A Saudi-led coalition targeted the al Qaeda group in air strikes on its stronghold in the port of Mukalla in southern Yemen on Sunday, killing at least ten militants, medical sources and residents said.
The strikes are a part of an offensive to regain the city, as scores of Yemeni troops loyal to the internationally recognized president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi have launched an operation to drive al-Qaida and ISIS militants out of southern coastal areas the extremists have captured amid the country’s complex civil war, security officials said Sunday.
Mukalla, a shipping hub and provincial capital, is a stranglehold of the powerful al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) which has taken advantage of Yemen’s year-long civil war to take control over parts of the south and east.
Residents said air strikes hit a building that AQAP was using as its headquarters, as well as gatherings of the group elsewhere in Mukalla.
A Yemeni military source explained that the air strikes were being in line with the Yemeni troops’ operarion on the ground. In recent days, residents and local officials have reported preparations for a pro-government ground offensive on Mukalla. Residents also say al-Qaida fighters are holing up in buildings and digging trenches to defend their positions from the advancing troops, and the security officials say the extremists have also laid mines.
It comes as Yemen’s government meets with the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Kuwait to try to find a solution to a conflict which has killed more than 6,200 people and divided up control of the country.
Saudi Arabia and its mostly Arab coalition have launched their intervention in Yemen a year to support the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi against the Houthis, who are trying to win control of the country with Iranian support.
Although the main war is being fought between the Houthis and the Yemeni government backed by coalition air strikes, the military and local fighters have also been battling AQAP, which is also subject to U.S. drone strikes.
On Saturday, government forces battled al Qaeda at al-Koud near Zinjibar, another southern city considered an al Qaeda stronghold, while an air strike from a drone killed two suspected al Qaeda fighters south of the city of Marib.
The Houthis control the capital Sanaa while the Saudi-backed administration of Hadi has tried to re-establish itself in the southern port city of Aden.