Al Mukalla: UAE-backed Yemeni troops have said they killed a local Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) leader, arrested many militants, and ousted AQAP from the southern Abyan province’s rural enclaves, after a military operation that ended on Sunday.

Colonel Fahad Gharama, a local military commander, told Gulf News by telephone his forces, backed by UAE military advisers and air cover, ended a military operation aimed at booting out Al Qaida fugitives from rural areas and rugged mountains in Abyan’s Al Mahfad district, Al Qaida’s former stronghold in the province. “We have cleaned Al Mahfad’s military camps, valleys, villages and mountains from Al Qaida,” Gharama said, adding Abu Mohsen Basabreen, identified as Al Qaida’s leader of Al Mahfad, was killed after clashes with Yemeni troops.

As part of ‘Operation Sweeping Torrent’, dozens of armoured vehicles carrying soldiers from the Security Belt and Rapid Deployment Force crossed into rugged regions last week in Al Mahfad that have long been perceived as Al Qaida safe havens. Consecutive military operations by previous governments had largely failed to dislodge the militants from those areas.

Gharama vowed the UAE-trained forces would never allow Al Qaida militants to return to Al Mahfad or to any other liberated area in Abyan. “We have set up permanent checkpoints in the liberated areas, reinforced the old checkpoints with more soldiers, and placed the Rapid Deployment Force on a high alert to thwart any counterattack by Al Qaida,” Gharama said, adding that a stash of arms and ammunition was recovered from Al Qaida’s camps.

Gharama attributed the success of the operation to massive air and military logistics support from the UAE forces based in the southern city of Aden. “We have been in touch with them since day one. They provided us with arms and supported us with their fighter jets and drones. The operation was very successful and achieved all objectives.”

Heavy air strikes by US drones, UAE fighter jets and military operations on the ground by Yemeni forces have effectively eroded Al Qaida’s power and prevented it from returning to liberated areas in southern Yemen. The militants have attempted to exploit the current raging conflict in Yemen to take control of key cities in the south.

Thanks to massive support from the UAE Armed Forces, Yemeni forces that regrouped in military bases inside and outside the country managed to expel the militants from their former strongholds, forcing them into taking refuge along a chain of mountains in Baydha.