DISSIDENT GENERAL CLAIMS YEMENI PRESIDENT MANIPULATED AL-QAEDA PRESENCE TO ENSURE HIS PERSONAL RULE
In a recent interview with a pan-Arab daily, Yemen’s Major General Ali Muhsin Saleh al-Ahmar claimed that President Ali Abdullah Saleh (now receiving medical treatment in Saudi Arabia after being seriously wounded in an assassination attempt) has manipulated the al-Qaeda insurgency in Yemen to win international support for his increasingly beleaguered regime (al-Hayat, June 11).
News of Ali Muhsin’s defection to the Yemeni opposition on March 21 took many by surprise, not least President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the General’s half-brother. Before his defection to the opposition, General Ali Muhsin was commander of the Northwestern Military Region and commander of the First Armored Division. Widely viewed as one of the most important figures in Yemen’s military and known for his contacts with the Islamist Islah (Reform) Party and the Muslim Brotherhood, the defection of this consummate regime insider was viewed with both hope and suspicion by various opposition members.
According to Ali Muhsin: “The fact is that the al-Qaeda organization served the objectives and aims of Ali Saleh… al-Qaeda took advantage of the state’s weakness and its reluctance to act against them and curb their activities since Ali Saleh wanted to use al-Qaeda as a scarecrow for the outside parties. Everybody will realize after Salah’s departure that the legend of al-Qaeda in Yemen was exaggerated. When Yemen moves to a modern civil state – when the law prevails and justice and equal citizenship are ensured, when the judiciary becomes clean and the national economy becomes firm, developed and successful – al-Qaeda will have no presence in Yemen… The terrorist groups he uses to scare Yemen and the outside world with are supervised by the sons of his brother and the commander of his personal guards, Tariq Muhammad Saleh, and the Deputy of the National Security Apparatus, Ammar Muhammad Saleh.”
The general went on to claim al-Qaeda elements were allowed to enter the southern town of Zanjibar without resistance on May 27 to seize weapons belonging to the police and army garrison. Nine dissident generals, including Ali Muhsin, released “Statement Number One,” in which the generals accused the President of “surrendering Abyan [Governorate] to an armed terrorist group” and called on the rest of the army to join “the peaceful popular revolution” (iloubnan.info – May 29, 2011; AFP, May 29).
Ali Muhsin has survived a number of assassination attempts and some local observers have suggested a struggle for the succession has been ongoing for some time between the general and the president and his son Ahmad Ali, head of the Republican Guard (Yemen Tribune, October 9, 2009). According to a Wikileaks cable from the U.S. embassy in Sana’a, President Saleh tried to have the general killed by asking Saudi Arabia to bomb a compound in northern Yemen that was actually being used by the general as a field headquarters. The Saudis sensed something was wrong with the request and failed to carry out the raid (al-Jazeera, June 5).
There are suspicions that the General’s defection was only part of a strategy to create a favorable post-Saleh environment for Ali Muhsin, possibly as the new head of the military council (al-Jazeera, June 11). Ali Muhsin himself says that, at age 70, he has no personal ambition to rule Yemen. The general says President Saleh “still heaps unjust accusations against us for no reason other than that we in the armed forces announced rejection of any orders to attack the people, because we told him ‘the people demand that you leave so depart safe and sound for there is no need to spill blood and mire Yemen into anarchy and civil war.’”
Ali Muhsin has deployed his forces to defend the compound of Vice-President Abd-Rabbu Mansur Hadi, a southerner from Abyan province who was appointed in 1994 as a symbol of north-south unity. There were reports last week that elements of the 1st Armored Division repelled two attacks against the vice-president’s house by tribesmen on June 6 (al-Sahwah [Sana’a], June 7). The vice-president is nominally in charge with President Saleh out of the country, but it is Saleh’s son Ahmad Ali who has moved into the presidential palace and is viewed to have control of the government. Troops under Ali Muhsin’s command are also reported to be preparing defensive positions in Sana’a in preparation for an expected confrontation with forces still loyal to the Saleh regime (Naba News, June 7). While his troops prepare for action, Ali Muhsin was reported to have met with the U.S. and EU ambassadors in Sana’a (Ilaf.com, June 9).
ALGERIA SEEKS NEW RUSSIAN ATTACK HELICOPTERS FOR ITS CAMPAIGN AGAINST AL-QAEDA IN THE ISLAMIC MAGHREB
To deal with a number of new and longstanding security threats, Algeria is seeking the purchase of an unspecified number of new Russian-made Mi-28NE “Night Hunter” attack helicopters.  The Mi-28NE is the export version of the Mi-28N, an all-weather, day and night operable two-seat attack helicopter roughly comparable to the American-made AH-64 “Apache” attack helicopter. Besides a continuing insurgency led by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in Algeria’s northeastern Kabylia mountain range, Algeria is making major efforts to secure its vast desert interior, where trans-national smugglers and AQIM gangs have made huge profits by taking advantage of the relative lack of security in the region. As well as continuing tensions with its western neighbor Morocco over the status of the Western Sahara and the presence of anti-Moroccan Polisario guerrillas in camps in southern Algeria, Algiers must now also contend with a possible spillover of the Libyan conflict into the Sahara/Sahel region.
According to a director of Russia’s Rostvertol, a state-owned manufacturer of attack helicopters, a commercial proposal has been delivered to Algeria and the company hopes a contract will soon be signed to allow for delivery of the new helicopters in the period 2012-2017 (Interfax/AVN, June 6; RIA Novosti, June 6). Algeria currently operates 36 export versions of the Mi-24 attack helicopter, an older and now largely outdated variant. The helicopters are routinely used for fire support in combined ground-air operations by Algeria’s Armée Nationale Populaire (ANP) and the Gendarmerie Nationale against AQIM guerrillas (see Terrorism Monitor, April 23, 2010).
The Mi-28N is primarily designed to hunt and destroy armored vehicles, but is suitable for a range of other activities, ranging from reconnaissance to engaging ground troops or even low-speed air targets.
The helicopter purchase is part of a trend in Algerian arms purchases that began in May 2010, when Algiers announced it would make drastic cuts in its arms purchases from the United States in favor of buying similar equipment from Russia. Algiers cited long delays in delivery times, pressure on U.S. arms sales to Arab nations from Israel and dramatic differences in the cost of similar arms systems between the two suppliers (El Khabar [Algiers], May 24, 2010; RIA Novosti, May 24, 2010).
So far, Venezuela, which is still awaiting delivery, is the only other foreign buyer of the Mi28-NE, though India has indicated interest in a possible purchase. Turkey had intended to buy 32 used Mi-28 helicopters from Russia in 2008-2009 as a stop-gap measure until deliveries of 52 Agusta Westland A-129 Mangusta (“Mongoose”) attack helicopters could begin (Vatan, December 22, 2008; RIA Novosti, December 22, 2008). The proposed purchase of Russian helicopters came after Washington refused to permit the sale of used American attack helicopters from U.S. Marine inventories after disputes over technology transfers prevented U.S. companies from bidding on the main Turkish order that was eventually filled by Italy’s Agusta-Westland. In time, Washington reversed itself, allowing the sale of AH-1W Super Cobra helicopters from the U.S. Marines to Turkey in late 2009, leading Ankara to cancel further talks with Russia regarding the Mi-28 purchase (Sunday Zaman, October 25, 2009).
Work on the Mi-28 began in the 1980s, but was reduced to a low priority after the Soviet Air Force chose to go with the Kamov Ka-50 “Black Shark” as its new attack helicopter. Work resumed in earnest in the mid-1990s with the debut of the Mi-28N night-capable helicopter, though development was again delayed until 2003-2004, when the Russian Air Force announced the Mi-28N would be Russia’s standard attack helicopter of the future.
Though it is a dedicated attack helicopter without a secondary transport role, the Mi-28N has a small cabin capable of carrying three additional individuals. In Russia this is used mainly for rescuing downed helicopter crews, but it is possible Algeria could use this capability to deploy small numbers of Special Forces operatives.
The Mi-28N has considerable firepower, including:
• 16 Ataka-V anti-tank guided missiles in combination with either ten unguided S-13 rockets or 40 S-8 rockets (shorter range but greater numbers). The Ataka is available in high-explosive or thermobaric variants for different missions.
• Eight Igla-V or Vympel R-73 air-to-air missiles with infrared homing warheads.
• Two KMGU-2 mine dispensers.
• A 30mm Shipunov turret-mounted cannon equipped with 250 rounds.
The aircraft’s normal range is 270 miles with a cruising speed of 168 m.p.h. and a maximum speed of 199 m.p.h. Optional fuel tanks can be mounted under the stub wings, allowing for extra range in the open spaces of the Algerian interior. The helicopter is also equipped with passive protection systems to aid the survival of downed helicopter crews.
1. The NATO reporting name is “Havoc.”