Militants leave besieged town

The six-day siege of al-Hawta (Hota, Huta) in southern Yemen ended yesterday with an official announcement that the army had cleared suspected al-Qaeda fighters from the town.

The huge operation, involving tanks, artillery, air strikes and 1,500 troops may have been intended to show donor countries (who were meeting in New York yesterday) that Yemen is seriously tackling al-Qaeda, but it doesn't appear to have been much of a success militarily. 

The official line is that the militants fled, with the army pursuing them into the mountains. However, AP says:

"Tribal chiefs in the area said they had negotiated an end to the siege and persuaded the militants to leave peacefully. The chiefs, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisal, said the army entered the town without fighting after the militants had already left."

Presumably it's only a matter of time before they return, or pop up somewhere else.

Meanwhile ReutersAFP and AP all have reports on the Friends of Yemen meeting in New York. The reports talk mainly in terms of generalities, though there's a telling comment from Alan Duncan, Britain's minister of state for international development, who told reporters that about $3 billion promised at a donors' conference in 2006 has still not been spent in Yemen "because the country has not been able to show the capacity to use the funds".

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 25 September 2010.