Yemeni forces take back coastal city from al-Qaida



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SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Forces loyal to Yemen's internationally recognized government have retaken the southern coastal city of Mukalla, driving out al-Qaida militants a year after they captured it, security officials said Tuesday.

The Yemeni forces entered the city late on Monday, following days of heavy airstrikes by a Saudi-led coalition fighting on the side of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi's government.

The airstrikes targeted al-Qaida positions in and outside Mukalla, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.

Al-Qaida's local branch captured Mukalla last year amid the chaos caused by Yemen's civil war, which pits forces loyal to Hadi's government against Shiite rebels known as Houthis and their allies.

The offensive to retake the city started on Saturday, the latest operation against al-Qaida in southern Yemen.

Security officials and witnesses said earlier that many of al-Qaida's fighters in Mukalla left the city to escape the heavy Saudi-led coalition airstrikes and shelling by government forces.

Troops loyal to Hadi also advanced over the weekend in the town of Koud in southern Abyan province, according to the province's governor, killing 25 militants from the group in heavy clashes. The coalition has also carried out airstrikes against al-Qaida positions in the area.

The pro-Hadi troops had been preparing for the offensive for months with the coalition's support. Heavy fighting is continuing with al-Qaida militants in Abyan, near the cities of Zinjibar and Jaar.

Al-Qaida's affiliate in Yemen, viewed by Washington as the group's most dangerous offshoot, has exploited the conflict between the Houthis and the government forces to expand its footprint, mostly across southern Yemen.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Ahmed Al-Haj

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