The Yemeni forces were able to regain control of al-Qaeda’s strongholds in southern Yemen and other regions, Yemen’s Foreign Minister Abubakr al-Qirbi told Al Arabiya on Thursday.
“The Yemeni police and army forces were able to kick al-Qaeda militants from the regions that they used to control. They have fled to some mountainous areas,” he Qirbi said.
“It is not over yet. Our forces will continue to chase those operatives,” he told Al Arabiya on the sidelines of an anti-piracy conference in Dubai.
Meanwhile, he told Reuters in separate statements that some al-Qaeda-linked militants may have fled to neighboring states, including Oman, after being driven out of their strongholds in cities in southern Yemen.
Many had fled to mountainous parts of southern Yemen, while others could have fled to neighboring countries using land and sea routes. “There are reports that some of the militants went to Oman, which hasn't been formally confirmed to us.”
“The security services are coordinating with neighboring countries because the militants don’t only pose danger to Yemen but also to other countries.”
Any infiltration into Oman, which sits on one side of the Strait of Hormuz, a conduit for one third of the world's seaborne oil exports, would raise fears of al-Qaeda setting up a new base in a region of strategic importance.
Yemeni security sources had already suggested some al-Qaeda members may have crossed into Oman, a relatively stable Arab monarchy bordering both Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
Al-Qaeda-linked militants, emboldened by waning government control over the country during last year's protests that ousted former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, had seized several southern cities during the turmoil.
In May, the Yemeni army launched a large-scale U.S.-backed offensive against al Qaeda's Yemeni affiliate, Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Islamic Law). The army drove out the militants from their main strongholds this month and regained control of several cities in the country’s south.
But Qirbi said Yemen’s fight against al-Qaeda was far from over. “The task has not finished yet; the security forces still have to chase militants to their hideouts,” he said. “The terrorist elements are on the run, but it’s hard to tell when will we uproot al-Qaeda.”
Qirbi said that fighting al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), believed to be the most active branch of the global network which has plotted a number of botched attempts against U.S. targets, needed a multifaceted approach.
“If you look at the experiences of other countries from Afghanistan to Saudi Arabia and the United States, uprooting terrorism and extremism is complicated...it can't be dealt with only by military means,” he said.
He said his government would need to track down the sources of funding, identify Islamic clerics who propagated extremist views and create jobs for the country's young population.
“All these measures take time before they bear fruit,” he said.
U.S. officials say that President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi -- who came to power in February as part of a power-transfer deal brokered by the United States and Gulf states -- is more cooperative in the fight against al-Qaeda than his predecessor.
Analysts have suggested that Saleh deliberately gave al-Qaeda free rein in the south during protests against his 33 years in office in a cynical but failed attempt to convince Washington he should remain in power to deal with the threat.
The Yemeni foreign minister said that many of the militants fighting with Ansar al-Sharia were foreigners. Yemeni officials have repeatedly identified Somali fighters among the casualties of their offensive against militants.