AL-MUKALLA: Yemeni military forces have advanced into a large valley in Yemen’s southern province of Abyan to dislodge Al-Qaeda militants who have long used the area for recruiting, storing arms and staging deadly attacks against government-controlled areas, a military spokesperson told Arab News on Saturday.
Mohammed Al-Naqeeb, a spokesman for the pro-independence Southern Transitional Council, which commands the military operations, said that forces pushed into Al-Khealah valley, south of Al-Mahfad district, to flush out Al-Qaeda militants who had taken refuge there after being forced out of other strongholds in the past two months.
A lengthy column of armed vehicles carrying dozens of soldiers was seen heading into rugged mountainous terrain, meeting little resistance from Al-Qaeda militants who fled before the military arrived.
Militants placed explosive devices on roads in an attempt to halt the troops’ advance.
Three soldiers were killed and four others injured on Friday when their vehicle was destroyed by a roadside bomb, Al-Naqeeb said.
A total of 46 government troops have been killed and and 136 wounded since the start of the East Arrow military operations against Al-Qaeda in the Abyan and Shabwa provinces two months ago.
Fleeing Al-Qaeda fighters sought sanctuary in the rocky highlands that link Abyan, Al-Bayda and Shabwa, while some hid in Wadi Hadramout, and others crept into Abyan’s urban areas, creating “sleeper cells” responsible for killing security and military officials, and laying IEDs.
Security authorities in Al-Mahfad have enforced a nighttime curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. to restrict Al-Qaeda militants’ activities and stop fighters infiltrating urban areas.
“We are dealing with a stealthy, mobile and camouflaged enemy employing insurgent methods,” Al-Naqeeb said.
In September, the pro-independence security and military groups launched a coordinated military operation in Abyan and Shabwa provinces to eject Al-Qaeda militants from isolated mountainous areas and valleys that have long served as hiding spots.
Yemeni forces have pushed Al-Qaeda out of Lawder, Moudia and Al-Mahfad in Abyan, as well as the Omaran Valley in Abyan, and have also dislodged militants from Al-Mousenah in Shabwa.
Separately, Yemen’s state news agency said on Friday that Iran-backed Houthis launched mortar rounds at two villages controlled by the Yemeni government in the southern city of Taiz, wounding five people.
Two children and a pregnant woman were among those hurt when the mortar barrage struck Salo and Dhabab, south and west of Taiz.
Yemen’s army said on Friday that three Houthis were killed and many more injured in clashes west of Taiz as the militants attempted to storm government positions.
Since April 2, when the UN-brokered truce came into force, dozens of civilians and combatants have been killed or injured in Houthi ground operations and bombardments in and around the besieged city.