Yemeni forces at noon Sunday (October 29th) seized control of al-Mahfad, al-Qaeda’s last stronghold in the southern province of Abyan, local officials told Al-Mashareq.
“Joint Security Belt and rapid response forces retook al-Mahfad, centre of al-Mahfad district," Abyan local council member Abdul Majeed al-Salahi told Al-Mashareq.
The district had been under al-Qaeda's control for four years, he said.
Yemeni forces ousted al-Qaeda from the district in a 2012-2013 military campaign led by Minister of Defence Mahmoud al-Sobeihi, al-Salahi said, but the group regained control of the district in 2014.
“As a result of the rough terrain of al-Mahfad, its remoteness from the centre of Abyan province and its location on the border of Shabwa province to the east, it constituted a safe haven for al-Qaeda terrorists," al-Salahi said.
The group had taken over the district's al-Naqaa area, he said, which "was an extension of the areas that al-Qaeda controlled in Azzan, Shabwa province".
Al-Mahfad became one of al-Qaeda's main strongholds in southern Yemen as the group's fighters fled Yemeni forces in Aden, Abyan, Lahij and Shabwa provinces, AFP reported.
"Our forces have entered al-Mahfad and seized the highway," Col. Munir al-Yafei said Sunday. "We have erected roadblocks and will soon start scouring valleys and mountains."
The key highway connects Aden to the Shabwa provincial capital of Ataq.
Restoring security a priority
“The recent clearing of Shabwa province of al-Qaeda elements has isolated elements in al-Mahfad, making it easy to launch the operation to deal with them,” al-Salahi told Al-Mashareq.
The troops faced little resistance, but a vehicle exploded when Yemeni forces entered al-Mahfad, killing one soldier and wounding several others.
“Al-Qaeda elements rigged a vehicle with explosives and blew it up as security forces passed, killing one soldier and wounding three others,” al-Mahfad director-general Ahmed al-Robae told Al-Mashareq.
Following the ouster of al-Qaeda, “the priority for the district is to revamp security in order to resume work at service departments", he added.
The military campaign to clear Abyan province districts kicked off in September 2016 with the support of Arab coalition forces and already has succeeded in liberating the central districts, including Lawdar, Mudiyah and al-Wadie, he said.