Free at last from the suffocating control of al-Qaeda, residents and tribesmen of the Shabwa province port of Balhaf have extended the Yemeni forces tasked with maintaining security a warm welcome, local officials told Al-Mashareq.
On December 3rd, Yemeni forces, including elite forces from neighbouring Hadramaut province, arrived in Balhaf, taking charge of the security situation and driving out al-Qaeda, which had been using the port to smuggle weapons.
Their arrival put an effective end to the presence of al-Qaeda, which had lingered in the area due to a security vacuum, despite the best efforts of local tribes to keep the armed extremist group at bay.
"The elite forces, who took charge of the maintenance of security in the areas of Balhaf and others, were greeted with a great welcome and joy," Shabwa deputy governor Nasser al-Qamishi told Al-Mashareq.
Residents of the southern port city "have been dreaming of the return of security agencies to their areas, despite the efforts made by the tribesmen in this regard", he said.
The elite forces are extending their authority and security control along the coastline with the co-operation of local tribes and the general public, which supports and facilitates this task, al-Qamishi said.
The welcome extended by the residents of Balhaf and surrounding areas where the troops are deployed "was very warm, reflecting the importance of the role to be played by these units", said security forces commander in Balhaf, Khaled al-Athmi.
"The presence of the elite forces has ended any hopes that terrorist groups -- who surfaced from time to time -- had of controlling Balhaf," he told Al-Mashareq.
The return and deployment of Yemeni troops has cut off the path of armed extremists and any other group that attempts to target or undermine security, he said, including by setting up road blocks.
Strong security presence
Local tribesmen had formed popular committees to protect the port's gas export facility, al-Athmi said.
Of these fighters, 600 were selected and trained by coalition forces and re-deployed as part of the regular security forces, operating according to clear security strategies and procedural guidelines, he said.
"Balhaf residents welcomed them with open arms and complied with all security measures, including co-operating at checkpoints," he said. "Thus residents were a factor in the success of the elite forces."
The elite forces are deployed from the areas adjacent to Hadramaut province to Muthallath al-Ayn in Shabwa, he said. They have established a security belt around the Balhaf gas plant and deployed westwards along the coastline towards Abyan province.
The renewed security presence in and around Balhaf now forms a strong bulwark "against the ambitions of the terrorist groups that were vying for control of Balhaf and the largest economic entity in Yemen", al-Athmi said.
Return of commercial activity
Residents of Balhaf and nearby areas where elite forces are deployed are better off now, "and this will be reflected in the residents’ economic and commercial activity ", said Mohammed Salem, director of Rudum district which includes the Balhaf port town.
"Residents welcomed the return of the security forces to their areas very warmly and in various ways, as the tribesmen had shouldered a heavy burden in maintaining the security situation in their areas," he told Al-Mashareq.
The tribesmen had undertaken the task of guarding the gas pipeline and other areas near Balhaf's natural gas liquefaction facilities, he said.
"All citizens want is a settled security situation and stability so they can resume their work freely and without exploitation by any other party," Salem said.
The return and deployment of the security forces "will end the security violations, especially the smuggling of diesel, which was being carried out openly through the Balhaf port by various parties", he added.
"We greeted the security forces personnel with pride because they are first and foremost our sons and from the region they are protecting," said Balhaf tribal leader Sheikh Mohamed Saeed Kandouh.
"The security situation is much better and the attitude of residents has improved thanks to the presence of these forces," he told Al-Mashareq.
The tribesmen co-operated fully with the security forces and handed over all areas under their control, he said, as local residents had been unable to resume their daily and commercial activities without the official security presence.