ADEN, Aug 14 – Yemeni government forces backed by Arab coalition aircraft and gunboats drove al Qaeda militants out of the city of Zinjibar in eastern Yemen on Sunday, residents said.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has exploited a 16-month-old civil war between the internationally recognised government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the Iran-allied Houthis to capture a 600-km (370-mile) stretch of Arabian Sea coastline in eastern Yemen.
Hadi’s troops and forces from the Saudi-led Arab coalition drove out AQAP – widely considered the most dangerous branch of the global militant group – from the Hadramout provincial capital of Mukalla in April.
The militants have since repeatedly withdrawn from and returned to Zinjibar and Jaar, the capital of Abyan and the province’s second largest city.
Residents and military sources said hundreds of government troops battled their way into Zinjibar, where some 100,000 people live, and captured the local government headquarters from retreating al Qaeda militants.
Residents reported there were some clashes with retreating militants but gave no figures on casualties.
Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Arab allies intervened in the civil war in Yemen in March last year after the Houthis advanced on his headquarters in the southern port city of Aden and forced him to flee to Riyadh.
The war has killed more than 6,500 people, displaced more than 2.5 million and caused a humanitarian catastrophe in one of the world’s poorest countries.
Coalition bombing had mostly focused on the Houthis and troops loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, but began turning their attention to AQAP earlier this year when forces funded and trained by the United Arab Emirates launched a surprise attack to win Mukalla.
But an armed push toward Qaeda-held towns in Abyan and neighbouring Lahj province proved more difficult, and militants launched repeated suicide attacks against Yemeni forces.