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UAE-backed troops attack Al Qaida hideouts

Militants have suffered major setbacks in past two years due to army action and US drone strikes

Gulf News

Al Mukalla: Hundreds of UAE-backed Yemeni troops have pushed into a long and rugged valley west of Al Mukalla city, the capital of the Hadramout region, which has long been a sanctuary for Al Qaida militants.

A local military officer knowledgeable about the operation told Gulf News that the Yemeni troops, known as the Hadhrami Elite Forces, had gained control of the entrance points to Al Mousaini valley, besieging Al Qaida militants who have long used the valley for regrouping and staging attacks against government forces in the province. “Our forces have cautiously advanced into the valley to avoid Al Qaida’s booby traps, landmines and ambushes,” the officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to media.

The current operation in Al Mousaini valley began last week when hundreds of Yemeni troops, backed by UAE military advisers and air support, marched from military bases inside and outside Al Mukalla towards the valley for the first time since expelling Al Qaida from Al Mukalla two years ago. The military officer said the operation was meant to cripple Al Qaida’s ability to turn the rugged valley into a military site where they train fighters, store arms and plot attacks against military and government targets in Hadramout and other provinces.

Al Qaida had held Al Mukalla, Yemen’s fifth largest city, and its surrounding areas for one year. Local military officers believe the militants transported part of the arms and money they looted from military bases and the central bank in Al Mukalla to Al Mousaini valley, and the rugged mountains of Shabwa and Abyan. “Al Mousaini extends to Shabwa and remote villages in Hadramout. We believe Al Qaida’s senior leaders are hiding there,” the officer said, adding that two soldiers were killed when they stepped on landmines planted by Al Qaida militants.

In Hadramout’s Wadi Amed district, residents said Al Qaida militants blew up a deserted police station in the district’s centre on Friday night besides a mountain road before fleeing to their hideouts in the mountains.

Yemen’s branch of Al Qaida, known as Al Qaida in Arabian Peninsula, has suffered major setbacks in the past two years when hundreds of Yemeni troops, trained and armed by the UAE, ousted them from their key strongholds in Abyan, Lahj, Shabwa and Hadramout. Relentless drone strikes by the US military have killed dozens of militants, including senior commanders.