Following a military operation in Yemen targeting suspected al Qa’eda militants, a local official said on Sunday that 49 civilians, among them 23 children and 17 women, were killed in air strikes which he said were carried out “indiscriminately,” Agence France Presse reported.
Earlier it had been reported by ABC News that on orders from the US President Barack Obama, the US military had launched cruise missiles in the attacks.
The National said that thousands of people took to the streets of southern Yemen on Saturday to denounce the military action and ensuing deaths of innocent civilians.
“According to local sources, about 3,000 people in Dhal’e province and hundreds in Lahj and Abyan provinces condemned the military operation. Angry protesters shouted anti-government slogans and demanded an investigation into the attack.”
The New York Times said: “The Yemeni government has long struggled to exert authority in remote and mountainous areas like Abyan, a known refuge for militants and one of several provinces where al Qa’eda is believed to operate with relative impunity. Although Yemen has built effective elite counterterrorism squads in recent years with American assistance, the country is desperately poor, with shrinking oil reserves. Powerful tribes also limit the state’s control.
“Yemen is also facing other security threats, including an armed rebellion in the north, where fighting has flared up in recent months and Saudi forces have become involved. A secessionist movement in the south has grown worse in the past year, and some of its leaders are based in Abyan, not far from where the airstrikes took place Thursday. There is no indication that the various insurgents targeting Yemen’s government are cooperating, but the concurrent crises have weakened the state’s ability to react.
“In recent months, American officials have shown increasing concern about al Qa’eda’s growing presence in Yemen. A number of Saudi militants – including former Guantanamo Bay detainees – have joined the group’s Yemeni branch after fleeing Saudi Arabia, which has cracked down hard on Islamist radicals. American officials have said they believe that other militants may be fleeing Pakistan and Afghanistan to the relative safety of Yemen, with its weak central government and mountainous geography.”
AFP said: “The local official from the Al-Mahfed region, which includes the village of Al-Maajala where the strike took place, on Sunday confirmed civilian deaths.
” ‘The raid was carried out indiscriminately and killed 49 civilians, including 23 children and 17 women,’ said the official, who did not wish to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.
“A tribal leader from the Al-Kazam tribe too confirmed civilian deaths.
” ‘In total, 49 civilians were killed,’ he told AFP. “Al Qa’eda has chosen to build its training centre on land where bedouin nomads pitch their tents, and the government forces believe the nomads harbour al Qa’eda forces,’ said the leader, also speaking on condition of anonymity.”
US officials speaking to The New York Times confirmed that the United States provided firepower, intelligence and other support to the government of Yemen as it carried out raids.
“Reluctance among administration officials to comment on whether American forces had launched missiles into Yemen appeared to reflect a desire to make clear that the Yemeni government was in the lead in counterterrorism operations within its borders. There is a great reluctance among leaders of many Muslim nations to have any cooperation with the United States on counterterrorism operations made known. American officials said some of the strikes against suspected terrorist camps in Yemen earlier in the week were carried out solely by local forces.
“American officials said this past summer that they were seeing the first evidence that dozens of fighters with al Qa’eda, and a small handful of the terrorist group’s leaders, were moving to Somalia and Yemen from Pakistan. In communications that were being monitored at the Pentagon, the White House and the CIA, the terrorist groups in all three locations had begun communicating more frequently, and apparently trying to coordinate their actions, the officials said.”
Reporting for The Christian Science Monitor from Sanaa, Laura Kasinof said: “Yemen’s central government has been severely tested in the past year by multiple domestic crises, as well as an acute economic downturn. There’s a war raging in the north that has recently spilled into Saudi Arabia, a secessionist movement in the south with alleged ties to the local branch of al Qa’eda, and 35 per cent of Yemen’s population is living on less than $1 a day. The central government has little control beyond the outskirts of Yemen’s major cities – areas where tribal sheikhs traditionally wield the most power. Foreign Policy magazine recently ranked Yemen 18th of 177 countries in its 2009 Failed States Index, commenting dryly that ‘refugees and extremists were perhaps Yemen’s most noteworthy imports in 2008.’
“However, one US-educated Yemeni government official has created a 10-step plan that aims to reverse the trajectory of this Arab nation over the next two years. Commended by President Obama but characterised as superficial by some Yemenis, it focuses on increasing the the government’s legitimacy by weeding out corruption and enhancing competence within government ranks.
” ‘The cause of the majority of the problems facing Yemen today is the low level of services provided by the Yemeni government,’ says Jalal Yaqoub, deputy minister of finance and the plan’s author, during an interview. ‘If you think the government is weak then you will take advantage of it, but if you see that the government is strong then you will think twice.'”
Meanwhile, The New York Times reported: “The government of Yemen on Saturday took custody of six detainees formerly held for years without trial at the United States military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to a senior Obama administration official and others involved in the process.
“The transfers, which followed the repatriation of another Yemeni detainee in September, represent a test run for a policy that the administration hopes could eventually make possible a sharp reduction in the population at the prison, which President Obama is trying to close.
“About 91 Yemenis remain at the facility, making up the largest bloc of the population of about 200 detainees. Though 14 Yemenis were repatriated from Guantanamo during the Bush administration, concerns about the Yemeni government’s ability and commitment in fighting al Qa’eda, which has long found a haven in that nation, has made officials reluctant to repatriate Yemenis in large numbers.”