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Yemeni govt troops retake key Qaeda-held city

The Arab coalition carried out airstrikes on the al-Qaeda held port of Mukalla in southern Yemen, killing at least 30 militants

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Yemeni troops backed by air power from a Saudi-led Arab coalition on Sunday recaptured a southeastern provincial capital held by Al-Qaeda for the past year, a military officer told AFP.

“We entered the city center (of Mukalla) and were met by no resistance from Al-Qaeda militants who withdrew west” towards the vast desert in Hadramawt and Shabwa provinces, said the officer, speaking to AFP by phone from the city which the jihadists seized last April.

Yemeni and Emirati troops backed by the United Arab Emirates on Sunday plunged into Mukalla, residents said.

“Coalition armored vehicles and the army entered Mukalla and al Qaeda fighters are departing,” said one resident, who declined to be named for security reasons.

Earlier, a Saudi-led Arab coalition carried out airstrikes on the al-Qaeda held port of Mukalla on Sunday, killing at least 30 militants, medical sources and residents said, part of an offensive to recapture the city.

Mukalla, a shipping hub and provincial capital, is a stronghold of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) which has taken advantage of Yemen’s year-long civil war to win control over parts of the south and east.

Residents said airstrikes hit a building that AQAP was using as its headquarters, as well as gatherings of the group elsewhere in Mukalla.

A Yemeni military source said the air strikes were being coordinated with troops on the ground. In recent days, residents and local officials have reported preparations for a pro-government ground offensive on Mukalla.

It comes as Yemen’s government meets with the Iran-backed Houthi militias in Kuwait to try to find a solution to a conflict which has killed more than 6,200 people and divided up control of the country.

The coalition has carried out airstrikes in Yemen for the past year to support the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi against the Houthis.

Although the main war is being fought between the Houthis and the Yemeni government, the military and local fighters have also been battling AQAP, which is also subject to US drone strikes.

On Saturday, government forces battled al-Qaeda at al-Koud near Zinjibar, another southern city considered an al-Qaeda stronghold, while an air strike from a drone killed two suspected al-Qaeda fighters south of the city of Marib.

The Houthis control the capital Sanaa while the Saudi-backed administration of Hadi has tried to re-establish itself in the southern port city of Aden.

(With Reuters, AFP)