SANAA (Reuters) - Yemen’s president ordered the restructuring of some military units on Monday, aiming to curb the powers of a son of former leader Ali Abdullah Saleh and stabilise a country where Saleh’s legacy still looms large.
State-owned news agency Saba said late on Monday that President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi issued decrees transferring the command of some Republican Guards’ units to a newly formed force called the Presidential Protective Forces under his authority.
Other units from the elite Republican Guards, which is led by Brigadier General Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh, the ex-president’s son, were placed under different regional command.
Lawlessness in Yemen has alarmed the United States and top world oil exporter Saudi Arabia, which increasingly view the impoverished Arab state as a frontline in their war on al Qaeda and its affiliates.
The president’s decrees also incorporated some army units led by dissident General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who broke away from Saleh’s forces after the protests began last year, into the new presidential force or under regional command.
Ahmar welcomed the decrees and called them “brave and patriotic decisions”, Saba said, adding that the moves restore unity to the armed forces and improve discipline.
Hadi, who had served as Saleh’s deputy, took power in February after standing as the only candidate in a presidential election. His election came as part of a deal brokered by Yemen’s Gulf neighbours to end the political upheaval.
Restructuring the armed forces was a major element of the power transfer deal signed last year in Saudi Arabia.
Hadi has promised to unify the army, which is divided between Saleh’s allies and foes. In April, he removed about 20 top commanders, including a half brother of Saleh and other relatives.
Yemen’s northern neighbour, Saudi Arabia, and the United States both backed the power transition deal, partly due to concerns over the expansion of al-Qaeda’ s regional wing in a country next to major oil shipping lanes.
Washington, which has pursued a campaign of assassination by drone and missile against alleged al Qaeda targets in Yemen, has backed a military offensive in May to recapture swaths of land seized by insurgents in the southern Abyan province last year.
The army campaign was hailed as a major victory after Islamist fighters were pushed out in June, though residents and analysts say the militants are simply lying low and waiting for a chance to regroup.
In the latest fighting, security forces killed five foreign militants And a local fighter in an attack on al Qaeda target in the southern al-Baydah province overnight, a Yemeni security source said.
The operation targeted Abdullah Awad al-Masri, also known as Abu Osama al-Maribi, who ran an explosives factory in the province and was considered to be the most dangerous al Qaeda commander in the province, the source said.
The Yemeni Defence Ministry also said security forces killed two Islamist militants and arrested three others during a sweep of Jaar, where a suicide bomber killed at least 45 people in an attack on a wake on Saturday.
The attack, the deadliest attack since the army declared victory over al Qaeda in June, appeared to target the commander of the Popular Committees, tribal fighters who sided with the Yemeni army in an offensive against Ansar al-Sharia, a group that swore fealty to Yemen’s branch of al Qaeda.
Despite losing their base, militants have remain a potent threat. They have staged assassinations and bombings, and attacked a southern village in an effort to regain control of territory for the first time since they were driven out.
Additional reporting by Mohammed Mukhashaf,; Writing by Rania El Gamal; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Jon Boyle