Yemen’s New President Hunting Down Al Qaeda

Until last year, Abd Rabbuh Mansur al-Hadi was a name that many people in the Arab world and the West knew little about. Yemen’s vice president since 1994, he was typically overshadowed by Ali Abdullah Saleh, the one who made all of the government’s important decisions and had the authority to run Yemen like his personal fiefdom.

The protests that engulfed the Middle Eastern country last year changed the picture, peaking in a power transfer agreement, brokered by Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf states, that pushed Saleh out and elevated Hadi into his post.

In February, millions of Yemenis formally voted Hadi in as their next president although he was the only name on the ballot.

Two months later, Hadi has been juggling his responsibilities in order to ensure that the new unity government in Sana’a is operating effectively.

In a bold and surprising decision, Hadi dismissed two high profile figures of Saleh’s extended family, paving the way for new leadership in the air force and presidential guard.

The new president and his allies have spoken out when signs of obstruction have pointed to Saleh’s loyalists, attracting the support of the United States in the process.

The most significant decision that Hadi has taken to date has been in Yemen’s fight against Al Qaeda and its terrorist allies in the south of the country. If 2011 was the year that allowed Al Qaeda to expand its control over towns and cities in the south and southeast, 2012 is turning out to be a year when the group is facing an unprecedented amount of pressure.

The Yemeni armed forces, once beaten and bruised by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, are taking back the land it lost only a few months earlier, launching airstrikes on terrorist bases daily and sending in reinforcements to drive the group away from villages that were converted into Al Qaeda havens. The terrorist organization has faced its most significant operational setback in nearly a year, with Zinjibar, a city that it had controlled since May of last year, reportedly recaptured by Yemeni military forces after weeks of combat.

All the while, the United States have used their drone assets and warplanes to augment the Yemeni government’s offensive, a sign of an enduring defense partnership that will outlast Saleh’s downfall

The United States have fired more missiles in Yemen this year than at any time since 2002, another indication that Hadi views the relationship is similarly valuable terms.

Ali Abdullah Saleh was once viewed as an indispensible asset in Washington’s counterterrorism strategy. Over the past few months, it has become quite obvious that Saleh was not only replaceable but perhaps lazy and manipulative when compared to his successor.