Yemen military forces drive Al-Qaeda out of new areas in Abyan, Shabwa

Yemeni military and security forces have taken control of a large swath of valley and mountainous areas in the southern provinces of Abyan and Shabwa, which have long been considered safe havens for Al-Qaeda militants.

Local media and officials said that military and security forces led by the pro-independence Southern Transitional Council stormed the arid and mountainous Khaber Al-Marakesha, an area in Abyan known for nearly 10 years as an Al-Qaeda hideout and the cradle of some militants, including Jalal Baliedi, a senior Al-Qaeda leader killed by a US drone in the same region in 2016.

Other military forces, including the Giants Brigades and the Shabwa Defense Forces, are on the verge of completely pushing Al-Qaeda militants from the Al-Musainah region and are now fighting their way into a long and rugged valley called Mouthab.

Residents told Arab News that the military forces encountered stiff resistance from Al-Qaeda militants who planted landmines and booby traps to obstruct their progress deeper into those rugged areas.

“The Al-Qaeda militants were outnumbered by the attacking forces and were unable to halt their advances,” a local journalist who preferred anonymity said, adding that the militants fled to a chain of rugged mountains between Abyan, Shabwa and Al-Bayda.

Mohammed Al-Naqeeb, a spokesperson for pro-independence southern troops, told Arab News that their forces have taken control of three valleys in Abyan that house three military training facilities for Al-Qaeda.

“We drove Al-Qaeda out of Al-Naseel, Moujan and Al-Sari. Al-Qaeda has a large military camp in Al-Sari,” he said.

“The terrorist elements have fled to the mountains, and the military operation continues.”

Hundreds of soldiers were deployed on Sunday in Lawder, Ahwar and other areas of Abyan province to thwart any attempts by Al-Qaeda militants to mount counterattacks.

Twenty troops and six militants were killed in an Al-Qaeda attack on a military outpost for southern forces in Ahwar, Abyan last week, the militants’ deadliest attack in months.

Many military operations to push terrorists out of those places in the past have failed because militants conduct ferocious counterattacks based on their understanding of the local geology.

Military analysts now believe that because the military and security personnel battling Al-Qaeda terrorists are made up of locals who are intimately familiar with the targeted areas, they may be able to drive the extremists out of their long-held strongholds in the southern provinces.

Similar military and security forces, who were armed and trained by the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen, were successful in driving out the militants from important cities in 2016, including Al-Mukalla, the capital of the southeast province of Hadramout, which was overrun by the militants in April 2015, as well as major cities in Abyan, Shabwa and Lahj.

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