Saudi-led coalition says kills more than 800 al-Qaida militants in Yemen
Updated: 2016-04-25 15:54
People inspect damage at a site hit by Saudi-led air strikes in the al-Qaida-held port of Mukalla city in southern Yemen, April 24, 2016. [Photo/Agencies]
DUBAI - More than 800 al-Qaida militants were killed in an offensive by Yemeni government forces and its Arab allies in the group's main stronghold in Yemen's seaport of Mukalla, the Saudi-led coalition said.
Around 2,000 Yemeni and Emirati troops advanced into Mukalla, local officials and residents said, taking control of its maritime port and airport and setting up checkpoints throughout the southern coastal city.
There was little fighting after a mostly Gulf Arab alliance and Yemeni forces mobilised their forces at Mukalla's suburbs, and the militants may have chosen to leave peacefully.
Residents said local clerics and tribesmen had been in talks with the group earlier in the day to exit quietly and that fighters withdrew westward to neighbouring Shabwa province.
Mukalla has been the center of a rich mini-state that al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) built up over the past year as it took control of an almost 600-km (370-mile) band of Arabian Sea coastline.
The group that has masterminded several foiled bomb plots on Western-bound airliners and claimed credit for the Charlie Hebdo magazine attack in Paris last year was pocketing around $2 million a day in customs revenues from the port.
The coalition said in a statement carried by Saudi state news agency SPA late on Sunday night that many militants fled the Hadramout provincial capital they had held for a year after the offensive by supporters of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi backed by Saudi and Emirati special forces.
"Coalition armoured vehicles and the army entered Mukalla and al-Qaida fighters are departing," one resident told Reuters.
Fighter jets from the mostly Gulf Arab alliance pounded the city on Sunday and killed 30 militants, residents said, as the military coalition ramped up its offensive to wrest swathes of southern Yemen from al-Qaida.
Sunday's air strikes on al-Qaida in Mukalla were carried out in coordination with a ground offensive in militant-controlled territory further west, a Yemeni military official said.
The push is being led by the United Arab Emirates, which has been training and arming local recruits for months, according to southern Yemeni tribal and political sources.
The UAE is part of a mostly Gulf Arab coalition that intervened in Yemen's civil war in March last year to support the internationally recognised government after it was forced into exile by the armed Houthi group, an ally of Iran.