Residents of Al-Baidha fear looming conflict

News and Press Release
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Ali Ibrahim Al-Moshki

SANA'A, May 14—The Defense Ministry is planning a military offensive in Al-Baidha governorate targeting Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) militants who have fled from Shabwa and Abyan in the wake of a recent campaign, a source from the ministry said on Tuesday.

“We have information that several AQAP affiliates fled from Abyan and Shabwa to Rada'a, Qaifa, Weld Rabee, and Thi Naem districts of Al-Baidha following the clashes that took place during the past weeks between the military and the militants. However, we are still investigating because the state doesn't want to begin the offensive without accurate information," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

He added that “some AQAP affiliates also fled to Hadramout but they are not our priority because they are few in number and the military in Hadramout will pursue them.”

The source said that troops are patrolling Abyan and Shabwa but that mobilized forces have not yet been sent to Al-Baidha.

On April 29 the military launched an offensive against what it claimed were AQAP militants. Accurate casualty figures are not available, but the fighting displaced thousands.

The news about anticipated clashes has created panic among residents of Al-Baidha.

"People are afraid of clashes in Al-Baidha because security personnel in Qaifa district told them that the military will begin battling militants in the governorate. They began to prepare and buy things from markets in anticipation of war," said Mohammed Abdulla Al-Madghari, a resident of Qaifa district.

“We are afraid because we heard that gunmen fled from Abyan and Shabwa to some districts of Al-Baidha,” he added.

Al-Madghari said he wished that tribes in Al-Baidha would oversee the withdrawal of militants from the governorate without resorting to violence.

According to Abdulrab Abu Saleh, a resident of Qaifa district, local tribes will most likely be hostile to military intervention in the governorate. He said that although there are a large number of Al-Qaeda affiliates in Al-Baidha, they are not foreign fighters.

Abdulrazaq Al-Jamal, a journalist with insight into Al-Qaeda, said “the military offensive in Shabwa and Abyan was only to flex the military’s muscles to give the illusion that Yemen is fighting terrorism.”

“The military can't achieve victory over AQAP because it's a guerrilla war. The state media reports that the military has won but nothing has changed on the ground,” he added.

Several clashes took place last year in districts of Al-Baidha between the military and alleged AQAP affiliates. Dozens were killed and injured on both sides.

In the governorate's Rada'a district clashes broke out between the military and what it said were AQAP militants in early 2012. Tribal mediation brought an end to the violence.