First Published: 2012-05-16

 

US-backed Yemen army gaining ground against Al-Qaeda

 

Army has advanced towards southeastern entrance of Al-Qaeda-held Zinjibar with backing of US experts.

 

Middle East Online

By Fawaz al-Haidari - ADEN

Advancing steadily

Yemen's army, with the backing of US experts, is slowly gaining ground in its southern offensive against Al-Qaeda, diplomats and officials said on Wednesday, as the death toll in five days of fighting rose to 128.

A military official said the army on Wednesday had advanced towards the southeastern entrance of Zinjibar, which was captured by Al-Qaeda militants a year ago, following clashes that left six soldiers wounded.

"The army is deployed at the entrances of the city. It advances during the day and tactically retreats at night out of fear of terrorist attacks," an officer on the ground at Zinjibar, capital of southern Abyan province, said.

The military source said a force of around 20,000 soldiers from all regions in the south are engaged in the all-out operation launched on Saturday to retake Al-Qaeda strongholds in Abyan province.

They are backed by armed local militia consisting of residents of towns and cities determined to put Al-Qaeda to flight.

Another 13 people were killed in fighting on Wednesday, most of them jihadists, officials and tribal sources said.

According to Western diplomats in Sanaa, US experts have been deployed on ground, mainly at Al-Anad airbase in the nearby Lahij province, to offer advice to Yemeni troops.

At the same time, US drones are launching surgical strikes targeting the militants, according to witnesses, who have also reported that US naval units are bombing jihadists' positions from the sea.

AFP has not been able to confirm this information from official sources.

On Sunday, John Brennan, US President Barack Obama's top counter-terrorism aide held talks in Sanaa with Yemeni President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi on "combatting terrorism" and attempts by Yemen's army to crush the local branch of Al-Qaeda, official media said.

The offensive was launched after newly-elected Hadi vowed to fight the network and followed days after the White House announced that a plot by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to blow up a US airliner had been successfully thwarted.

A senior US official told the New York Times that a bomb for the would-be attack was sewn into "custom fit" underwear that would have been difficult to detect even in a careful pat-down at an airport.

The paper said a double agent managed to spend weeks with AQAP before handing over information that allowed the United States to launch a drone strike in Yemen on May 6 that killed Fahd al-Quso, a senior figure who was wanted for the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen.

Quso's name figured on an FBI list of most wanted terrorists, along with a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to his arrest.

On May 12, US drones launched another two air strikes, killing a total of 11 suspected Al-Qaeda jihadists in eastern Yemen.

On the ground, the army backed by local militiamen on Wednesday exchanged artillery fire with Al-Qaeda insurgents in an area surrounding Mount Yasuf, overlooking Loder, northeast of Zinjibar, witnesses said.

A member of the Popular Resistance Committees, a militia formed by local residents, said that Al-Qaeda militants had at dawn fired artillery shells at troops and militiamen stationed atop Mount Yasuf, killing two armed residents and wounding four.

The army responded and in a fierce counter-attack killed 11 jihadists, tribal sources said. The area then fell quiet, they added.

According to a military source, one soldier who had replaced Al-Qaeda's black flag with the Yemeni flag on the hill on Tuesday was shot dead by a jihadist sniper.

Saturday's multi-pronged assault is the largest conducted by the army against Al-Qaeda branch in Yemen, whose members have named themselves "Partisans of Sharia" (Islamic law).

At least 128 people -- 82 jihadists, 20 soldiers, 16 civilians, and 10 militiamen -- have been killed in the offensive, according to an AFP tally based on reports by officials and tribal leaders.

Al-Qaeda militants last year swept across southern Yemen, exploiting the decline in central government control that accompanied Arab Spring-inspired protests that eventually forced president Ali Abdullah Saleh to cede power in February.

Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri exhorted Yemenis to rebel against Hadi, saying in a video posted on jihadist forums on Tuesday that he was an agent of the United States.

"You need to realise what is going on around you," Zawahiri said in his message, encouraging people to "rid the country of the corrupt politicians and vampires that suck the blood of the people."

 

Erdogan slams Saudi demands of Qatar as illegal

New crown prince widely welcomed in Saudi Arabia

Banned Bahraini newspaper fires staff

Iraqi forces control two thirds of Mosul Old City

Prime time for Ramadan on Gulf fashion calendar

Assad leads Eid prayers in Syria’s Hama

Lone-wolf attacks raise concern about new trend in terror

Sudan making 'positive' steps on meeting US sanctions terms

Mecca suicide bombing injures six

Gulf crisis heats up as Qatar receives list of demands

Suicide attacks kill at least three people in Mosul

Civilians killed in Iraq suicide bomb attacks

UN warns Yemen cholera outbreak could infect 300,000 by September

Putin launches deep-water phase of TurkStream pipeline

Berlin warns Ankara against meddling in religious affairs

Asian states downplay 'Russia proposal' to send troops to Syria

Iran’s Salehi urges West to save historic nuclear deal

Iran, allies mark Jerusalem Day with rallies

US-led Syria strikes kill 472 civilians in one month

Morocco dismantles 'IS-linked cell plotting tourist attacks'

France sets out tough new anti-terror law

Russia warships, submarine strike IS targets in Syria

Trump-Saudi ties help pave way for new Saudi crown prince

Makeshift clinic saves lives near Syria’s Raqa

Egyptian fuel helps restart Gaza power station

Rights groups say Morocco protest leader 'severely beaten' during arrest

5 killed in Mogadishu car bomb attack

UN experts urge Egypt to halt executions after 'flawed trials'

Qatar emir congratulates newly-appointed Saudi crown prince

Kushner hails 'productive' Palestine-Israel talks

Macron says removing Assad no longer priority in Syria

Turkey sends first aid ship to isolated ally Qatar

Iraq PM says IS admitting defeat in Mosul

Egypt delivers fuel to ease Gaza electricity shortage

Saudi Arabia named after ruling dynasty

Turkey detains catering boss after army food poisoning

Israel says will unleash 'unimaginable power' in future Lebanon war

Brussels nail bomber identified as Moroccan

Saudi stock market bullish on new heir

Lebanon's Salame to be new UN Libya envoy

New Saudi heir is king's agent of change

Turkish President accused of influencing courts

Mohammed bin Salman named Saudi crown prince

Algeria leader drops Panama Papers libel suit vs Le Monde

Morocco detains three as Rif protests continue