The Associated Press | New York Times | July 30, 2011
SANA, Yemen (AP) — Government airstrikes in southern Yemen against Islamist militants accidentally killed 14 pro-government tribesmen, a Yemeni security official said Saturday.
The botched airstrikes reflect the difficulty the imperiled government has had battling for survival on multiple fronts since a popular uprising against the longtime president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, began six months ago. Armed tribesmen are fighting government forces in a number of areas around the country, and Islamist militants, some allied with Al Qaeda, have overrun entire towns in the restive south.
The airstrikes hit just east of the town of Zinjibar, near the southern coast, which Islamist militants overran in May. Since then, government forces and tribesmen have battled to push them out, causing regular casualties on both sides.
The security official, Abdullah al-Jadana, said Saturday that men from the Fadl tribe had advanced on Zinjibar, killing two militants and occupying a government communications building before at least three airstrikes hit the area late Friday, he said. Fourteen tribesmen were killed in the strike.
A military official confirmed the airstrikes and said preliminary information indicated a mistake had been made. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with military rules.
Tribal loyalties are paramount in Yemen’s provinces, where the central government exerts little control, and an errant airstrike could sap the local support crucial to government forces.
Just north of the capital, Sana, where antigovernment tribes have been battling Yemen’s army, two days of clashes left 17 tribesmen dead, prompting a powerful tribe to threaten attacks against Sana’s international airport.
The Arhab tribe, which has long complained of government neglect, says the elite Republican Guard is shelling and bombing its villages, killing civilians.
The tribe has previously attacked army bases and tried to prevent troops from entering Sana, where it feared they would attack protesters.
A tribal leader, Sheik Hamid Assem, said Saturday that dozens of soldiers had also been killed.
The Defense Ministry acknowledged in a statement that soldiers had died, but did not provide a number.
In a statement issued late Friday, the Arhab tribe, “The sons of the Arhab tribe will strike the Sana International Airport with all the available means of war in response to the attacks on them by air and the shelling of their villages and homes.”
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