Shabwa finds new life after al-Qaeda ouster

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden


Yemeni troops take part in an offensive to oust extremists from the southern province of Shabwa on May 7th, 2014. [Stringer/AFP]

Public services have been restored and commercial activity has resumed in Yemen's Shabwa since the ouster of al-Qaeda, and relief is flowing into the province once again, local residents told Al-Mashareq.

They attributed these improvements to the success of the 2017 campaign carried out by the Shabwa elite forces to purge the province of al-Qaeda.

The province's Balhaf region was the first to be liberated, in early January 2017, with the elite forces storming al-Houta, the last al-Qaeda stronghold in Shabwa, on November 10th, and establishing fixed security and military positions there.

Since driving out al-Qaeda, the elite forces have been enforcing security in the province, which has allowed for the resumption of services.

"The improvement in living conditions for citizens and return of public life to Balhaf and all other Shabwa districts came as a result of the elite forces seizing control of the security situation," said Sheikh Awad al-Mardouf, a tribal elder in the Balhaf region.

"After the elite forces established their presence in Balhaf, relief aid began flowing in and services provided to residents, including water and electricity, were resumed," he told Al-Mashareq.

Improved security and services

Shabwa residents have resumed their normal lives and are once again traveling between the various parts of the province to conduct their daily affairs, al-Mardouf said.

The securing of the main roads, especially the international coastline route that links Shabwa to the provinces of Hadramaut in the east and Abyan in the west, allowed Yemenis the freedom to travel safely, he added.

"The local authorities have been able to work at a fast pace to restore water and electricity services to residents, repair a number of schools and reopen Ataq General Hospital," Shabwa deputy governor Nasser al-Qamishi told Al-Mashareq.

The resumption of operations at these public facilities has given residents reason to be positive, he said.

"The expulsion of al-Qaeda elements from the province allowed donors to provide some services, especially the UAE Red Crescent," he added.

Seven secondary and elementary schools in various Shabwa districts were rehabilitated last year, al-Qamishi said, and Ataq General Hospital reopened after the UAE Red Crescent supplied it with medicine and other necessities.

Strong public support

"When the elite forces entered Shabwa, the general sentiment of its residents was in favour of fighting terrorism," said media professional Safaa Obaid.

Residents actively co-operated with the security forces, she told Al-Mashareq, and many tribes publicly declared their support for the elite forces.

The new security measures introduced by the elite forces include a ban on carrying weapons, which was received positively by the residents, she said.

"These measures, along with the expulsion of al-Qaeda from the areas in which it had a presence in Shabwa, led to people enjoying security and stability and allowed the return of investment projects," Obaid said.

"The improvement in services and relief efforts is being accompanied by the continued consolidation of security and stability by the security and elite forces," she said.

This is despite the occurrence of isolated incidents, which is to be expected in view of the war and the circumstances the country is experiencing, Obaid said.

Freedom of movement and travel

The high level of local co-operation has had a positive impact on the security forces’ ability to carry out their mission, said Khalid al-Azmi, Shabwa elite forces commander in Balhaf.

Local residents helped to purge the province of al-Qaeda elements who had "ravaged the land with corruption and terrorism", he told Al-Mashareq.

He attributed this co-operation to "the suffering they endured when the terrorist elements were present in and controlled their areas".

"The resumption of commercial activities is tied to the level of security and stability," Rudum district shop owner Mohammed Saeed told Al-Mashareq.

The restored freedom of movement and travel has revived business activities, many of which had been suspended during al-Qaeda's occupation, he said.

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