Civilians Flee From Battle In Southern Yemen Government troops in Yemen have been battling al-Qaida militants in a remote southern town since the beginning of this week. The government acknowledges that some 2,000 civilians have fled their homes in the battle zone. Other reports put the figure much higher.
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Civilians Flee From Battle In Southern Yemen

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Civilians Flee From Battle In Southern Yemen

Civilians Flee From Battle In Southern Yemen

Civilians Flee From Battle In Southern Yemen

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Government troops in Yemen have been battling al-Qaida militants in a remote southern town since the beginning of this week. The government acknowledges that some 2,000 civilians have fled their homes in the battle zone. Other reports put the figure much higher.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Soraya, what can you tell us about this operation?

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Exactly what's going on, though, it's hard to know, because the government is banning any independent observers from going in there. They say they've launched this operation in response to an al-Qaida attack on a vital pipeline. And they say they've killed a handful of militants and captured two dozen more.

INSKEEP: So you've got these militants, Yemenis - and Saudi Arabia, of course, being a nearby country. They attacked a pipeline. How, if at all, is it known that they're connected to al-Qaida?

SARHADDI NELSON: But everybody sort of admits that, in fact, al-Qaida is in that area, that they've sort of been moving in. I mean, it's not an unknown tactic of theirs to sort of take advantage of local strife and rifts between government and local people to sort of establish their bases.

INSKEEP: So how have residents been affected by all this fighting?

SARHADDI NELSON: And this has created a real problem, because this is a very poor area. And so the other villages in the area cannot really accommodate or absorb these refugees. And so, you have a lot of people, now, living outdoors without any water, food or tents or any sort of medical, 'cause one can assume that there are probably injuries, if not deaths. So it's become a real humanitarian crisis.

INSKEEP: Soraya, we mentioned at the beginning that, coincidence or not, the U.S. counterterrorism adviser John Brennan showed up in the country just as this offensive was beginning. How closely does the government of Yemen collaborate with the United States?

SARHADDI NELSON: Well, they're certainly relying on the U.S. for increased military aid and training. The Americans - it's important to note, the Americans are saying that this operation did not start or is not in conjunction with the visit by Mr. Brennan. But they also support what Yemen is doing to fight terrorism in the region.

INSKEEP: Are the Americans hunting for anyone in particular in Yemen?

SARHADDI NELSON: And his name is Anwar al-Awlaki. His family compound is actually about 60 miles from where the fighting is going on. And he's been reported by some websites as actually being involved in this fight. But, again, the Yemenis are denying that.

INSKEEP: So he's not described as the target, but he's certainly somebody the United States would like to talk to if they had a chance?

SARHADDI NELSON: Exactly. And he's certainly in the area.

INSKEEP: Thanks very much.

SARHADDI NELSON: You're welcome.

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