A man dressed as a Yemeni soldier blew himself up in a main square near the presidential palace in Sana’a today. The blast occurred in the middle of Central Security Forces (CSF) battalion and killed over 90 soldiers. The battalion, along with several other units, was training for a parade for Yemen’s unification anniversary tomorrow. The Yemeni Defense Minister, Major General Mohammed Nasser Ahmed, and Chief of Staff were present at the exercises, but arrived minutes after the detonation. A man calling himself a representative of Ansar al Sharia told a Reuters reporter that the attack was in response to Yemeni security forces’ advances against the militant group in the south.
The Yemeni military is advancing on Jaar, a stronghold of Ansar al Sharia, in the latest in a series of offensives in Abyan. The advance began on Friday as the army moved in from the north. Fourteen militants and seven troops were killed in an extended battle around Jaar yesterday morning. Yemeni airstrikes targeted a factory used as an Ansar al Sharia base and a militant checkpoint in Shaqra, to the east of Zinjibar. Militants are also reportedly fleeing Lawder, the site of heavy fighting for the past month. The head of U.S. Central Command’s special operations force, Major General Kenneth Tovo, visited the front over the weekend and promised the necessary support. This is the first time that the Yemeni army has pushed this far into Ansar al Sharia-held territory since the insurgent group took control of areas of Abyan last year.
President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi replaced four security officials today. President Hadi appointed Major General Mohammed al Khader Deputy Director of the National Security Bureau for Foreign Affairs, replacing former President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s nephew Amar Mohammed Abdullah Saleh. He also replaced Abdul Malik al Tayeb with Major General Fadhl Yahya bin Naji al Qawsi as commander of the CSF. Yahya Saleh, another nephew of the former president, remains in power as CSF Chief of Staff. Hadi also appointed Brigadier General Mohammed Hussein al Radhi Commander of the Rescue Forces and Colonel Yahya Ali Abdullah Hamid as their Chief of Staff, promoting him to the rank of brigadier general. A spokesman for the Yemeni embassy in Washington reported that all the appointments have been accepted.
Airstrikes continue to pick off militants in Yemen. A suspected drone strike killed a Somali and Yemeni in al Bayda governorate on May 19. Three militants were killed in a strike on a convoy in Shibam, Hadramawt on May 17. Eleven militants, including two Saudis and an Egyptian, were killed in two suspected U.S. drone strikes in Ma’rib on May 12.
Gunmen opened fire on a group of Americans in the port city of Hudaydah on Sunday, wounding one critically. The Americans were training the Yemeni Coast Guard. Ansar al Sharia claimed responsibility for the attack. U.S. officials denied Ansar al Sharia’s claim that the men were military advisers and said that they were civilian contractors.
President Barack Obama signed an executive order on May 16 allowing the U.S. Treasury to freeze the U.S.-based assets of anyone attempting to hinder the political transition process in Yemen. The president called any attempts to disturb the security and peaceful transition of the country a threat to American national security.
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