ADEN, Yemen (Reuters) - An army brigade in south Yemen, trapped on its base since Islamist militants seized a nearby town, appealed for help on Sunday and said it needed troop reinforcements, weapons and water.
Mass protests demanding an end to President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s three-decade rule and a political impasse have paralyzed Yemen. The southern Abyan province has descended into violence with militants suspected of ties to al Qaeda challenging military control.
In recent months, militants have seized control of two cities in Abyan, including the provincial capital Zinjibar. Last week they gained control of a stadium outside Zinjibar which the army had been using for refueling and supplies.
From a base just a few km outside Zinjibar, officer Khaled Noamani said his brigade had sent an urgent plea for help.
“We call on the country to send support to the troops of the 25th brigade, we have been blockaded for over a month and have not received human reinforcements, equipment, or even a drop of water in over two weeks,” he told Reuters by telephone. “There are battles here day and night.”
Noamani said militants positioned atop buildings near the base had blockaded the brigade of several hundred troops.
The United States and neighboring Saudi Arabia have been targets of foiled attacks by al Qaeda’s Yemen-based wing and worry the power vacuum from a six-month struggle between protesters and the government may give the group more room to operate.
Opposition groups accuse the government of intentionally letting the violence escalate in order to frighten the international community that Yemen would collapse into chaos without Saleh at the helm.
Saleh is recovering in Riyadh from wounds sustained in an assassination attempt last month, but has signaled he will cling to power despite analysts’ expectations he will be unable to retake the reins.
Yemen’s Defense Ministry said on Saturday it would step up military operations and will deploy a security belt around the southern port city of Aden, entry way to the strategic Red Sea shipping lane where some 3 million barrels of oil pass daily.
Aden residents fear the militant threat spreading from Abyan, where dozens have been killed as clashes erupt daily. Residents say they are suffering from food, water and power shortages, and thousands have fled to Aden for refuge.
Writing by Erika Solomon; Editing by Diana Abdallah