Forces loyal to the Saudi-backed Yemeni president flash their arms at a road on the entrance to Abyan province as they take part in an operation to drive Al-Qaeda fighters out of the southern provincial capital, on April 23, 2016. Yemeni forces backed by air power from the Saudi-led Arab coalition launched an operation in Abyan province as they advanced towards Zinjibar and the neighbouring town of Jaar, military sources said. Soldiers reached Al-Kud, five kilometres (three miles) south of Zinjibar where they clashed with Qaeda militants, while coalition Apache helicopters targeted extremist positions in the vicinity, according to the officials. Twelve Al-Qaeda militants and three soldiers died in the fighting, a military official said. Government forces last week expelled militants of the jihadist network's local branch -- Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula -- from Huta, the provincial capital of Lahj, as part of a widespread operation to secure southern provinces. Coalition-backed forces have driven milit Image Credit: AFP

Al Mukalla: Yemeni government troops on Thursday declared the recapturing the southern province of Lahj from Al Qaida militants after gaining control of all districts, two government officials told Gulf News.

The fresh territorial gains come almost two weeks after the army troops backed by the Saudi-led coalition airstrikes launched offensive against Al Qaida strongholds in the province.

Munir Mahmoud Al Yafae, the commander of government troops, said his forces booted the militants out of the main regions, including the capital Huta, Tuban, Wahat and Al Husaini and they are combing farms for fleeing Al Qaida.

“We have secured Aden-Lahj-Taiz road. Frankly Al Qaida militants did not engage in clashes with us. They just fled when we arrived,”

Al Yafae said that dozens of Al Qaida operatives were arrested; many surrendered while other preferred to take shelter in their remaining strongholds in Abyan. Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, Al Qaida’s most active branch in the world, stormed many regions in the south at stunning speed taking advantages of fighting against Al Houthis last year. Local fighters regrouped in military camps arranged by the Saudi-led coalition and launched massive assaults on Al Qaida-controlled territories in the south. On Sunday government forces recaptured the city of Al Mukalla, the fifth largest city in Yemen, and many other areas in the province of Hadramout. By Thursday, Al Qaida were driven out of Aden, Lahj and Hadramout, but still control the capital of Abyan and a city in Shabwa.

Al Yafae said his highly trained forces would go back to their bases in the southern province of Aden after handing over security to local agencies. “We are ready to carry out new missions in Abyan and Shabwa.”

Local officials in Lahj say all government facilities were reduced to ruins during Al Houthi occupation of the province last year and the government should focus to reviving vital services like electricity and drinking water.

Adeb Al Sayed, a media aide to the governor of Lahj, told Gulf News on Thursday that the province is in desperate need of help to rebuild security and civilian bodies. “Four districts in the province were declared last year as disaster areas due to fierce fighting with Al Houthis. The districts basic infrastructure was destroyed. We urge the government and the coalition to help us restoring services to the residents.”