AQAP chased from Mukalla; Yemen peace talks advance

Sunday 01/05/2016
UN Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed

LONDON - Yemeni forces backed by Gulf Arab coalition air strikes drove out al- Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) from the port city of Mukalla, dealing a major blow to what US officials view as the most lethal branch of the terrorist network.

A large coordinated military ac­tion by allied forces in Mukalla in­volving about 2,000 Yemeni troops alongside special forces from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates encircled AQAP fighters before launching a full military as­sault on April 26th.

As many as 800 AQAP fighters were killed and many others fled Mukalla, which was a key financial resource for the terror group. At least 27 Yemeni soldiers died in the operation, according to military of­ficials and medics.

Talks in Kuwait to end the fight­ing between forces loyal to Yem­eni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, backed by a Saudi-led Gulf coalition, and Iran-backed Houthi rebels were said to be advancing, albeit slowly. A ceasefire between the government and Houthi rebels held, although the government al­leged violations, particularly in the city of Taiz.

AQAP had developed a strong financial infrastructure in Mu­kalla, an important port city. Staff Brigadier Musallam al-Rashidi, commander of UAE forces in Had­ramawt, said the terror group had looted up to $100 million a day while in control of Mukalla, mak­ing the port a key source of fund­ing.

Meanwhile, talks between war­ring factions in the war in Yemen seemed to be making slow but positive progress, according to the United Nations, but issues still re­main.

According to sources close to the negotiations, the main stick­ing point remains the Houthis’ in­sistence on a political settlement before giving up their arms, while the Yemeni government wants the full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2216.

That resolution says the rebels should give up their heavy weap­ons and return control of captured areas to the internationally recog­nised government.

With negotiations in their sec­ond week, UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, citing a “positive atmosphere”, wrote on his Twitter account: “All participants remain committed to a peaceful comprehensive solu­tion.”

The envoy said talks had centred on withdrawal of armed groups, weapons handover in addition to plans for political transition and release of prisoners. Ould Cheikh Ahmed also said both sides were looking into ways to strengthen the ceasefire.

While the two sides are yet to have face-to-face negotiations, Ould Cheikh Ahmed was posi­tive. Mani al-Matari, press adviser to Yemen’s foreign minister, told Agence France-Presse: “We are optimistic over the prospects of an agreement being worked out by the UN envoy.”

About 7,000 people have been killed and approximately 2.8 mil­lion displaced in Yemen since the start of military operations in March 2015 after the Iran-backed Houthi militia launched a military coup, ousting the internationally recognised Yemeni government.