Yemeni troops retaking al Qaeda stronghold
By Hakim Almasmari, for CNN
June 12, 2012 — Updated 1418 GMT (2218 HKT)
- Security officials and news agency: Troops forced al Qaeda militants from the town of Jaar
- Officials estimate that more than 80 militants were killed in the last 3 days in Abyan province
- They say that seven troops were also killed Tuesday
- Hundreds of militants are still fighting in Jaar, Defense Ministry official says
(CNN) — Yemen’s army has retaken most of Jaar, the final al Qaeda stronghold in the country’s southern Abyan province, forcing hundreds of militants to flee the town, two local security officials told CNN.
Hundreds of militants were still skirmishing with military forces Tuesday.
The state-run Saba news agency also reported that government forces were retaking Jaar on Tuesday morning after fierce battles against al Qaeda with the support of the Yemeni air force. The agency confirmed that Batis district is now under government control.
The officials estimated that more than 80 militants were killed over the last three days in the province, mainly in areas surrounding Jaar and Zinjibar.
They also confirmed that seven troops were also killed Tuesday.
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The officials said that thousands of landmines were planted in the roads and mountains leading to Jaar and were the reason for the government’s slow progress over the last two weeks.
In a statement, the Yemeni Embassy in Washington said Tuesday that Yemen’s military retook areas previously controlled by the militants, including the governor’s mansion in Zinjibar. “Demining engineers have been dispatched to sweep and clear previously held areas in Abyan,” the statement said.
Military forces also aim to recapture the coastal town of Shaqra in Abyan province. And troops are making gains in the city of Azzan, an al-Qaeda stronghold in Shabwa province, it said.
Hundreds of pro-government resistance fighters joined government lines last week.
Eyewitnesses in Jaar told CNN that most civilians fled the town last week after the government warned they would attack if militants did not put down their arms.
A senior Defense Ministry official told CNN that hundreds of militants are still fighting government troops in Jaar and the takeover will be complete by nightfall. “Our troops entered Jaar but are not in total control of the town yet. We expect the town to be cleansed from al Qaeda by late Tuesday evening,” the official said on condition of anonymity, as he is not authorized to talk to media.
He said that al Qaeda militants fled Jaar to the coastal city of Shuqra, where the army has already targeted the fighters with shelling and airstrikes. “The militants are surrounded now, and it is a matter of time before they surrender,” he added.
The government intensified its offensive against al Qaeda two months ago after newly elected President Abdurabu Hadi vowed to fight the militant group until its members are killed or surrender to the government.
Ansar al-Sharia, an offshoot of al Qaeda, took over mass areas of Abyan province last May, benefiting from the political turmoil in the country.
The Sanaa-based Abaad Strategic Center told CNN that the current government success in the war against al Qaeda came after the military was united and now serves a nation rather than factions.
“With a divided military last year, terror networks gained power and ground. The power transfer last February played a major role in weakening al Qaeda,” said Abdul Salam Mohammed, president of the center.
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