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Yemen forces take lead in battle with al-Qaeda

Yemeni forces have taken charge in the latest offensive against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, winning the support of the public.
An army vehicle patrols in al-Mahfad of the southern Yemeni province of Abyan May 23, 2014. Yemeni forces have faced a wave of hit-and-run attacks by al Qaeda insurgents since the army captured their strongholds in al-Mahfad in Abyan province and in Mayfa'a, Azzan and Gol al-Rayda in Shabwa province earlier this month. Picture taken May 23, 2014. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah (YEMEN - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY CIVIL UNREST TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) - RTR3QMO6

The Yemeni army has been in an open war with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) since late April. The latter had launched direct attacks in April in the provinces of Abyan and Shabwa, in the south of the country. The army started its battle at the beginning of last month under the slogan, “Together for a Yemen free of terrorism,” in what could be considered the largest and most comprehensive attack led by the Yemeni army against al-Qaeda. The jihadists had taken advantage of the weakening of the state since 2011 to control several areas and remote towns.

The defense minister and head of national security personally oversaw the battle, in what could be considered as a new, rare and serious step by the Yemeni government to confront al-Qaeda. With the start of the battle, Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi gave a televised speech announcing that more than 70% of AQAP members were non-Yemenis. It was an attempt to “Yemenize” the war and mobilize domestic opinion to support the war. He largely succeeded in that, especially given the semi-hidden role — at least in the beginning — of US drones throughout the battles. Yemeni public opinion responded, standing by the army as it came to be perceived as a Yemeni war, not a war fought on behalf of foreign powers, more precisely the United States. 

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