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At the Heart of Yemen’s Military Restructuring

In the last ten years, Yemen’s soldiers have carried the burden of sectarian clashes, al-Qaeda, tribal conflicts, enforcing the law and the recent revolution. The rate of their deaths seems to be increasing at an astronomical rate —  in the past few years alone the military have had members of their ranks killed at least on a daily basis. Sadly, the more soldiers that die in Yemen, the less likely we are to answer one simple question: Does anyone know why or how they are dying?

The death of soldiers is not uncommon because their job is to put their lives on the line for uniforms that they wear. However, in Yemen the number of deaths is perverse and utterly unnecessary. This past week in the Abyen governorate, 200 soldiers were killed by the hands of al-Qaeda. At first glance, it’s just another statistic with no answers. But when you look closely, all these soldiers died in a fortified camp. Some poor decisions must have been made with a great disrespect to life.

The questions that illuminate this crisis are many: How come al-Qaeda militants managed to enter into the heart of a heavily fortified camp without any resistance? Where was the emergency alarm? How come the vast majority of dead bodies were those of soldiers?

Perhaps it was just fate, but outside circumstances are likely to reveal a darker story. Not so surprising, the attack happened one night before Brigadier Mahdi Magwalah, the loyal commander to the old President, handed his power to his replacement.

Notably, many of the recent attacks reported on these very pages in the past year find soldiers dying in similar, hazy circumstances. While it can never be known for sure, it would be a shame if the deaths of these soldiers were to make a political point.

When a common soldier dies in today’s world, the family can take pride in knowing that they were fighting for a cause greater than themselves. However, soldiers in Yemen are dying for hollow reasons. For each soldier killed in vain, at the hands of a personal dispute, there is a family left with little to no consolation with the news of a son’s death.

It is under this cause that restructuring the military takes on great importance in Yemen’s transition period. The longer the military is allowed to fester and break into factions the more soldiers will die from the same cruel fate as those 200 soldiers in Abyen.

The military should not just be restructured with a quick shuffle of names; nor should be restructured to meet the interests of outside powers.  Instead, it should be restructured with a vision to create a single army that unifies Yemen – an army that every citizen can take pride in. With a strong, national army in place, a death of a soldier will be carried with pride rather than the empty remorse that 200 families feel right now.

To build Yemen’s future army, the innocent soldiers who are putting their lives on the line must be at the heart of the debate. If done successfully, no solider in Yemen should have to die in vain .

Peace and prayers to those soldiers who were killed in Abyen.