Gulf of Aden Security Review - February 3, 2011
Yemen: Tens of thousands demonstrate peacefully in Sana’a; police use tear gas and live ammunition to disperse protests in southern Yemen; security forces and militants clash in Lahij governorate; President Obama and Secretary Clinton express support for Saleh’s reforms; Saleh repeats earlier promises, pledges to make concessions to restore order; supporters of ruling party demonstrate in advance of planned February 3 opposition rallies
Horn of Africa: TFG parliament extends its own mandate three years; Ahlu Sunna fighters clash amongst themselves; al Shabaab communiqués claim credit for ambush, grenade and sniper attacks on TFG and AMISOM forces in Mogadishu; al Shabaab claims dozens of TFG soldiers have defected; African leaders agree to creation of special anti-piracy force; Puntland pirates flee base in advance of security forces’ planned offensive; U.S. Embassy in Burundi warns of possible al Shabaab attack; FBI interrogates Somali immigrants in St. Louis area about ties to al Shabaab; UN official warns of further deterioration of humanitarian situation; TFP plans to try soldiers involved in January 31 accidental shooting in a military court
Yemen Security Brief
- Tens of thousands of protestors demonstrated in Sana’a at separate rallies in support of and in opposition to President Saleh’s rule. The demonstrations were peaceful, and had dissipated almost entirely by 1pm. The opposition rally originated at Sana’a University, and many demonstrators wore pink in support of Yemen’s “Pink Revolution,” an allusion to the recent “Jasmine Revolution” in Tunisia. Opposition organizers deliberately held the rally over a mile away from pro-government supporters, who demonstrated in Liberation Square. Mohamed al Sabri, spokesman for the Opposition Dialogue Committee, a group that mediates between the leading opposition parties, said that the goal of the protest “was to keep it peaceful,” emphasizing that “the opposition [parties] lead everything. Whatever they say, their followers will do.”
- Police in the southern city of Aden clashed with protestors at two separate anti-government demonstrations, one organized by the opposition group Common Forum and the other by the separatist Southern Movement. In the Crater district, police used tear gas and live ammunition to disperse the Common Forum protest, leaving two people injured while thirty demonstrators were arrested at the Southern Movement protest as they rallied for the release of prisoners. Similar protests, organized by both the Common Forum and the Southern Movement, took place in other southern Yemen towns.
- Clashes between security forces and unidentified militants outside the town of Habilain in Lahij governorate left three people injured. AFP cites witnesses as saying that gunfire commenced when security personnel set up a base west of the town, while the Yemen Post reports that the injuries occurred when the military shelled the town of Radfan, wounding three people and damaging tens of residences. The military has been mounting repeated offensives in the area, and the Yemeni Ministry announced that “outlaw elements” in the area kidnapped three soldiers in the second half of January.
- SABA Net, Yemen’s News Agency, reports that U.S. President Barack Obama telephoned Yemeni President Saleh and expressed his support for President Saleh’s reforms and his decision to not seek reelection in 2013. In their conversation, President Obama told his Yemeni counterpart, “You proved that you are a wise leader addressing key issues in Yemen efficiently,” adding, “I look forward to a good partnership between Yemen and the U.S.” President Obama also praised President Saleh’s decision to press for further dialogue with opposition groups, and said that the U.S. looks forward to continuing its close relationship with Yemen, particularly in the field of counterterrorism. President Saleh affirmed that Yemen is grateful for American support and echoed President Obama’s hope for continued cooperation between the two nations. Other American diplomats also extended their support to President Saleh, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who wrote a letter praising his initiative which was passed through U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein. State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley echoed Secretary Clinton’s words, telling reporters at the State Department’s Daily Press Briefing that “we welcome any decisions by President Saleh that advance Yemen’s political development through non-violent and democratic means."
- Speaking to SABA Net, Yemen’s News Agency, President Saleh repeated his earlier promise that neither he nor his son would run for office in 2013, and expressed concern that ongoing protests could plunge Yemen into chaos. Addressing the opposition, President Saleh said “regardless of the circumstances, I will make concessions one after the other for the sake of this nation. The interests of the homeland are above our interests as individuals, parties, groups and commissions. It is a shame for us to destroy what we built. This is the parliament; let us hold dialogue to reach a common stand.” President Saleh also announced the restoration of the quartet committee with mediates between opposition groups and the ruling General People Congress (GPC) party, and added that “we are keen to control chaos,” before concluding “I am very certain that the opposition will respond to this initiative which meets their demands.”
- Close to ten thousand supporters of the ruling GPC demonstrated peacefully in Sana’a February 2, carrying posters and chanting in support of President Saleh in advance of opposition group the Joint Meeting Parties’ (JMP) demonstrations scheduled for February 3.
Horn of Africa Security Brief
- Transitional Federal Government (TFG) Parliament Speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden announced that the TFG parliament voted to extend its own mandate by three years, with 421 of 436 MPs present voting in favor of the new deadline. Aden proclaimed “this is a victory for future Somali democracy,” adding that the new mandate will “save Somalia from anarchy.” The TFG charter requires that any extension of the parliament’s mandate receive broad approval from Somali officials and international partners, and it is expected that some Somali lawmakers and foreign partners will challenge the extension. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) called for an extension of the mandate following a summit last week.
- Ahlu Sunna wa al Jama’a fighters in the Guriel district of the Galgudud region clashed amongst themselves, leaving three militants dead. Sources indicated that violence broke out when Ahlu Sunna fighters fired on a group of their comrades who attempted to escape with several armored vehicles and weapons. Shabelle Media Network reports that the fighters who attempt to defect were previously members of Hizb al Islam.
- Two al Shabaab communiqués, issued through the group’s media arm, al Kata’ib Foundation for Media Production, on jihadist forums January 29, claimed credit for attacks on AMISOM and TFG forces in the Bondhere, Shingani and Waberi districts of Mogadishu. The first statement describes how al Shabaab fighters ambushed a convoy of AMISOM vehicles travelling in the Shingani district, destroying one armored car and killing several AMISOM soldiers. The same report also credits members of the Battalion of the Martyr Abu Musab al Zarqawi with a sniper attack on the headquarters of Burundian forces in Bondhere district resulting in the deaths of four Burundian soldiers. The second communiqué details a grenade attack on a TFG post in Waberi district which killed one TFG soldier.
- Ali Mohamed Ahmed, commissioner of the al Shabaab administration in Beled Hawo district of Gedo region, told Shabelle Media Network that dozens of TFG soldiers had defected and joined the ranks of al Shabaab, explaining that the soldiers were now training in an al Shabaab camp in the Kenyan town of Siyola after which they would return to the Gedo region of southern Somalia to fight for al Shabaab.
- African leaders have agreed to the creation of the African Standby Force (ASF) to combat piracy after the 16th session of the AU Assembly endorsed the idea. Although there are no details on what form the ASF will take, AU Commissioner for Peace and Security Ramtane Lamamra declared that the issue of piracy off the Horn of Africa requires “further decisive action” and suggested deploying ground forces, air and naval units, and an intelligence group to fight the problem.
- Somali pirates in Puntland abandoned one of their main bases in the area, fearing an imminent attack from Puntland security forces, pirates and local residents told Reuters. Local businessman Abdikadir Yusuf Ali said “residents and the Puntland administration forced the pirates to vacate the shores of Garad district,” and Mohamed Ahmed Alim, the top official in the Galmudug region, announced that the pirates had relocated in the Galmudug region. A pirate who gave his name as Mire told Reuters that “Puntland forces were prepared to attack our base and residents had also turned against us.” Andrew Mwangura, head of the East African Seafarers’ Assistance Programme warned that “they’re recycling their bases and this is part of their security tactics. But the move will only be temporary, they’ll return to Garad.”
- The U.S. Embassy in Bujumbura, Burundi, issued a Consular Warden Message, advising that “regional terror groups, including the Somalia-based al Shabaab, remain actively interested in attacking U.S. interests in Burundi,” adding that “we are particularly concerned about the month of February.”
- The St. Louis Today reports that following the November 1, 2010 arrest of a Somali man in the St. Louis area on charges of funding al Shabaab, the FBI has been aggressively interrogating other Somali immigrants in the area. The FBI questioned 25 – 50 Somali men, mostly cabdrivers, inquiring whether the men had any ties to Somali extremists. Since 2007, federal courts have charged 37 defendants with providing material support to extremist groups in Somalia, including al Shabaab.
- Valerie Amos, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator and Under Secretary General for Humanitarian affairs, told reporters during her first official visit to Somalia that “Somalia is teetering on the brink of a much larger crisis if the next rains, due in April, fail,” and cautioned that “our actions in the next few months are critical.”
- Mohamed Hussein Mungab, a justice in the TFG military court, told Shabelle Media Network that the TFG plans to prosecute soldiers involved in a January 31 accidental shooting which killed 16 people.