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Terrorism & Security

Saleh deploys US-trained counterterrorism forces as tribes escalate fight

Gen. Ali Moshen al-Ahmar, a top military leader who defected in March, has backed the powerful Hashid tribal confederation with 1,000 troops of his own.

By Correspondent / June 2, 2011

An elderly anti-government protestor, lifted by other demonstrators, reacts during a demonstration demanding the resignation of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in Sanaa, Yemen, June 2. Street battles raged Thursday between the army and opposition tribesmen in the capital Sanaa and dozens of people on both sides were killed and wounded.

Hani Mohammed/AP

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The pitched battle between President Ali Abdullah Saleh's forces and one of Yemen's oldest and largest tribal confederations has escalated to a level unseen in the capital for nearly half a century, with both sides bringing in reinforcements.

Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, a top military leader who defected in March, deployed about 1,000 of his troops against President Saleh's forces for the first time Wednesday night to back up fighters from the Hashid tribal confederation, the Wall Street Journal reported. The confederation is led by Sadiq al-Ahmar (not related to the general). Sheikh Ahmar, along with his brothers, presents one of the biggest challenges to Mr. Saleh's grip on power.

Saleh, for his part, has deployed US-trained-and-funded counterterrorism forces against Ahmar's tribal fighters, according to the Journal, though the US says it has no evidence that Saleh has used the troops – intended to fight Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula – against his political opponents.

Abdullah al-Faqah, a professor of politics at Sanaa University, described the battle as the worst the capital has seen in 50 years, Time magazine reports.

"What we're witnessing now is a battle between the two most powerful families in Yemen, a conflict that has been brewing for several years [... ]Saleh's stubbornness has come to its head," says Abdullah al-Faqah, professor of politics at Sana'a University. "This was a foolish fight for him [Saleh] to pick ... we're now witnessing the worst violence in Sana'a since the civil war in the late 1960's."

Last week, Saleh issued a warrant for Sadiq al-Ahmar's arrest, which the sheikh has so far ignored, calling the president a liar and vowing that he would leave the country 'barefoot'," Time reports. His brother Hamid al-Ahmar, the founder of one of the opposition parties, has set himself up as a potential successor to Saleh. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar is not related to Sadiq al-Ahmar's family, but is rather a half-brother of Saleh.

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