Yemeni forces retake capital of Lahj province from Al Qaeda
ADEN // Loyalist Yemeni forces recaptured the capital of Lahj province from Al Qaeda on Friday, arresting more than 40 extremists.
The militant group took over Al Hawta last year after pro-government forces – backed by the Saudi-led military coalition – liberated Lahj from the Houthis.
The southern province’s spokesman, Bsem Al Zuraiqi, said the Yemeni army and Southern Resistance fighters liberated the city and wider district after fierce clashes with Al Qaeda fighters.
Hundreds of pro-government forces attacked Al Hawta from two main directions, some advancing from Aden, south of the district, and some advancing from Al Anad airbase, north of the district, Mr Al Zuraiqi told The National.
As they entered Al Hawta, dozens of Al Qaeda members fled the area on motorcycles.
Saudi-led Apache helicopters supported the loyalist ground forces by targeting the extremists with air strikes, Mr Al Zuqairi said.
Some Al Qaeda fighters were killed and others injured in the fighting, he added, but was not able to provide specific figures.
Security officials said five soldiers were killed in the four-hour operation.
Meanwhile, 40 suspected extremists were arrested by the loyalist forces and taken to Aden province, where a coalition-backed campaign to rid southern Yemen of Al Qaeda is headquartered.
This campaign was launched at the end of last month with an operation to expel Al Qaeda fighters from Aden city’s Al Mansoura district.
On Friday, however, ISIL claimed a car bomb attack that injured a female civilian near to the ministry of foreign affairs building in Al Mansoura.
Local media reports said an unknown man had remotely detonated the bomb, with the explosion causing some damage to the ministry building.
Al Qaeda and ISIL have taken advantage of the chaos caused by the ongoing war between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels to strengthen their grip on the country’s south.
Earlier this week, the coalition’s Apache helicopters launched airstrikes in the town of Koud in Abyan province, killing at least 10 militants and wounding others. US drones also struck a sprawling training camp in the southern province of Hadramoutt last week, killing more than 50 militants.
A UN-brokered truce has been in place in Yemen since last Sunday, although fighting is continuing in pockets across the country.
Military sources said on Thursday that at least 35 pro-government fighters had been killed in clashes with rebels near Sanaa in the first three days of the truce.
The truce – which does not include ISIL and Al Qaeda – is meant to lay the groundwork for peace talks in Kuwait due to begin on Monday.
The coalition, in which the UAE has a leading role, is backing the internationally recognised government of Abdrabu Mansur Hadi in the conflict.
* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse and Associated Press