The Yemen Security Belt Forces played a significant role in countering terrorism in southern Yemen in recent years, the US State Department has said.
The Yemen Security Belt Forces are units that were formed by a decree issued by President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi in May 2016. They fought against Al Qaeda in Lahj province, near Aden, pushing the militants out of the governorate in 2016.
“Security Belt Forces loyal to the Southern Transitional Council continued to play an important role in counter-terrorism efforts, as they exercised control over significant parts of Aden, Abyan, and Shabwah,” the department's 2020 country report for Yemen said.
ISIS in Yemen remained considerably smaller in size and influence compared with Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP) but remained operationally active and continued to claim attacks, the report, released on Thursday, said.
The Al Qaeda affiliate remained active in central Yemen, most notably in Al Bayda, demonstrating its ability to move within the country.
The State Department said the number of attacks attributed to AQAP and ISIS decreased last year, compared with 2019.
According to the US, the extremist groups' tactics included suicide bombings, vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (IEDs) ambushes, armed attacks, kidnappings and assassinations.
Coalition-backed troops have been operating in and around Aden and throughout south Yemen where they have been inflicting blows on ISIS and Al Qaeda, mainly in the provinces of Lahj, Aden and Abyan.
After expelling Al Qaeda from Lahj, the Security Belt Forces drove the extremists from Zinjubar city in Abyan province in August 2016.
In March 2018, the Security Belt Forces launched a large-scale operation against Al Qaeda in Al Mahfed city in eastern Abyan province. Top AQAP leaders were killed during the operation, among them Abu Mohsen Basabrein, who was a senior AQAP leader.
Analysts demand action
Security experts and military analysts have praised the important role played by the Security Belt Forces.
“The Security Belt Forces under the command of the STC were instrumental in helping oust Al Qaeda in a joint effort with the US and Arab Coalition forces from these important areas," Irina Tsukerman, a US national security analyst, told The National.
"Indeed, the STC also was important in the fight against the Houthis, which did not stop being an Iran-backed terrorist group just because Biden removed it from the foreign terrorist organisations list.”
“The STC Security Belt troops were also instrumental in capturing many Al Qaeda cells and conducting successful operations against AQAP hideouts in South Yemen," Ms Tsukerman said
She said that praise in reports is not enough, and that the US should be engaged more directly in close diplomatic discussions and in supporting the STC presence and its forces in South Yemen, to deepen a partnership in fighting terrorism.
“This requires active engagement, economic support and formal understanding that some ideologies contribute to the problems plaguing Yemen and need to be actively fought," Ms Tsukerman said.
"The current attitude of the international communities – that all stakeholders in Yemen are of equal value and should be treated the same – is simply not accurate because extremist and hateful ideologies lead to terrorism and sectarianism, and run counter to the international community and Yemen's interests."
Yemeni military analysts said the US and the international community need to support counter-terrorism units and the Security Belt Forces, which have proved effective in the fight against terrorist groups.
“The Security Belt Forces and the other troops under command of the STC have proved that they are real partner for the international coalition in the fight against terrorism,” Maj Gen Thabet Hussein Saleh, a Yemeni military analyst, told The National.
“These troops need tangible support from the US and the international coalition to keep up the fight against Al Qaeda and ISIS in South Yemen."