Yemeni Army Taking Control Over al-Qaeda Strongholds

Article Summary
After launching a military operation intended to eliminate al-Qaeda-affiliated strongholds in the south, writes Abu Bakr Abdullah, the Yemeni government has retaken several cities once occupied by the terrorist organization.

The Yemeni army’s swift operation to destroy Ansar al-Sharia armed strongholds — al-Qaeda's Yemeni wing — in the southern Abyan province has enabled Sanaa to regain control of cities controlled by insurgents at a lower cost. Still, the withdrawal of al-Qaeda insurgents from the front lines has raised suspicions as Yemen encounters new struggles with terrorism. According to Yemeni politicians, this is only the beginning.

The army, which prepared itself for storming organizations and eliminating the terrorist threat, has essentially found itself in a deserted field of battle, except for some areas where clashes erupted after hundreds of armed insurgents snuck out of these cities to hide, or perhaps transfer, their huge arsenal, which concerned most army commanders.

Following its limited battles with al-Qaeda insurgents, Sanaa has officially declared control of the cities of Zinjibar and Jaar, two of the most fortified al-Qaeda strongholds. Sixty insurgents were killed, and 300 escaped.  Al-Qaeda  insists that its armed insurgents did not fight against the army at all; they said that the ruins, which included their strongholds, resulted from air raids and artillery shelling, which led most of them to withdraw.

According to previous statements made by Yemeni officials, more than 1,000 al-Qaeda fighters are stationed in Abyan province, including Arab and foreign field commanders. Moreover, hundreds of Somali fighters from the Mujahideen Youth Movement have flocked to the Abyan province in recent months after the fundamentalist organization declared three Yemeni areas to be Islamic emirates.

Local officials told An-Nahar that "the leaders of the organization preferred to withdraw to avoid being involved in a losing war that was planned by the Yemeni army. The army had prepared air, land and sea forces that were supported by the brigades of the People's Committees' fighters and the US, which provides them with drones and warships that are anchored in the Gulf of Aden.

Security concerns over the possibility that al-Qaeda gunmen may hide and prepare for surprise attacks have led army commanders to deploy several military units to the liberated areas, and to embark on wide-sweeping operations across neighborhoods and villages.

Shabwah Front

The US forces supporting the Yemeni army in its war against al-Qaeda have carried out military operations in the nearby Shabwah governorate, where US drones launched five raids in the cities of Azzan and Hota on June 13. Security Director of Shabwah Brigadier General Ahmed al-Maqdashi said these raids have killed at least 30 terrorists, including foreign fighters, and wounded dozens more. Some areas in the city of Azzan were exposed to naval rocket attacks believed to have been launched from warships anchored in the Gulf of Aden.

Field Confrontations

Field clashes between the Yemeni army and insurgents in al-Qaeda's few remaining strongholds in the coastal city of Shaqra have continued amidst other battles in the Wadi Hassan area. The Yemeni army officially declared control of the entire Al-Arkoub Heights area, and laid siege to the remnants of the fundamentalist organization in Shaqra. 

Found in: yemeni army, ansar al-sharia, al-qaeda

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