SANNA A military coalition battling Houthi rebels secured secret deals with al-Qaeda in Yemen and recruited hundreds of the group’s fighters, a news report said on Monday.
For more than two years, a Saudi-led alliance – backed by US logistical and weapons support – claimed it crushed al-Qaeda’s ability to carry out attacks from Yemen.
However, an investigation by The Associated Press found the coalition has been paying some al-Qaeda commanders to leave key cities and towns while letting others retreat with weapons, equipment, and wads of looted cash.
Hundreds of al-Qaeda members were recruited to join the coalition as soldiers, the report said.
Key figures in the deal-making said the United States was aware of the arrangements and held off on drone attacks against the armed group, which was created by Osama bin Laden in 1988.
The deals uncovered by the AP investigation reflect the contradictory interests of the two wars being waged simultaneously in the southwestern corner of the Arabian Peninsula.
In one conflict, the US is working with its Arab allies – particularly the UAE – with the aim of eliminating al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). But the larger mission is to win the civil war against the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels.
And in that fight, al-Qaeda fighters are effectively on the same side as the Saudi-led coalition and, by extension, the US.
“Elements of the US military are clearly aware that much of what the US is doing in Yemen is aiding AQAP and there is much angst about that,” said Michael Horton, a fellow at the Jamestown Foundation.
“However, supporting the UAE and Saudi Arabia against what the US views as Iranian expansionism takes priority over battling AQAP and even stabilising Yemen,” Horton said.
Coalition-backed fighters actively recruit al-Qaeda fighters – or those who were recently members – because they are considered exceptional on the battlefield, according to on-the-ground interviews.
Horton said much of the war on al-Qaeda by the UAE and its allied fighters 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.
The Pentagon recently vigorously denied any complicity with al-Qaeda fighters.
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