Yemeni President Begins Process of Military Reform
Yemeni president Abdurabu Mansour Hadi has moved to replace senior military personnel appointed by his predecessor, Ali Abdullah Saleh, in line with the political transition agreement that eased the former president from power.
IHS Global Insight Perspective
President Abdurabu Mansour Hadi has finally taken concrete action to remove key loyalists of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh from their powerful positions in Yemen's military and security apparatus, a key component of the country's political transition.
While there is little guarantee that those replaced will go quietly—as shown by the actions of rogue air-force commander Major General Mohammed Saleh al-Ahmar—Hadi has begun to impose his authority on those loyal to the previous regime.
With the legitimacy conferred upon him by February's presidential election, and the support of the international community and several powerful domestic figures, Hadi's new-found assertiveness is a major blow to the power base of the former president and a positive step towards the successful implementation of Yemen's transition process.
Yemeni police officers sit in a pick-up truck in front of Sanaa's international airport in Yemen on
8 April 2012.
Yemeni president Abdurabu Mansour Hadi announced a major reshuffle of civilian and military positions on 7 April, confirming the dismissal of air-force commander Major General Mohammed Saleh al-Ahmar—the half-brother of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh—and replacing General Tareq Mohammed Abdullah Saleh, head of the presidential guard and Saleh's nephew.
Hadi first pledged to replace Ahmar in mid-March, after thousands of low-ranking airmen took part in a mutiny to demand his removal (see Yemen: 20 March 2012: Yemeni Air Force Personnel Reportedly Pressure President into Firing Chief). After he missed his own deadline of two weeks to replace the air-force chief, critics of the president were beginning to question whether he was capable of following through on his promise. This changed on 7 April, when Hadi issued a set of decrees confirming the replacement of Ahmar with Major General Rashed Nasser Ali al-Janad. Ahmar refused to obey the order confirming his dismissal, and forces loyal to him, supported by tribesmen from Saleh's home village, responded by attacking and surrounding Sanaa international airport, forcing its closure.
Yemeni military officials said Ahmar had refused to step down unless the defence minister and other senior officials also resigned. In a message to his troops, Ahmar said Hadi's presidential decree would not be implemented until Defence Minister Mohammed Nasser Ahmed, General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar (no relation) and chief of staff Ali al-Ashwal left their posts. He also demanded that several members of the powerful Hashed tribe, which supported troops who defected to protect anti-government activists during the height of protests in 2011, be forced into exile. The domestic and international response to Hadi's decrees was overwhelmingly supportive, with indications that Ahmar came under heavy political pressure to pull his forces back from the airport.
Media accounts detailing the attack on the airport vary, but it appears that Ahmar's forces fired several shots at the control tower, causing flights to be suspended. Unconfirmed reports suggested that the rogue commander also threatened to shoot down civilian aircraft attempting to leave the airport. Unidentified military officials cited by daily newspaper the Oman Observer said the airport had been closed after an air-force officer fired at the control tower over an unrelated land dispute, but this account was not picked up by other media sources and seems likely to have been an attempt to downplay the significance of the attack. By 8 April the airport had reopened, with airport officials saying they had received assurances from the air force that there was no threat to aviation.
Hadi's reshuffle, which involved more than 25 high-ranking civilian and military positions, was praised by ambassadors from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) and the EU. In a joint statement, reported by Yemeni state news agency Saba, the ambassadors hailed the decree as fully consistent with both the letter and the spirit of the GCC initiative that eased Saleh from power. In a clear reference to Ahmar's attack on Sanaa airport, the ambassadors urged all Yemenis to fully co-operate with the decrees and avoid taking any action that could obstruct their implementation. The decrees were also hailed by the US, which has a deep interest in the success of Yemen's transition as a result of its extensive counter-terrorist engagement in the south of the country. US Department of State spokesperson Mark Toner said: "In spite of those who seek to derail the transition, President Hadi has demonstrated strong leadership by steadfastly implementing the agreed-upon political settlement."
Hadi's decrees also attracted the crucial support of defected General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, commander of the powerful First Armoured Division. "I support any decision that aims to restore stability and security of the country," he told Canadian daily the Toronto Star. He confirmed that he was willing to abide by any presidential decree, even if it was to dismiss him, and said there was "no going back" on the decision to end the rule of Saleh.
Outlook and Implications
The set of decrees represents Hadi's first concrete attempt to purge Yemen's military and security apparatus of senior figures loyal to former president Saleh. Critics of Hadi had expressed concern that he was being timid in his approach to implementing the much-needed restructuring of Yemen's fractured military, which forms a crucial component of the GCC-brokered transition plan. The decrees have not been well received by Saleh's supporters, who have criticised them as partisan, in what is supposed to be a transition in which both sides of the political divide make concessions. This perceived imbalance forms the basis of Ahmar's demands for others in the military establishment to step down before he does, and is an obstacle that will not be easily overcome. Nonetheless, Hadi enjoys a great deal of legitimacy as a result of the high turnout in the February election that confirmed his presidency, and many of his supporters had urged him to be more assertive and use his authority to curtail Saleh's continued political ambitions (see Yemen: 21 March 2012: Meddling by Ex-President Threatens Stability of Yemeni Government). While this authority does not translate into the power required to force powerful Saleh-loyalists such as Ahmar to relinquish their command—as shown by the attack on Sanaa airport—it does serve to make their positions politically untenable in the medium to long term.
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