Conflicting reports on Al-Shabab fighters entering Yemen
The Somali Embassy in Sana’a said in a recently issued statement that 500 Al-Shabab fighters had arrived on the beaches of Yemen to fight alongside Al-Qaeda linked militants in the Arabian Peninsula.
The Yemeni Interior Ministry accused the Somali youth movement of sending nearly 300 armed fighters to Yemen last week to participate in fighting with Al-Qaeda against the Yemeni army.
The statements from the Interior Ministry and Somali Government on Somali arrivals to Yemen to support armed militants in Abyan, have created another layer of volatile complexity in the south and east of the country.
Faris Ghanim, a Yemeni journalist specializing in terrorism, told the Yemen Times that so far there have been no records of dead or injured Somali fighters in recent fighting in Yemen. This included airstrikes in Abyan, and ground fighting in both Abyan and Al-Baida.
However, Ghanim did not rule out the possibility of Somali fighters infiltrating into Yemen via the port of Shuqra in Abyan governorate. He said that this port represents an important link to Abyan, Shabwa and Marib governorates, and even across to Al-Mahara governorate in the far east.
He added that much of the Yemeni coast facing Somalia, from Shuqra port over to Al-Mahara governorate, was relatively controlled by armed groups of Al-Sharia supporters that were affiliated with Al-Qaeda in Yemen.
Ghanim considers the numbers issued by both Yemen’s Ministry of Interior and the Somali Embassy about Al-Shabab infiltration to be highly exaggerated.
Ghanim does believe, however, that the year long unrest in Yemen has created a space for cooperation between the Al-Shabab movement and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Especially since Al-Shabab officially announced their affiliation with Al-Qaeda at the beginning of this month.
Another Yemeni expert of terrorism, Saeed Obaid, had a different take on the figures coming from Yemeni and Somali government officials on Somali Al-Shabab infiltration into Yemen.
Obaid told the Yemen Times that these statements came as a response to the statement issued earlier this month by the commander of African Union troops in Somalia. The commander said that the infiltration of Somali Al-Shabab fighters into Yemen showed that the movement had taken a great defeat at the hands of the African Union troops that support Somalia's transitional government.
However Obaid questioned the narrative proposed by the African Union commander. He felt that if the Al-Shabab movement had taken some defeats in Somali, as alleged by the African Union and Somali government, that would provide all the more reason for the Al-Shabab fighters to remain in Somalia and not travel across to Yemen.
“This means that the movement continues its operations in Somalia and makes remarkable progress,” he said.
Yemen’s Ministry of Interior said in a statement on its website that the security forces had arrested four Somalis on the road between Lahj and Abyan on suspicion of having relationships with the Somali youth movement.
The Somalia Today news website claimed that Yemeni security forces could not have arrested any Somali supporters of Al-Shabab in Yemen as they do not live within the Somali refugee camps there.
Despite Al-Shabab being the first Islamic movement in Somalia to announce their alliance to Al-Qaeda, Obaid explained that other Islamic movements in Somalia shared the same ideologies, and were only different in terms of organization.
“Somalia is one of the new and strategic areas for Al-Qaeda in the world. It is clear that it has not been highly affected by the US airstrikes”, he added.
US secret military bases
Saeed Obaid believes that the US has established secret new military bases in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, as also reported by the Washington Post in Sept. 2011.
He also said that Arab Sea is open for the US to build new military bases in line with its mandate to separate the bonds of allegiance between the Somali Al-Shabab and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
The Washington Post quoted American officials as saying that the US is constructing secret military bases for drones in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula for its campaign against groups affiliated to Al-Qaeda in Somalia and Yemen.
The paper said that one of those military bases was being established in Ethiopia, a US ally in fighting Al-Shabab in Somali. It also reported that the US army had launched drones over Somalia and Yemen from its military bases in Djibouti, and that the CIA was constructing a secret airport in the Arabian Peninsula to deploy over Yemen.
Saeed Obaid did not rule out the construction of US military bases on the Yemeni island of Soqotra between Yemen and Somalia in order to make it easier to strike at Al-Qaeda in both countries simultaneously.
The Washington Post has also said that the US administration had resumed construction of a small US drone operation based in the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean.
Obaid considered this rapid expansion of undeclared drone wars a reflection of the growing concerns of US officials against increasing activity in Yemen and Somalia, especially since Al-Qaeda’s main base of organization in Pakistan had been weakened due to the US operations against terrorism there.
The Prime Minster of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi, said in a press conference in Jan. 2012 in Addis Ababa, that the growing unrest caused by the popular uprising in Yemen could promote closer cooperation between Al-Qaeda and the Al-Shabab Somali insurgents. But he ruled out any similar upheavals in his country.
He added that, “If the unrest in Yemen led to the collapse of law and the regime, this will give Al-Qaeda in Yemen a good opportunity to expand and to be a major support for the Al-Shabab movement in Somalia.”
Based on Ethiopian concerns, Obaid said that Ethiopia sent its troops to Somalia in 2006 to topple the regime of Islamic courts. It has now returned to Somalia again. He pointed out that Ethiopia had maintained a large part of its troops on the border with Somalia since it withdraw its forces in 2009.
Commenting on the statements of Meles, Obaid said that the Ethiopian concerns towards Somalia and Yemen come from two angles. The first is the alliance between Al-Qaeda of Yemen and Somalia, and the second is a Yemen like uprising occurring Ethiopia.
He pointed out that the second possibility is expected, particularly after the call by Ethiopian opposition supporters in the US for a “day of anger” in Ethiopia in an Arab-Yemeni style, directed against Prime Minister Meles who some opposition members accuse of being a dictator.
Meles said in his press conference that “if the current demonstrations in Yemen are not controlled, they may lead to a undesirable political vacuum and a potentially failed state in Yemen.” He added that “this would form a significant security danger for all of us in the Horn of Africa.”