UAE-backed Yemen forces celebrate liberation of Mahfad, a key Al Qaida bastion in Abyan. Source: Facebook Image Credit: Facebook

Al Mukalla: UAE-backed Yemeni forces have completely cleansed Al Qaida militants from Mahfad district, Al Qaida’s major stronghold in the southern province of Abyan, local government and military officials said on Sunday.

In the lightning offensive on the district earlier this month, forces from Security Belt stormed the town of Mahfad and a large of swathe of lands including scattered villages that have long been safe havens for the militants.

A local military commander told Gulf News that Security Belt forces have handed over security to local government authorities after rounding up many Al Qaida operatives who used to wreck havoc in the town.

“Security Belt forces have withdrawn from Mahfad after successfully booting Al Qaida militants,” the commander said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the press.

In the past, consecutive military offensives were unable to permanently kick the militants out.

The militants usually flee to the neighbouring rugged mountains and then return as soon as army troops leave.

However, this time would be different, the commander said because local security officers have taken charge to secure the town and prevent a possible Al Qaida return.

Mahfad—where Al Qaida had many military bases—has been targeted by US drones and Saudi-led coalition air strikes.

By seizing Mahfad in Abyan and Azzan in the neighbouring province of Shabwa, local UAE-supported forces have inflicted fatal blows to Al Qaida and Daesh who have cashed in on the current turmoil across Yemen to gain a toehold in southern Yemen.

The commander said that fighter jets from the Saudi-led coalition and US drones would now target the militants who fled to nearby mountains.

The Security Belt Forces were set up by the UAE shortly after the Saudi-led coalition intervened militarily in Yemen earlier 2015 to reinstall the internationally-recognised president Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi—after an Al Houthi coup booted him from Sana’a.

The coup plunged the country into war and left a dangerous security vacuum in Yemen’s southern provinces where Al Qaida exploited.

So far, the Security Belt forces have booted Al Qaida, Daesh, and other militant groups from Aden, Lahj, and Abyan.

Meanwhile, in the Nehim district, just outside of Al Houthi-held Sana’a, government forces pushed into rebel-controlled territories amid heavy air strikes targeting Al Houthi gatherings.

Brigadier General Abdo Abdullah Majili, told Gulf News on Sunday, that government forces stepped up shelling and attacks against Al Houthis in Nehim.

“This is the most important frontline in Yemen as it is the close to Sana’a,” Majili said.