Yemen army says Qaeda routed from town

2012-05-17 19:04

Aden - Yemeni troops sent al-Qaeda fighters fleeing from the southern city of Loder on Thursday and pressed towards militant-controlled Zinjibar, military officials said, as an army offensive pushed into a sixth day.

"We have cleansed Loder [of al-Qaeda], and the fighters have been forced to flee," a military official involved in the assault told AFP.

He said the gunmen retreated from three positions on the outskirts of Loder, in southern Abyan province, a city they have been trying to overrun for several months.

Thousands of residents took to the streets to celebrate the military victory, while gunmen from local militias danced and waved their guns in the air.

"Today we accomplished a great victory against al-Qaeda," said Ali Ahmed, a spokesperson for the Popular Resistance Committees militia, comprising local residents who are fighting alongside the army against al-Qaeda.

"We will continue chasing them until they have been ousted from all of Abyan," said Ahmed, referring to the province where the extremists have taken control of several cities since last May.

The bodies of three soldiers, three local gunmen, and two al-Qaeda fighters were discovered near the city on Thursday, a military official said without giving details.

And a civilian was killed and five others wounded in an army raid on the town of Shaqra, also controlled by al-Qaeda, a local official said.

Later in the day, six al-Qaeda militants were killed in a Yemeni air raid on a militant checkpoint in the town.

Thursday's casualties bring the death toll from six days of fighting to at least 164, including 111 al-Qaeda operatives, 23 soldiers, 17 civilians and 13 militiamen.

US drone

The military, backed by US experts, will now turn their attention to Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan, which the jihadists have held for the past year.

"We will now focus on Zinjibar," said one military official.

The army has failed in several attempts to retake Zinjibar, but officials and diplomats said on Wednesday it was making progress.

The air force pounded targets in the southern cities of Shaqra and Arqoub, both near Zinjibar, late on Wednesday, and fierce battles continue in the city's vicinity.

And a suspected US drone strike killed three al-Qaeda militants in eastern Yemen, a local official said.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said the trio were killed in a strike on their car in Shibam, a historic city in Hadramawt province.

The ministry of defence said two of the militants, Zeid bin Taleb and Mutii Bilalafi, were local al-Qaeda leaders.

Air strikes on al-Qaeda targets have increased since the launch on Saturday of the offensive against the extremist group and after newly elected President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi vowed to fight the network.

His latest pledge to destroy Al-Qaeda came just days after the White House announced that a plot by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the group's local branch, to blow up a US airliner had been successfully thwarted.

A force of around 20 000 soldiers from all regions in the south are believed to be engaged in the operation.

They are backed by the local militias that, since the ouster of veteran leader Ali Abdullah Saleh, have thrown their support behind the military.

Read more on:    al-qaeda  |  abdrabuh mansur hadi  |  yemen
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