CAIRO - Yemeni government forces reportedly recaptured territory from al-Qaida militants in southern Abyan province Thursday, amid fighting around the provincial capital of Zinjibar.
Troops with local militiamen fighting alongside them chased al-Qaida militants from one of their strongholds in Abyan province overnight, forcing them to flee into nearby hills. The bodies of dead soldiers and militiamen, reportedly executed by al-Qaida, were found after the militants fled.
Yemeni state TV reported that 60 al-Qaida militants were killed during fighting in the past 48 hours. The report said residents of the key hub Lawder "rejoiced and celebrated" after al-Qaida was thrown out of their town.
Yemeni military officials say government troops are moving slowly along the outskirts of the al-Qaida stronghold of Zinjibar, trying to avoid being out-flanked. Zinjibar was captured by the militants in May of last year.
The success of the ongoing military campaign is due in large part to the local militiamen who are helping government troops battle al-Qaida, said Hakim Almasmari, editor-in-chief of the Yemen Post
"The popular committees started fighting al-Qaida around three to four weeks ago, after one year of government failure to fight these militants," Almasmari said. "So, gradually the popular committees have been taking over towns and streets. These residents are living very difficult times and they have two options, either to fight or end up being displaced like the 170,000 who are now living in shelters and lost their homes and property."
The flood of refugees fleeing al-Qaida has created a humanitarian crisis around the southern port city of Aden. U.N. estimates put the figure of Yemenis displaced by the fighting at around 170,000, many of whom are in need of outside assistance.
Despite the recent government success in uprooting al-Qaida militants, it is likely to be more difficult to dislodge them from Zinjibar, said Almasmari.
U.S. forces are also contributing logistical support in helping the Yemeni Army to dislodge the militants.
Also Thursday, Al-Qaida released a video calling Yemen's new president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, an "agent" of the United States. The Los Angeles Times
, quoting a U.S. official, says that "at least 20" U.S. Special Forces troops are working out of a Yemeni air base in nearby Lahej province. Other reports say the USS Iwo Jima, an amphibious assault ship, is now stationed off the coast of southern Yemen.
The U.S. Defense Department has acknowledged having trainers in Yemen, but a Pentagon spokesmen said this week that he would not go into detail about whether these operations were specifically stationed in Lahej province