Yemen's military eroding: 20 senior commanders join opposition

Tuesday, March 22, 2011   E-Mail this story   Free Headline Alerts

CAIRO Yemen's military appears to be collapsing amid the growing revolt against President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The most senior defector in the U.S.-backed military was identified as Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsen Al Ahmar. Al Ahmar commanded the Army's 1st Armored Division, ordered to deploy in Sanaa as part of the crackdown on the opposition.

"I announce our support and our peaceful backing to the youth revolution," Al Ahmar said.

In a statement to Qatar's A-Jazeera satellite channel on March 21, Al Ahmar said military officers could no longer ignore the abuses of the Saleh regime. The general, regarded as a longtime ally of the president, said he and his colleagues have decided to use their authority to end the bloodshed.

"The crisis is getting more complicated and it's pushing the country towards and violence and civil war," Al Ahmar said. "We are going to fulfil our duties to preserve security and stability."

The sources said Al Ahmar has brought with him other officers as well as Russian-origin T-72 main battle tanks. They said the MBTs were ordered by Al Ahmar to deploy throughout Sanaa and respond to any Saleh assault on protesters.

Later, another senior officer, Maj. Gen. Mohmmed Ali Mohsen, head of the northwestern command, defected. Ali Mohsen was said to have been a leading commander in the war against Iranian-backed Shi'ite rebels in 2010.

"The military are the protectors of the people, and I here announce that my forces will join the revolution and protect the youth at Taghyir Square," Ali Mohsen said.

The defection of military personnel intensified over the last week as the Saleh regime ordered thousands of troops into Sanaa. On March 18, at least 50 people were killed and nearly 700 injured in an assault by security forces at Sanaa University. The most lethal regime force was identified as the 50,000-member Republican Guard.

"This was a crime that was both illogical and unjustifiable," Health Minister Abdul Karim Rafi, who resigned, said.

Saleh has sought to demonstrate his commitment to reform. On March 20, the president fired his Cabinet, several of whom had already resigned in protest of the killing by the security forces.

"After getting blood on his hands, he [Saleh] cried crocodile tears for the martyrs," an opposition statement said.

The military said it has replaced the Republican Guard as well as police around Sanaa University. Officials said the new force would have fewer weapons and use them only in self-defense.

"From now on, we will be controlling the entrances and exits of the square by orders from the Supreme Military Command," military spokesman Lt. Col. Mohammed Hussein said.

At the same time, the Defense Ministry asserted that the military remained loyal to Saleh. The statement came amid reports of shootouts between regime forces and defecting military units near the presidential palace in Sanaa.

"The armed forces will stay faithful to the oath they gave before God, the nation and political leadership under the brother, President Ali Abdullah Saleh," Defense Minister Mohammed Nasser Ali said. "We will not allow under any circumstances an attempt at a coup against democracy and constitutional legitimacy, or violation of the security of the nation and citizens."

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