IN the rubble of southern Yemen, where electricity and water supplies are fitful at best and many buildings lie in ruins, it’s hard to feel triumphant. The government has touted as a major breakthrough its recent defeat of the Islamist group that held sway here. But many locals don’t see it that way.
On the outskirts of Jaar, the first city captured last year by Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Islamic Law), an Al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen, civilians spoke fondly of life under them.
“Safe!” they shouted, when asked how they felt under Islamist rule. “The order they brought was good,” said one. “There wasn’t any more stealing.”
“The only ones whose hands they cut off are those who steal,” said another, about Ansar al-Sharia’s harsh justice.
Government troops and local militia fighters now patrol streets in the Abyan governorate that Al Qaeda militants controlled for more than a year. Yet many in the region are unconvinced that the government’s blitzkrieg against the militants has turned the tide in the fight against Al Qaeda’s growing presence in the country.
Jaar, the nerve centre of Ansar al-Sharia’s former emirate in Abyan, is largely unaffected after the militants’ withdrawal. Local people mill around the vegetable market, competing with mule carts and motorcycles. Rubbish lines streets, and buildings are decaying everywhere. Graffitied black flags — Ansar al-Sharia’s emblem — remain sprawled over walls in several districts. The most visible change is the market selling qat, the mild narcotic leaf chewed by most Yemenis, which has been relocated to the city centre. Ansar-al Sharia relegated the market to the outskirts.
A re-established military base looms on the mountaintop above Jaar. Around the base, however, wind howls through empty corridors of derelict buildings. A mobile telephone relay station on the mountain peak is a hollow wreck, its broadcast equipment smashed. Soldiers blame Ansar al-Sharia. They claim the militants were trying to rob the city of what little infrastructure it had in order to impose its rule on the weakened city.
Ali Ahmed al-Dhaini, a soldier at the base, spoke of the US drone campaign in the region, which he says allowed the army to recapture the city. — The Guardian, London