Sana’a, Asharq Al-Awsat—Yemen expanded its offensive against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) forces in the south of the country on Friday, announcing the death of a number of militants.
Yemen’s Interior Ministry announced that government forces had killed at least five AQAP militants and wounded dozens of others on Friday, the fourth day of the major offensive.
One day earlier, at least 12 AQAP fighters were reported killed in clashes with government forces, including Abu Muslim Al-Uzbeki, an Uzbekistan national. Yemeni troops, backed by the Yemeni Air Force, destroyed three vehicles and disarmed improvised explosive devices placed along the main entrances of the southern town of Al-Maagala, according to state SABA news.
A local source, speaking to SABA, affirmed that local popular committees and tribal forces are coordinating with the government troop surge in the southern Abyan and Shabwa provinces.
The operation initially experienced a setback with AQAP fighters ambushing a military convoy and killing at least 15 soldiers, but central government forces have succeeded in confronting militant forces and recapturing territory previously held by AQAP forces.
Local media reported that Yemeni troops are focusing their attention on the towns of Lawdar, Mahfad and Ahwar in Abyan and the city of Azzam in Shabwa, all areas that had once been viewed as AQAP strongholds.
The death of the Uzbekistan national and senior AQAP figure on Thursday comes after Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi claimed earlier this week that 70 percent of AQAP fighters were non-Yemeni nationals. “These foreigners don’t care if the country is destroyed,” SABA quoted the president as saying.
AQAP responded to the president’s remarks on Friday, denying the claim regarding foreign fighters, according to SITE Intelligence Group.
“The vast majority of the mujahideen are from the sons of this Muslim country, where they were brought together by the brotherhood of faith, and they, with grace from Allah, are rooted in their tribes and among their Muslim brothers,” AQAP said in a statement, translated by SITE, which monitors radical websites.