Saudi-led coalition captures Al Qaeda-controlled port in Yemen
ADEN // Saudi-led battleships have captured the port in Yemen’s Al Mukallah, a southern district under the control of Al Qaeda militants.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) responded by stepping up security in Al Mukallah on Thursday, including installing new checkpoints in the streets, said Sabri Salem, a journalist based in the area.
“[The militants] consider this step by the Saudi-led coalition to be a dangerous escalation against them,” he told The National. The port at Al Mukallah is the only one in Hadramawt province.
A coalition of mainly Arab states led by Riyadh is fighting Iran-backed rebels in Yemen to restore the internationally recognised government of Abdrabu Mansur Hadi to power.
It intervened last March when the Iranian-backed Houthis – who had already captured the capital, Sanaa – advanced south towards the second city of Aden.
With pro-government forces preoccupied with fighting the Houthis, AQAP took advantage of a security vacuum in the country and last April seized Al Mukallah district.
But on Wednesday night, the coalition turned its attention to the Al Qaeda militants, sending warplanes to accompany its battleships as they entered the port at Al Mukallah, according to Salem.
Coalition forces did not dispatch ground troops, he said.
Fadhl Al Rabei, a Yemeni political analyst and head of the Madar Strategic Studies Centre in Aden, said the Houthis and allied forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh were working with AQAP against the Yemeni government.
He said it would have been logistically difficult for the Houthis and their allies to capture Al Mukallah as it is far from Sanaa, and so they sent Saleh loyalists to help AQAP take the district instead. Al Mukallah is home to both the port and Al Mukallah city, Hadramawt’s provincial capital.
While some residents saw the coalition’s capture of the port as the first step towards liberating Al Mukallah, Mr Al Rabei did not agree.
“I think that coalition forces will not launch a war against Al Qaeda in Al Mukallah as they have a more important task, which is fighting the Houthis in several provinces,” he said.
“But the coalition wants to take control of Yemen’s ports to prevent weapons being smuggled in for both the Houthis and Al Qaeda.”
Updated: January 21, 2016 04:00 AM