AQAP chased from Mukalla; Yemen peace talks advance
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.