Fighting al Qaeda in Yemen

Washington Post:
 In this remote, sun-blasted corner of southern Yemen, there’s a battle raging that is as important to the United States as it is to this nation’s beleaguered government. 
Each day, American-backed Yemeni forces engage in a grueling struggle to retake territory from militant Islamists — a conventional army pitted against a guerrilla militia with grand ambitions to stage an attack on U.S. soil. Each day, the soldiers feel increasingly besieged. 
“We are like an island in a sea of al-Qaeda,” said Lt. Abdul Mohamed Saleh, standing at a checkpoint on a desolate highway that connects Zinjibar with the port city of Aden. “We are surrounded from every direction.”
In May, they overran large swaths of Abyan province, including this regional capital. Today, they rule over significant territory in this strategic region, near important oil shipping lanes. 
The al-Qaeda affiliate has already targeted the United States several times, including sending parcel bombs on flights into the country last year. Its stated goal is to create an Islamic emirate in Yemen, which American officials fear could be used as a base to plan more attacks against the United States. 
That base may already be taking shape. A rare recent visit to Zinjibar, the first by a Western journalist since the Islamist fighters swept into the city, revealed just how entrenched the militants have become here.

At the gate of the only military base left in this ghostly city, Ali al-Katib peered up and down the deserted road. Clutching a walkie-talkie and a Kalashnikov rifle, the Yemeni soldier looked as haggard as the battered landscape. 
“They’ve attacked us three times already today,” Katib said, his emotions rising. 
Saleh’s government has a mixed record of combating extremist groups. He is a nominal U.S. ally who has pledged to defeat al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP. But critics say his government is primarily responsible for the instability that has allowed the group and other militant organizations to thrive. 
With Saleh’s government in disarray, the United States has stepped up operations against AQAP, using drone strikes to kill several of the group’s top officials, including Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical Yemeni-American cleric implicated in helping to motivate several attacks in the United States. 
But such a strategy has its limits in Zinjibar. 
Less than a mile from the highway stands Zinjibar’s main soccer stadium. Outside, a half-built apartment complex is riddled with holes from mortar shells. On a rooftop, soldiers peer from behind sandbags. Two tanks stand nearby. Inside the stadium, walls have crumbled from shelling; the artificial grass is littered with debris and bullets. 
The Islamists emerged in March, taking over the town of Jaar and nearby areas. By the end of May, they had entered Zinjibar. They seized government buildings and looted banks and military depots. 
Most troops, police officers and local officials fled Zinjibar, an ancient city that was once a major trading center with the Far East. Tens of thousands of residents fled as well, triggering a humanitarian crisis. 
According to Yemeni military commanders and residents, the militants number only 700 to 1,000, and include fighters from Sudan, Somalia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Syria. Some wear long hair and thick beards. They call themselves Ansar al-Sharia, or supporters of Sharia — Islamic law. AQAP leaders said this year that they were operating under that name.
Yemen's forces are not prepared to fight a counter insurgency battle.  They do not have the training or the other resources.  It also sounds like they do not have enough troops in the area to have a force to space ration that will allow them to dominate it.

The drone wars can help because of their persistence. but they are not a weapon that can destroy large enemy units.  We would need at least some A-10 and Apaches to go after the regimental size unit of al Qaeda fighters.  Navy attack fighters could also take them on.


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