Al-Qaeda militants have been forced out of one of their strongholds in Yemen. It is a breakthrough for the Yemeni army, which launched an all-out assault on the militants a few weeks ago.
The Yemeni army reclaimed the southern town of Jaar on Tuesday after al-Qaeda militants withdrew overnight, according to reports from the defense ministry and local residents. The development comes one month after the army stepped up its offensive to force al-Qaeda out of their strongholds in the country.
"With the cooperation of the citizens of Abyan...the heroes of the armed forces and the popular resistance committees have taken full control of the city of Jaar," the ministry of defence said in a statement, quoting the country's southern military commander, Salem Ali Qoton.
"Al-Qaeda has suffered heavy losses...and dozens of militants have fled."
The jihadis who have maintained a grip on the Abyan province for over a year, retreated towards Shuqra, "after fighting with the army became fiercer," one resident said to the AFP news agency. Heavy fighting during the confrontation killed at least 24 people in the clash, according to Yemeni authorities. Yemeni warplanes had also bombarded the area on Monday.
The army now has plans to launch an offensive on the southern coastal town of Shaqra, which is known to be a common point of entry for Somalis coming into Yemen to join al-Qaeda, said one official. He added that eight militants and two soldiers had already been killed in a showdown there.
Reclaiming control of the country
Yemen is battling to take back control of key territory in Abyan province, which militants captured last year; they seized a window of opportunity when a mass uprising against President Ali Abdullah Saleh swept across the country.
The United States is supporting the military campaign and has intensified drone attacks on suspected al-Qaeda militias that stand accused of using Yemen as a base from which to plan attacks. Washington has also supplied Yemen with several military trainers and boosted aid. It wants a politically stable government, now led by Saleh's former deputy Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, to reunify the army and crush al-Qaeda in the country.
But the ongoing war between the Yemeni army and militia has raised concerns about a spiralling humanitarian crisis. As a result of the conflict, food and medical supplies have been cut off and thousands have fled their homes, said the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) last week, although Western and Gulf states last month promised to deliver more than four billion dollars (3.2 billion euros) of aid to the country.