In Yemen, Saleh's military forces showing signs of strain
Yemen may fall into the hands of its military. But the military is already strained by defections and it could splinter further – resulting in civil war.
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Earlier this month Mohsin’s First Armored Division, Yemen's biggest division of regular forces, engaged in a four-hour shootout with government forces in a bid to defend a group of youthful protesters who came under fire from Saleh’s Republican Guard while marching on the Cabinet offices. Eighteen protesters were killed and hundreds wounded, including 25 soldiers, in the ensuing violence which raged on into the night.Skip to next paragraph
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Saleh still holds sway over a sizable chunk of the military; the loyalist forces of the Republican Guard and the Mountain Brigade are under the command of his sons, and his nephews command elements of the air force and special security forces.
“The majority of the military is with Saleh. Many of the defected officers you hear about are just people who were in the military in the past and now putting on their uniforms for show,” says Omar Mohammed, a Yemeni businessman and former military captain in Saleh’s elite presidential guard.
Low on military manpower?
But with the loss of Mohsin’s troops, Saleh’s forces are finding themselves increasingly on the back foot, overstretched and under-equipped as the government tries to deal with unrest that has spread through most of the country's cities.
Saleh's forces are now beginning to encounter resistance in rural areas as well; on May 10 anti-government tribesmen blocked a tank column traveling from the capital Sanaa to the eastern province of Hadhramaut, where protesters and rebellious tribes had gathered.
Local Arabic media have reported in recent days that Saleh is planning to field military cadets to bulk up his security forces, giving rise to suspicions that the regime may be running out of military manpower.
Analysts have also questioned whether soldiers of lower-rank will continue to heed the call to fire on unarmed protesters who have recently began escalating their protest efforts to include hunger strikes, the occupation of government buildings, and the blocking of ports and major roads.
“We are ready to defend ourselves by any means necessary," says Mr. Mohammed, the former captain. "But to kill an innocent we will not do for the president or for Allah. We will protect our president and land and people in a defensive manner.”