Yemen’s defense ministry said 18 al-Qaeda militants were killed in clashes yesterday with army troops and by air strikes in Abyan and Marib provinces.
Thirteen militants, including three Somali nationals, were killed in Lawdar city in the southern province of Abyan in clashes with the army and militia who have been fending off an attack on their city for two weeks, the Yemeni defense ministry said in a statement on its website.
Army troops made progress on recapturing Zinjibar, the provincial capital of Abyan seized by the militants last year, the ministry said. Army forces were able to control the southern and eastern part of the city.
An air strike killed three militants in the central province of Marib, the ministry said. The strikes targeted vehicles in the desert, destroying one and partly disabling another. A third vehicle was able to escape, according to the statement.
Gerald Feierstein, the U.S. ambassador to Yemen, during a press conference at the embassy yesterday attributed the army’s progress to changes made by President Abdurabu Mansur Hadi in the military’s leadership.
“We have begun to see in the past few days” a strategy “to challenge al-Qaeda in the way they have not done in the past months,” Feierstein said of Yemen’s military. While the U.S. “will continue to look for ways to improve our support,” he said, the battle now “will be a Yemeni fight.”
Hadi was elected president of the Arab world’s poorest country in February after former leader Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed in November to relinquish power under a Gulf-brokered peace plan.
Yemen, bordering Saudi Arabia and Oman at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, is struggling to recover from protests that have weakened the central government’s authority and reduced oil production to about half of its 250,000-barrel-a-day capacity.
Hadi fired some Saleh loyalists from the army on April 6 but Saleh’s half-brother, air force commander Mohammed Saleh al-Ahmar, and his nephew Tariq, who commanded the presidential guard, have refused to step aside. Feierstein said the international community might take steps against members of the former regime if Hadi’s directives aren’t implemented.
“We would consider any idea or step that might help address this issue, and everything is on the table,” he said.