For the first time in years, citizens in Yemen’s southern province, which includes the formerly beseiged main city of Shabwa, can return in peace, thanks to ground troops supported by the United States military.
According to the United Arab Emirates news agency WAM on Thursday, the advance had been backed by the United States and the UAE (United Arab Emirates) but it did not specify what support they had provided. Information coming from news agencies say that ground troops and armor have pushed al Qaeda militants out of Shabwa and other cities on Friday, regaining government control of Yemen’s southern province for the first time in years.
Residents said that the al Qaeda militants simply melted into the surrounding mountains without a fight as armored vehicles from the government rolled in. They were accompanied by a new force of local tribesman known as the Elite Shabwa Forces, which helped to drive militants out of the provincial capital Ataq and other towns and cities since Thursday morning.
A small number of U.S. forces on the ground are assisting an operation to clear an area in central Yemen of al Qaeda fighters.
Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters on Friday that the United States is providing surveillance, aerial refueling, close air support and a small number of ground troops for a joint U.S.-United Arab Emirates operation to clear al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) from its remaining pockets in central Yemen, according to multiple news reports.
Another Pentagon spokeswoman said in an email to The Hill that she “can confirm we are supporting regional partners in ongoing operations in Yemen against AQAP to degrade the group’s ability to coordinate external terrorist operations and use Yemeni territory as a safe space for terror plotting.”
The Pentagon’s acknowledgement comes after the United Arab Emirates’ embassy in Washington announced the operation, including the fact that the U.S. is involved in the operation, although it is reportedly being led by Yemeni forces. A statement from Ambassador Yousef Al Otaibabut said that the operation “is being closely supported by a combined UAE and US enabling forces.”
“The UAE is participating in this operation as part of a broader Arab coalition,” said the ambassador, adding, “Today’s action continues the coalition’s sustained counter-terrorism mission in Yemen against AQAP, in order to disrupt the terrorist organization’s network and degrade its ability to conduct future attacks.”
AQAP is reputed to be the most dangerous of al Qaeda’s branches. The group took advantage of the chaos of the Yemeni civil war to expand into the oil and gas-rich south.
The U.S. military reportedly began bombing the crap out of the terror group after President Trump gave the military expanded authority to conduct airstrikes without needing high-level approval from the White House. Since February, U.S. forces have carried out more than 80 airstrikes against AQAP.
U.S. forces have also conducted at least two ground raids there during the Trump administration, including the tragic raid on Jan. 29 that resulted in the death of Navy SEAL Chief Special Warfare Operator William “Ryan” Owens and a number of Yemeni civilians.