British SAS troops prepare for raids on Yemen

by Ian Bruce

The Herald, Scotland, 18, March 2002

Centre for Research on Globalisation (CRG), ,  27  March 2002


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SAS is on standby to mount a series of surgical raids inside Yemen to wipe out al Qaeda terrorists believed to have found sanctuary among the mountain clans in the country's remote and lawless north.

Troopers from two of the unit's four operational "sabre squadrons" have been training for the mission in Afghanistan by carrying out dress rehearsals in terrain identical to that of the target area. The late deployment of SAS troopers to the 12-day battle around Shah-e-Kot in Afghanistan last week was due to the demands of that training schedule.

Despite the fact that between 200 and 400 US special forces commandos have been quietly flown into Yemen over the last few days, senior American commanders want to use the UK elite regiment's unrivalled expertise to eliminate the terrorists.

They also hope to defuse growing anti-American feeling among the fiercely independent sheikhs who control much of Yemen's northern Ma'arib highlands by minimising direct US involvement in the mission.

The Ma'arib tribal leaders have thousands of well-armed clan militiamen under their command, and have already repelled one attempt by Yemeni government troops to arrest two al Qaeda agents accused of involvement in the bombing of the USS Cole in Aden harbour in October, 2000.

The military column was ambushed by tribal fighters, killing 18 soldiers and wounding dozens more. The suspects, Mohammed Hamdi al-Ahdal and Ali Qaed Senyan al-Harthi, escaped during the gun battle and are still at liberty.

Yemen, the poorest country in Arabia, is a traditional hotbed of Islamic militancy. It is also Osama bin Laden's ancestral family home.

US warships have been monitoring traffic in the sea lanes off its coast since last October to prevent the entry of terrorists fleeing Afghanistan, and unmanned spy drones keep the country under constant surveillance.

The SAS fought an undeclared war against insurgents there during the 1960s, and gained more experience of the area through its subsequent involvement in repelling Yemeni guerrilla fighters who tried to destabilise neighbouring Oman in the seventies.

Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen's president, has warned the northern sheikhs not to oppose moves against Islamic terrorists, but lacks the military muscle to impose his will on them by force.

Dick Cheney, the US vice- president, paid a whistlestop visit to the country last week to pave the way for American-led anti-terrorist operations in the hinterland, and to push for effective co-operation with FBI agents investigating the USS Cole bombing.

President Bush has spoken of Yemen as "the next Afghanistan" and US intelligence agencies suspect it is fast becoming the region's number one hideout for al Qaeda fugitives.

Copyright The Herald 2002. Reprinted for Fair use only.

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