One day after President Ali Abdullah Saleh left for Saudi Arabia to seek medical treatment for injuries suffered in an attack on his compound, six people died in Sanaa, the capital. Three were reportedly fighters loyal to Sheik Sadeq al-Ahmar, a powerful tribal leader, and three were government troops.
Saleh’s departure has created confusion over who will lead the country, with Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi acting as his stand-in per Yemen’s constitution. Whether Saleh will remain in Saudi Arabia or return is unknown; his government claims his absence is temporary. His sons remain in charge of the national military, which has continued its battle with tribal groups.
In recent weeks, Saleh has refused to sign a deal supported by the United States and Saudi Arabia that would allow for a peaceful transition of power and new elections in two months.
The turmoil in Yemen poses serious challenges for U.S. officials. Saleh has been an ally in counter-terrorism efforts and his government given aid to combat the group al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. According to the Washington Post:
The flight of Yemeni leader Ali Abdullah Saleh to Saudi Arabia deprives the United States of a fitful ally in the fight against al-Qaeda’s most dangerous affiliate and injects new uncertainty into counterterrorism operations that were already hampered by the country’s bloody internal strife, according to Yemen and security experts.
U.S. officials are alarmed that the political instability in Yemen will create an opening for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula to expand its reach.
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