Yemeni government forces have retaken the country's largest oil export terminal from al Qaeda. It's a clear shift in strategy for the Saudi-led coalition, which for over a year has focused on the Iran-allied Houthis.
About 80 percent of Yemen's oil reserves used to be exported from the Ash Shihr terminal, 68 km (42 miles) east along the coast from the town of Mukalla. The terminal is of strategic importance and has been shut down since the civil war began and al Qaeda seized the area last year.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has been seeking official recognition as a quasi-state and tried last year to export the 2 million barrels of oil stored there with the approval of Yemen's government, which refused.
The terminal is one of a number of southern Yemen locations seized by al Qaeda since last year as supporters of exiled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and their Houthi enemies fought each other.
Ceasefire creates new opportunities
A ceasefire between coalition forces and the Houthis has been in operation since April 10, reducing fighting along most frontlines between coalition and Houthi fighters and prepared the ground for UN-sponsored peace talks that began in Kuwait last week. It also opened the way for the latest attack by Yemeni government forces.
Saudi Arabia fears that a rebel victory would give its regional rival, Shiite Iran, a strategic foothold on the Arabian Peninsula.
A statement by the mostly Gulf Arab coalition said its offensive had killed 800 al Qaeda fighters and several leaders.
About 2,000 Yemeni and Emirati troops also reportedly advanced into Mukalla, taking control of its maritime port and airport and setting up checkpoints throughout the southern city, Yemeni officials said Sunday.
The coalition offensive is now seeking to advance westwards on AQAP-held towns along a 600-km (370-mile) stretch of Arabian Sea coastline between Mukalla and the government's base in Aden, where militants are mounting fiercer resistance.
The developments came two days after Saudi-backed government forces launched a massive offensive to drive al-Qaeda insurgents out of the southern city of Zinjibar, which had been under al-Qaeda's control since December.
The civil war has killed more than 6,200 people, displaced more than 2.5 million people and caused a humanitarian catastrophe.
jbh/jr (Reuters, dpa)