Arms haul left behind by the fleeing Al Qaida militants in Houta Image Credit: Supplied

Al Mukalla: Yemeni forces, trained and armed by the UAE, have booted Al Qaida militants out of a town in the southern province of Shabwa, local military officers said.

A large convoy of military vehicles carrying at least two hundreds soldiers, locally known Shabwani Elite Forces, stormed the town of Houta, forcing Al Qaida militants to flee to the mountains, a military officer close to the commander of the forces, told Gulf News on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the press. “We have taken complete control of Houta town. The forces subsequently launched raids on some houses that might host Al Qaida militants,” the officer said.

The offensive against Houta began on Tuesday when soldiers marched from a military post in Azzan town in Shabwa under air support from UAE helicopters and fighter jets. The officer said the militants planted landmines and booby-trapped to obstruct the marching forces. “We destroyed Al Qaida’s traps and advanced quickly to the town. When we entered the town, some remaining militants put up a fight and shot at our soldiers, the officer said, adding that the army troops fired back, prompting the militants to withdraw to the mountains.

UAE’s helicopters smoothed the way for the forces by combing the road searching for Al Qaida car bombs and ambushes. “We have found a stash of arms, explosive materials and home-mad bombs hidden in the houses of Al Qaida leaders in Houta,” the officer said.

By taking control of Houta, a town known for its clustered mud houses, Yemeni forces have cleansed most of Shabwa’s major urban areas of Al Qaida and Daesh. In Al Qaida’s last bastion in Shabwa, Al Sayed, militants are hiding in scattered villages or along rugged mountains. Local commanders have vowed to march towards Al Sayed after securing the liberated areas. “We will liberate Al Sayed from Al Qaida. We are just waiting for new forces to finish military training in Hadramout,” the officer said.

Shabwani Elite Forces was created by the UAE and was tasked to clear Shabwa from Al Qaida, Daesh, and local militias. In August, the forces took control of Azzan town, a major Al Qaida stronghold, and quickly expanded to neighbouring regions. Before the arrival of the new UAE-backed forces, Al Qaida exploited the power vacuum, which resulted from the fighting against the Iran-backed forces, to storm major cities in Southern Yemen.