Home > USA, YEM > Yemen Tribes: Government must surrender air strike maestro, or else

Yemen Tribes: Government must surrender air strike maestro, or else

May 27, 2010

The following article is reprinted with permission from Yemen Times.

Tribes:  Government must surrender air strike maestro, or else
©  Saddam Al-Ashmori
Source:  Yemen Times
Publication date:  May 27, 2010

MARIB, Yemen – On Monday, an air strike targeting Al-Qaeda members killed by mistake killed a prominent sheikh from Marib. This has caused massive wrath in Marib and the neighboring governorate of Al-Jawf.

“The government has two days to surrender the person who authorized the attack and killed my son along with four of his escorts, or else we will take matters into our own hands,” demanded Ali Al-Shabwani, the angry grieving father of Sheikh Jaber Al-Shabwani, Secretary General of the Marib local council.

Since the air strike, government security forces have fended off many tribal attacks targeting the airbase in Marib and the military defense camp in the area. There have been many fierce armed clashes between the state and angry tribes. To date, only one person has been reported dead and dozens have been.

Tribes from Marib have called for tribes in Al-Jawf to join its battle with the government. Al-Jawf has also recently witnessed tension. The day of the air strike, four ministers escaped an assassination attack while attending a unity celebration. The attack, which targeted government premises, is said to be organized by Houthi rebels from neighboring Sa’ada governorate. A conflict between the state and the Houthis has been ensuing in Sa’ada since 2004.

Angry tribes from Marib have already bombed an oil pipeline passing through their region. They have also cut power cables connecting the Marib power station with Sana’a, hence the recently frequent power cuts in Sana’a and surrounding areas.

There are rumors that the tribes attempted to attack the presidential residence in Marib, although this has not yet been confirmed. All government offices have been closed in case of further attacks. Moreover, 16 foreigners working in the oil sector in Marib have fled the area due to concerns for their safety.

As a consequence, the president himself called tribal leaders and tried to calm them down with money and cars. The day after the air strike, the Deputy Prime Minister for Defense, Rashad Al-Alimi, was sent to mediate along with another influential local, Sheikh Rabish bin Ka’aln, among others.

A mediation committee was formed from government and tribal figures including Al-Alimi bin Ka’alan, the National Security Deputy, and Sheikh Mufrih Bahiah.

However, the mediation attempts have so far only managed to produce a two-day ultimatum and a promise from the tribes not to carry out further attacks against the government until Friday May 28. However, the victim’s father is still demanding the responsible person(s) be surrendered and armed tribal men remain on stand-by along area entry points in Marib and are stationed on the road leading to Sana’a.

Earlier, President Saleh had asked the deceased Sheikh to mediate with Al-Qaeda members in the area to surrender themselves to the state. However, a mysterious air strike hit the meeting location on Monday night killing the mediator and injuring the Al-Qaeda member, Mohammed Saeed bin Jardan, who ironically fled the scene.

To smooth over the incident, Saleh labeled the deceased sheikh as “the country’s martyr” which is a kind of honorary labeling. However, the victim’s father did not seem impressed and has been making it very difficult for the government who is now in a very awkward position.

On the one hand, the Yemeni government had requested the mediation skills of the late Sheikh, yet on the other hand the government cannot admit that the air strike took place without its knowledge, as is rumored.

According to locals in Marib, the strike was carried out by a drone, a weapon that Yemen is not believed to have in its possession. The Human Rights and Freedoms Defense Organization, known as HOOD, claimed that the strike was carried out by U.S. forces, although the embassy has not confirmed or denied this accusation.

Yemen and the U.S. military targeted Al-Qaeda figures in Yemen after the September 11, 2001 attacks. A CIA drone fired a missile that killed Al-Qaeda’s leader in Yemen in 2002.

Pentagon officials confirmed, on Tuesday, May 25, that General David Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command, signed an order in September to broaden the scope of surveillance and other undercover work in the region. According to the Guardian, this order opens the way for clandestine operations more extensive than those approved under the Bush administration. There are few details about specific operations, but U.S. military teams have been reported to be active in Iran, Yemen, Syria, Somalia, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.

For example, after the failed Christmas bombing plot, the Pentagon has taken an increased interest in Yemen, increasing aid from USD 67 million to USD 150 million to help Yemeni forces take on Al-Qaeda.

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