Yemen troops 'retake' key positions of rebels |
Gulf Times - 27 May, 2012
The Yemeni army battled Al Qaeda-linked militants deep inside Zinjibar yesterday, recapturing key positions in the rebel-held southern city and killing at least 62 Islamist fighters, a military official said.
The official said four government soldiers died and four were wounded in the fighting, part of an offensive that began earlier this month to uproot Islamist militants from southern Yemen. He said many of the dead militants were Somalis.
The army managed to clear all positions used by members of the Al Qaeda-affiliated Ansar Al Shariah from the eastern areas of Zinjibar, the defence ministry’s 26sep.net website reported
Ansar Al Shariah have exploited last year’s popular protests against president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33 years in office and captured swathes of territory in the province of Abyan, including the provincial capital Zinjibar.
The expansion of the militants’ area of control has unsettled the US and Saudi Arabia, both targets of failed attacks by Yemen’s Al Qaeda wing which earlier this week claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in Sanaa on Monday that killed more than 100 soldiers.
Both countries have been pushing new Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who took over after Saleh stepped down in February, to unite the army and roll back the militants’ gains.
Washington considers Yemen’s Al Qaeda wing, which has attracted foreign fighters from places such as Somalia and Saudi Arabia, the network’s most active cell.
Yemeni forces last week recaptured parts of the strategic city of Zinjibar and fought militants in the city of Jaar, another militant stronghold, leaving 33 militants and nine soldiers dead.
The Yemeni military official said eight soldiers were killed yesterday when a roadside bomb ripped through their vehicle near Jaar. In Zinjibar, troops had found the bodies of 25 militants killed in earlier clashes, he said.
American intelligence and counter-terrorism officials say their ability to conduct operations against AQAP inside Yemen has improved significantly since Hadi replaced Saleh on February 25.
US officials say it has become easier to get men and equipment into Yemen for operations, allowing these to expand significantly, notably via drone strikes.