Yemen forces killed an Al Qaeda cell leader in a firefight Tuesday night and pursued two dozen other militants in Shabwa Province. For the moment, the calculation of the Yemen government is to proactively challenge Al Qaeda – militarily and with aid.
Abdullah al-Mehdar was just “one piece of the Al Qaeda puzzle” in Yemen, says a Western diplomat. But the stepped-up military effort is a further sign the government is serious about fighting Al Qaeda.
Two Yemeni soldiers also reportedly died in an ambush on Wednesday.
“This was an operation undertaken by the Yemenis and their intelligence and their forces,” says the Western diplomat in Sanaa. “Their resolve remains, and it has not diminished. They have calculated that regime survival depends on confronting Al Qaeda.”
Separate from Al Qaeda, Yemen’s weak government is also battling Houthi rebels along the border with Saudi Arabia, where thousands have died in a conflict that has surged in recent months and drawn in Saudi forces. Yemen also faces a secessionist rebellion in the south.
The alleged effort by a Nigerian to blow up a US airliner on Christmas Day spurred Yemen to intensify its pursuit of an estimated 200 to 300 Al Qaeda militants. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed to be behind the foiled attack.