Yemeni forces advance on Al Anad military base in Lahj governorate, 50 km north of Aden Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Yemen government forces trained by the UAE military officers on Friday morning regained control of a major city in the southern province of Lahj after brief clashes with Al Qaida militants who have been overrunning the area since late last year, residents and officials said.

The government loyalists, mainly former resistance fighters who fought off Al Houthis in the south, marched towards the province of Lahj from the neighbouring strategic city of Aden. The troops first captured the province’s capital, Huta, and then combed small areas in the suburb, according to Adeeb Al Sayed, a media aide to the governor of Lahj.

Al Sayed told Gulf News that all the soldiers had been trained for months by the UAE army in Anad military base and another camp in Aden. “Days before the assault, the UAE helicopters strafed the city of Huta destroying Al Qaida ammunition depots, armed vehicles and their gatherings,”

Since the Arab coaltion backed forces pushed Al Houthis out of south Yemen last year, the province of Lahj has become a stronghold for Al Qaida and Daesh-linked operatives who sneak into Aden to kill security officers.

The government official said that some of the soldiers who stormed Lahj on Friday are part of an elite counterterrorism unit that were trained by the UAE officers in Aden. “The forces captured dozens of Al Qaida operatives and many others who might have links to them.”

Warplanes from the Saudi-led coalition have targeted Al Qaida positions in Abyan and Lahj provinces for the last couple of weeks. Residents said that the airstrikes have killed many militants and prompted many others to withdraw from targeted areas. Military analysts in Yemen think the recent improvement in security in the once lawless Aden and Friday’s assault on Lahj signal that security bodies in south Yemen that crumbled last year when thousands of soldiers deserted their camps and backed Al Houthis, are gathering momentum.

After liberating Lahj from Al Qaida and other militant groups, army officials say that similar military assaults on the cards to boot militants out of their strongholds in Abyan and Shabwa. Al Qaida has controlled the city of Al Mukalla, the capital of Hadramout province for a year.

In Aden, a car bomb exploded outside the office foreign affairs ministry immediately after worshippers were leaving mosques after prayer in the city’s Mansoura district. Local officials say that a pedestrian was injured in the explosion that damaged the building’s wall. On Thursday, a security officer told Gulf News that security forces in Aden captured members of a death squad responsible for targeting scores of security officers, judges, and government officials including the governor of Aden.