Gulf Coalition retakes Yemeni port, oil terminal, from al QaedaApril 26, 2016 in al-Qaeda, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen
26 April—On Monday, allied Yemeni and Emirati forces retook Ash Shihr terminal, Yemen’s largest oil export terminal from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The move comes a day after forces swept the militant group from their nearby stronghold in the port city of Mukalla, capital of the Hadramawt province.
The air strikes were carried out in coordination with a ground offensive in militant-controlled territory further west. Statements released by coalition officials said that nearly 2,000 Yemeni and Emirati troops advanced into Mukalla, taking control of its maritime port and airport, and setting up checkpoints.
The coalition also stated that 800 al Qaeda members were killed in the battle to retake the city and the oil terminal. Yet contrary to this statement, residents in the region said that the number killed was unlikely, adding that the group withdrew largely without a fight. One military officer said, “We entered the city centre and were met by no resistance from al-Qaeda militants who withdrew west.” Residents say that local clerics and tribesmen had been in talks with the group to exit quietly. It is believed that the fighters withdrew to the neighbouring Shabwa province.
The recapture of this area is a big win for coalition forces. Ash Shihr terminal, closed since its capture by AQAP fighters in 2015, is the export site for nearly 80% of Yemen’s oil reserves. Nearby Mukalla port, however, has remained open, and reports indicate that AQAP was pocketing around $2 million a day in customs revenues.
The advances against the militant group are indicative of a shift within the Saudi-led coalition. For the past year, the coalition has targeted the Houthi rebels, a group which captured the Yemeni capital of Sana’a and caused the government to go into exile, ultimately moving administrative operations to Aden. However, a tenuous ceasefire has been in place between the coalition and the rebel group since 11 April. The coalition has used the truce to target Al Qaeda strongholds in the region. The militant group, considered one of the most active and dangerous branches of Al Qaeda, had taken advantage of the power vacuum to develop a mini-state around Mukalla.
The coalition is now advancing on AQAP-held towns along the 370-mile coastline between Mukalla and Aden. It appears that militants are seeking to mount a stronger resistance in the region. The push against AQAP is being led by the United Arab Emirates, which has been training and arming local recruits for several months.
Yemen’s civil war has killed more than 6,200 people, displaced more than 2.5 million people. It has caused a humanitarian catastrophe in one of the world’s poorest countries. UN brokered peace talks between the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels are currently underway in Kuwait. Al Qaeda has not been invited to participate.