Saudi-UAE coalition 'cut deals' with al-Qaeda in Yemen

Report: Saudi-UAE coalition 'cut deals' with al-Qaeda in Yemen

Report: Saudi-UAE coalition 'cut deals' with al-Qaeda in Yemen

A U.S. backed military coalition in Yemen is secretly paying al-Qaeda to leave cities with weapons and looted cash without firing a shot at them, it has been claimed.

Terrorism analyst Michael Horton tells AP there was "much angst" in certain segments of the USA military about this, but that "supporting the UAE [United Arab Emirates] and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia against what the US views as Iranian expansionism takes priority over battling [Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] and even stabilizing Yemen".

The AP found that the coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, secretly made arrangements to pay some al Qaeda fighters to leave cities, while others were allowed to retreat with weapons, equipment and cash.

The U.S.is aware of an al-Qaeda presence among anti-Houthi ranks, a senior American official told reporters in Cairo earlier this year.

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

In one conflict, the U.S.is working with its Arab allies - particularly the United Arab Emirates - with the aim of eliminating the terrorists known as Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP.

But the larger mission is to win the civil war against the Houthis, Iranian-backed Shiite rebels.

While the U.S. does not fund the Saudi-led coalition, it along with the United Kingdom, have sold billions of dollars in weapons to Arab partners, as well as providing logistical and targeting support.

'Elements of the USA military are clearly aware that much of what the U.S.is doing in Yemen is aiding AQAP and there is much angst about that, ' said Michael Horton, a fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, a US analysis group that tracks terrorism.

But supporting allies against "what the US views as Iranian expansionism takes priority over battling AQAP and even stabilizing Yemen", Horton said.

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.

But weeks before those forces' entry, a string of pickup trucks mounted with machine guns and loaded with masked al-Qaeda militants drove out of al-Said unmolested, according to a tribal mediator involved in the deal for their withdrawal.

The latest reporting sheds new light on the failed war on terror, as fighters in what's called al Qaeda's most risky branch are leaving areas unscathed and with greater money resources.

'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 USA and our partners across the region, ' spokesman Navy Cmdr.

The Saudi-led coalition commented by saying it "continues its commitment to combat extremism and terrorism". The UAE did not respond to AP's request for comment.

Amid the chaos, Al Qaeda is gaining ground.

American Enterprise Institute Research Fellow Katherine Zimmerman tells the AP that "in some places, it looks like we're looking the other way" when it comes to Al Qaeda.

Within this complicated conflict, al-Qaeda says its numbers - which United States officials have estimated at 6,000 to 8,000 members - are rising. It was painted as a crowning victory in a months-long offensive, Operation Swift Sword, that the Emirati ambassador to Washington, Yousef al-Otaiba, had proclaimed would "disrupt the terrorist organization's network and degrade its ability to conduct future attacks". According to the AP, the coalition simply paid some al-Qaeda fighters to leave. His account was confirmed by the mediator and two Yemeni government officials.

Thousands of tribal fighters, including AQAP members, also were to be taken into the UAE-funded Shabwa Elite militia, the mediator and two officials said. For every 1,000 fighters, 50 to 70 would be al-Qaeda members, the mediator and two officials said.

In 2015, Houthis laid siege to the city, occupying surrounding mountain ranges, sealing the entrances, and shelling it mercilessly.

Michael Horton, a fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, told AP, "It is now nearly impossible to untangle who is AQAP and who is not since so many deals and alliances have been made", and dubbed the coalition's war on al Qaeda largely a "farce".

One liberal activist took up arms alongside other men from his neighbourhood to defend the city, and they found themselves fighting side-by-side with al-Qaeda members. All but a few of those sources spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals.

Abdel-Sattar al-Shamiri, a former adviser to the governor of Taiz province, said he recognized al-Qaeda's presence from the start and told commanders not to recruit members.

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