US -backed Saudi-led coalition in Yemen cut ‘secret deals’ with Al-Qaeda: Report




By: Yousra Abdulmalik

The United States-backed Saudi-led coalition in Yemen has cut secret deals with Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) fighters to assist local military dynamics against Ansarallah movement, part of Yemeni army forces.

The coalition paid some Al-Qaeda militants to leave key cities and towns they had seized across Yemen and forced others to retreat with weapons, equipment and wads of looted cash, an investigation by The Associated Press has found, noting that hundreds more were recruited to join the coalition itself, the New York Times reported on Monday, citing an investigation by the AP.

“Again and again over the past two years, the coalition has claimed to win decisive victories that drove al-Qaeda militants from their strongholds and shattered their ability to attack the West. What the victors didn’t disclose: many of those conquests came without firing a shot,” the AP said.

The compromises and alliances have allowed al-Qaeda militants to survive to fight another day — and risk strengthening the most dangerous branch of the terror network, according to the investigation.

Hundreds of al-Qaeda members were recruited to join the coalition as soldiers, the report said.

Key figures in the deal-making said the United States was aware of the arrangements and held off on drone attacks against the armed group, which was created by Osama bin Laden in 1988.

The deals uncovered by the AP investigation reflect the contradictory interests of the two wars being waged simultaneously in the Southwestern corner of the Arabian Peninsula.

In one conflict, the US is working with its Arab allies – particularly the UAE – with the aim of eliminating al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). But the larger mission is to win the war against Ansarullah.

And in that fight, al-Qaeda fighters are effectively on the same side as the Saudi-led coalition and, by extension, the US.

“Elements of the US military are clearly aware that much of what the US is doing in Yemen is aiding AQAP and there is much angst about that,” Michael Horton, a fellow at the Jamestown Foundation said, adding that “however, supporting the UAE and Saudi Arabia against what the US views as Iranian expansionism takes priority over battling AQAP and even stabilising Yemen”.

Coalition-backed fighters actively recruit al-Qaeda fighters – or those who were recently members – because they are considered exceptional on the battlefield, according to on-the-ground interviews.

Horton stated that much of the war on al-Qaeda by the UAE and its allied fighters is “a farce”, noting that “it is now almost impossible to untangle who is AQAP and who is not since so many deals and alliances have been made”.

The Pentagon recently vigorously denied any complicity with al-Qaeda fighters.

“Since the beginning of 2017, we have conducted more than 140 strikes to remove key AQAP leaders and disrupt its ability to use ungoverned spaces to recruit, train and plan operations against the US and our partners across the region,” Navy Commander Sean Robertson, a Pentagon spokesman, wrote in an email.

A senior Saudi official said the Saudi-led coalition “continues its commitment to combat extremism and terrorism”. A UAE government spokesperson did not respond to questions.

Last year it was revealed that AQAP is fighting alongside the coalition, according to Al-Qaeda’s Yemen media arm Al-Malahem.

AQAP is crucial in supporting the government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and regularly receives funds and weapons from the US-backed Saudi-led coalition, according to the Washington Post.

The AP’s findings are based on reporting in Yemen and interviews with two dozen officials, including Yemeni security officers, militia commanders, tribal mediators and four members of al-Qaeda’s branch.

All but a few of those sources spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals. Emirati-backed factions, like most armed groups in Yemen, have been accused of abducting or killing their critics, the AP said.

The coalition has been striking Yemen since March 2015 to restore power to Mansour Hadi, a close ally of Riyadh. The Saudi-led aggression has so far killed and wounded thousands Yemenis, including hundreds of women and children.

Despite the coalition’s claims that it is bombing the positions of the Ansarullah fighters,part of the Yemeni army forces, the coalition’s bombers are flattening residential areas and civilian infrastructures.

According to several reports, the campaign against Yemen has driven the impoverished country towards humanitarian disaster, as the coalition’s deadly campaign prevented the patients from travelling abroad for treatment and blocked the entry of medicine into the war-torn country.

Yemen is the world’s largest humanitarian crisis with more than 22 million people in need and is seeing a spike in needs, fuelled by ongoing conflict, a collapsing economy and diminished social services and livelihoods.