and his Interior Ministry. He said eventually the force will be integrated into the ministry, but for now its mission is to provide “support” to the security apparatus.
Our own people
The head of the force’s operations room, Hussein Saleh, said the fragmentation of official security bodies created lawlessness that made the Belt necessary. “The state institutions are not back, there is no budget, and Islamic militants are from within our own people, not outsiders,” he said. Security officials close to the interior minister said the government has been trying to get all the armed groups under its command but is facing resistance from the Security Belt. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press. — AP
ADEN: In this Sunday, Dec 18, 2016 file photo, soldiers gather the site of a suicide bomb at a base in the southern city. — AP