Yemen's President Loses Key Military Supporters
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
Welcome to the program, sir.
ABDUL GHANI AL: Thank you for having me.
INSKEEP: What's the situation as best you can tell today? Are the streets quiet?
GHANI AL: I just came back from outside and the streets are quiet and life is normal, which suggests that there is no military activity at all.
INSKEEP: No military activity at all. And what about the protesters who were handed such a defeat, if you can call it that, so many of whom were shot on Friday?
GHANI AL: Yes, but they are still there. They are increasing in numbers. And they have just issued a statement that they will remain on the sit-in ground until all the goals of the revolution have been achieved.
INSKEEP: Where are the protesters and what are they doing?
GHANI AL: They are in front of San'a University. And they are close to the military barracks of Ali Mohsen Ahmar, the commander who defected from Saleh. In fact, the protesters who were being attacked by thugs and security forces are now being protected by the units of Commander Mohsen.
INSKEEP: The defense minister, of course, has gone on state television and said, wait a minute, the military is loyal here. But we also have these military officers, including some quite senior ones, who have defected. Which direction is the military leaning, as best as you can tell?
GHANI AL: The minister of defense is a ceremonial position in Yemen, as the military is commanded by family and relatives of the president. And therefore Ali Mohsen, the commander who defected, is much more important than the minister of defense.
INSKEEP: Is he a friend or relative of the president? Or was he?
GHANI AL: He is a distant relative of the president and his (unintelligible) President Saleh came to power.
INSKEEP: What kind of power does the military have in Yemen?
GHANI AL: The military is quite substantial but it has been demoralized by unnecessary war in the north, and deployment for rebellion control in the south. They feel that they have been deployed against their own people and they are demoralized.
INSKEEP: So what are the pillars of President Saleh's power right now? What pillars remain and remain solid, if any?
GHANI AL: He has the Republican Guards and the special forces, commanded by his son and his nephews. But I think that they are crumbling even as we speak.
INSKEEP: The Republican Guards, that's a separate military force that is supposed to be attached directly to the president?
GHANI AL: That's the case.
INSKEEP: And the special forces, of course, more elite military units.
GHANI AL: They are part of the Republican Guards, actually, and they were set up to fight terrorism. But they have been used against the people.
INSKEEP: And as is the case in a number of countries, are these elite units actually more powerful, perhaps more powerful and certainly more powerfully armed than the army itself?
GHANI AL: That was the intention. But now as events unfold we find out that the loyalties of commanders of these units are divided.
INSKEEP: What is the evidence suggesting that?
GHANI AL: A number of ranking officers from the Republican Guards have already defected to Commander Mohsen's side.
INSKEEP: When you talk with people on the streets of Sana'a, do they speak of Presidents Saleh as if he is - he's finished, he's gone, he's on his way out for sure?
GHANI AL: I think that the general consensus. It's a matter of time and whether he wants to go out with honor or wants to start a Gadhafi-style confrontation.
INSKEEP: Do you think he has the power to start a Gadhafi-style confrontation?
GHANI AL: Hopefully he will realize that he can't stand against the people and therefore he doesn't really have that power. But miscalculations always happen in situations like this.
INSKEEP: Thank you very much for your time.
GHANI AL: You're welcome.
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