World Bulletin/News Desk
Yemeni government forces captured al Qaeda's main stronghold in the southern part of the country on Tuesday after insurgents blew up the local government compound there and fled, the Defence Ministry said.
The mountainous al-Mahfad area of Abyan province, along with Azzan in the adjacent province of Shabwa, has been the militants' main stronghold in Yemen since 2012. In that year, the Yemeni army, with U.S. help, drove the fighters from towns they had seized during a chaotic national uprising in 2011.
The government forces' offensive is the most concerted drive against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in nearly two years. The group has been blamed for waging deadly attacks against security forces, foreigners and oil and gas facilities.
The Yemeni Defence Ministry's website quoted an official military source as saying that soldiers and allied tribal militias - known as 'popular committees' - had entered al-Mahfad, a town of about 30,000-40,000 inhabitants on the main road from Abyan to the eastern al-Mahra province.
"The source said al Qaeda elements blew up the government building in al-Mahfad," the ministry cited the source as saying.
"The army and the Popular Committee members have completed control of al-Mahfad and we are now in the centre of the district. Al Qaeda elements have fled to the mountains, but we will keep going after them," Qassem said.
Authorities have said dozens of militants of several nationalities have been killed during the latest offensive, now into its second week. The offensive follows a series of air strikes, including by U.S. drones, in which Yemen said some 65 fighters had been killed.
"We expect the main and decisive battles to be in the areas of Mayfa'a and Azzan," the official said.
Last week a Yemeni official and tribal source confirmed the killing of the head of the AQAP cell in al-Mahfad, where Yemeni authorities said an air strike on April 20 had targeted the militants' training camps.Last Mod: 06 Mayıs 2014, 17:27