Security forces pursue al-Qaeda in Yemen's Abyan after deadly blast

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi

Fighters loyal to Yemen's Southern Transitional Council travel in a convoy in Abyan province on December 13, 2020. [AFP]

Fighters loyal to Yemen's Southern Transitional Council travel in a convoy in Abyan province on December 13, 2020. [AFP]

ADEN -- Security forces in southern Yemen are continuing their military operations in Abyan province, making gains against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) despite recent attacks staged by the group, officials said.

The Security Belt Forces on Monday (September 12) took control of areas in Mudiyah district and secured government, military and security facilities following the explosion of an improvised explosive device (IED).

Four soldiers were killed and six others wounded when an IED planted by al-Qaeda detonated earlier in the day, targeting a military vehicle belonging to the force, which is backed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Two of the wounded later died, raising the toll to six, AFP reported.

UAE-trained troops drive into the Yemeni city of Shabwa on January 20. [Saleh al-Obeidi/AFP]

UAE-trained troops drive into the Yemeni city of Shabwa on January 20. [Saleh al-Obeidi/AFP]

In the aftermath of the incident, Abyan Security Belt Forces commander Brig. Gen. Abdul Latif al-Sayed announced that the southern armed forces would continue operations aimed at purging terror groups from all of Abyan.

Al-Sayed said the Security Belt Forces deployment is backed by the southern forces from the Abyan axis in the central region.

These forces will deploy in the districts of Lawdar and Mudiyah, in addition to the Khobar al-Maraqsha area and the hills bordering Shabwa province, he said.

As southern armed forces advanced, there were clashes with al-Qaeda elements in Wadi Sri, adjacent to the Mojan Mountains, in the Khobar al-Maraqsha area.

The Southern Transitional Council's Shabwa Defence Forces on Saturday announced the launch of the Siham al-Janoub (Arrows of the South) operation to purge Shabwa of terrorist elements.

Yemen's interior and defence ministries vowed to step up their operations following a September 6 al-Qaeda attack on a checkpoint in Ahwar district, Abyan province, in which 21 soldiers were killed and seven wounded.

The eight al-Qaeda elements who carried out the attack were killed.

Military cohesion

"These successes by the southern forces were achieved owing to the cohesion between the military forces in charge of conducting the [anti] al-Qaeda operations," said researcher Saeed al-Jamahi, who studies extremist groups.

"The military forces fighting the group at present appear to be cohesive and have serious leaders," he told Al-Mashareq, praising their patriotism.

They also benefit from financial and logistical support from countries that belong to the Arab coalition, he said.

At one time, al-Jamahi said, "AQAP posed a bigger threat to global security" than did the mother group.

"Today, it is in its worst state, as it is suffering from a leadership crisis and internal disputes," he added, noting that recent attacks "are not at the level of the offensive operations carried out by the group in the past, which were more venomous".

AQAP was very active in 2015 and early 2016, he said, and was able to expand in several areas, to the point that it administered ostensibly government-controlled ports that generated huge amounts of money and its warehouses were filled with weapons.

But since the southern forces launched military campaigns against it, and pursued it to its strongholds, he said, "al-Qaeda has been forced to retreat and return to its old strategy" -- seeking shelter in the mountains and gorges.

Even so, al-Jamahi said, "we cannot be certain that the group has been fully defeated".

"It remains a threat, and could return unless operations targeting the group continue and are accompanied by real reforms at all levels: political, economic and social," he said.

Campaign against terror

"The military campaign against the group is a Yemeni government-led operation against all terrorist groups, not a specific one," said political analyst Mahmoud al-Taher. "All Yemenis support these forces that are fighting al-Qaeda."

Al-Taher had harsh words for the Iran-backed Houthis, who previously released as many as 300 of al-Qaeda's leaders.

"We warned of this at that time, but our warnings fell on deaf ears," he told Al-Mashareq.

Political analyst Faisal Ahmed stressed the importance of continuing the military campaigns against al-Qaeda elements in government-controlled provinces.

"The political consensus and the emergence of signs of upcoming political stability and agreement between the military forces affiliated with the legitimate government, led by the Security Belt Forces in Abyan, roiled al-Qaeda," he said.

This unwelcome development drove it to launch attacks, including in Ahwar, he told Al-Mashareq.

Though al-Qaeda cells have been dormant, "the group can activate these by exploiting the changes taking place around it", he said, noting that the protracted conflict in Yemen has given extremist groups room to expand.

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