Ultra-hardline fighters linked to the terror group Al Qaeda were driven out from an oil-rich southern province of war-ravaged Yemen in the face of an assault by an elite US-backed government force, AFP cited a military official on Monday.
Special forces, trained by the United Arab Emirates and backed by the United States, on Wednesday had launched a “major operation” against the terrorists in Shabwa province.
Residents of an Abyan town near the Shabwa border said they counted at least 45 cars carrying armed AQAP militants through fleeing into their district.
The Shabwa operation was conducted “under the supervision of the UAE military and with the support of US military advisers who are not present in the field,” another high-ranking officer said.
He said the troops were Yemenis who were “trained for months” by UAE forces in Mukalla, in the Hadramawt province further east.
Several hundred well-armed and well-equipped soldiers make up Yemen’s “elite force” in Shabwa, the official added.
The province is home to several oil and gas fields, as well as Yemen’s only gas terminal Belhaf which was operated by French group Total until the company withdrew in 2015.
The oil giant pulled out of Yemen as the conflict intensified and a Saudi-led Arab military alliance, including the UAE, intervened on the side of the UN-backed government against Iran-aligned Houthi insurgents.
AQAP’s Shabwa stronghold has also been a focal point in a long-running American-led drone war which has intensified since President Donald Trump took office in January.
A US air raid on the province in June killed AQAP emir Abu Khattab al-Awlaqi, according to the Pentagon.
The province has been the site of AQAP attacks in recent months, with the Yemen government reporting seven soldiers killed there last week in a suicide attack on a new military outpost.