A new investigation has found that the Saudi-led coalition waging a war on Yemen has secured secret deals with al-Qaeda terrorists in the violence-wracked country, recruiting hundreds of its Takfiri militants in the ground operations against the Houthi Ansarullah movement and allied forces.
The probe conducted by The Associated Press and released on Tuesday called into question the coalition’s claims about victories against al-Qaeda militants, suggesting that the notorious terror group is effectively on the same side as the US, Saudi Arabia and its allies in Yemen.
The Saudi-led coalition has been paying some al-Qaeda commanders to leave key Yemeni cities, while allowing others to retreat with weapons, equipment and wads of looted cash, the investigation uncovered.
It further said that the Riyadh-led alliance had recruited hundreds of al-Qaeda elements. The US, the report said, was aware of Saudi Arabia’s collusion with the militants and held off on the drone attacks purportedly targeting them.
“Elements of the US military are clearly aware that much of what the US is doing in Yemen is aiding AQAP (Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) and there is much angst about that,” said Michael Horton, a fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, a Washington-based think tank.
“However, supporting the UAE and Saudi Arabia against what the US views as Iranian expansionism takes priority over battling AQAP and even stabilizing Yemen,” he added.
Al-Qaeda’s leader in Yemen says his militants have often fought alongside US- and Saudi-backed militia against Houthis.
The investigation is based on reports and interviews with a number of Yemeni officials, including security officers, militia commanders, tribal mediators and al-Qaeda militants.
Horton stressed that much of the alleged war on al-Qaeda in Yemen is “a farce.”
“It is now almost impossible to untangle who is AQAP and who is not since so many deals and alliances have been made,” he said.
Saudi Arabia and its allies launched a brutal war, code-named Operation Decisive Storm, against Yemen in March 2015 in an attempt to reinstall former Yemeni president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, a staunch ally of Riyadh, and crush the Houthis.
The offensive initially consisted of a bombing campaign, but was later coupled with a naval blockade and the deployment of ground forces to Yemen.
The imposed war, however, has so far failed to achieve its goals, thanks to stiff resistance from Yemeni troops and allied Houthi fighters.
The AQAP has taken advantage of the Saudi-led military campaign and the resulting chaos in Yemen to tighten its grip on the southern parts of the Arab country.
Washington carries out drone strikes on what it claims are al-Qaeda targets in Yemen, but local sources say civilians have been the main victims of the attacks.
Abdel-Sattar al-Shamiri, a former adviser to Ta’izz’s governor, said he had told pro-Hadi commanders not to recruit al-Qaeda militants.
“Their response was, ‘We will unite with the devil in the face of Houthis,’” he said.
The AP report further said Adnan Rouzek, a pro-Hadi commander, who has an al-Qaeda figure as his closest aide was recently given $12 million by the ex-Yemeni president.