Yemeni forces drive Al-Qaeda from stronghold after bitter fighting

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AL-MUKALLA: Yemeni forces say they have driven Al-Qaeda out of a key stronghold in the south of the country, after fierce fighting in which 32 soldiers and at least 24 militants were killed.

Mohammed Al-Naqeeb, a spokesman for the pro-independence Southern Transitional Council, which commands the military operations, told Arab News that the third phase of an offensive named “Eastern Arrows” had ended after their forces captured Omaran valley in Abyan province.

He said 32 soldiers were killed and 42 wounded by Al-Qaeda counterattacks, booby traps and roadside bombs.

The militants suffered 24 dead in combat or in the bombardment of Abyan’s high, rocky highlands.

Al-Naqeeb said STC forces had recovered landmines and improvised explosive devices from captured Al-Qaeda strongholds, and were next preparing to target the group’s final hiding places around the town of Al-Mahfad.

“Al-Qaeda has taken significant hits and lost one of its key strongholds in Omaran,” Al-Naqeeb said. “Our manpower and readiness make us capable of clearing entire southern provinces. It has been eight years since we began fighting terrorism. Our forces have gained expertise in combating Al-Qaeda.”

The Yemeni military and security services launched their offensive earlier this month to drive Al-Qaeda out of Abyan and neighboring Shabwa, from where the militants have trained and planned attacks against Yemeni cities.

Al-Qaeda also kept weapons and hostages in caverns in Omaran and adjacent valleys that connect the provinces with a third, Al-Bayda, according to Yemeni military sources.

The group has already been driven out of Al-Mousinah in Shabwa and Al-Wadhae, the rocky Khaber Al-Marakesha region, Lawder and Moudia.

Al-Naqeeb said some Al-Qaeda fighters escaped to Wadi Hadramout while others found refuge in Al-Bayda, which is controlled by the Houthis, and Markha in Shabwa.

Infighting between various anti-Houthi military factions has allowed Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the most deadly branch of the group in the world, to spread throughout southern Yemen over the past seven years.

The STC joined forces with several rival groups to combat the threat after agreeing a ceasefire two years ago.

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