The United States-backed Saudi-led coalition in Yemen has cut secret deals with Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) fighters to assist local military dynamics against the Iranian-aligned Houthi armed group.
Some AQAP fighters were paid to leave key towns and provinces they previously took over, while others were allowed to retreat with military equipment, weapons and cash, the Associated Press reveals today. All of this has been taking place under the watchful eye of the Unites States.
On a number of occasions, the Saudi-led coalition made headlines of ousting AQAP from decisive landscapes, neutralising the terror group’s ability to strike the West. But in reality, it was a sealed and negotiated conquest without any military confrontation, according to AP.
The Saudi-led coalition joined the Yemen civil conflict upon the request of internationally recognised President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi in March 2015. None of the members of the coalition included counter-terrorism as part of their military objective until 2016.
In August last year, a strategic offensive in southern Yemen’s Shabwa province was led by the UAE and US alongside 2,000 Shabwani Elite forces. The offensive resulted in pushing AQAP out of Shabwa and into the nearby Abyan governorate. The Shabwani Elite Forces was recruited two months prior to the offensive.
The US is supporting the Saudi-led coalition with air-to-air refuelling and billions of dollars’ worth of arms sales for the fight against the Houthis.
AQAP fighters took part in the 9/11 attack in New York among others from Saudi Arabia, and continue to call out America for meddling in Muslim majority countries.
AP found that the coalition actively sought out to recruit AQAP fighters, as they were considered exceptional and hardened fighters.
A senior US diplomat confirmed that Al-Qaeda exists among the anti-Houthi ranks. “It’s very, very easy for Al-Qaeda to insinuate itself into the mix,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
AQAP fighting ‘alongside’ US allies
Last year it was revealed that AQAP is fighting alongside the Saudi-led coalition, according to Al-Qaeda’s Yemen media arm Al-Malahem.
AQAP is crucial in supporting the government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and regularly receives funds and weapons from the US-backed Saudi-led coalition, according to the Washington Post.
AQAP has also struck deals in the past with the Houthi group, showing signs of flexibility on the battlefield. In April this year, some 18 Al-Qaeda fighters were released by the Houthis. The release reportedly assisted an uptick in fighting in Baydah governorate, southern Yemen.
Three years on, the Yemen civil war continues without any signs of a truce or political fix. Over 15,000 Yemenis have been killed by all sides of the conflict, according to the United Nations.