Mukalla win denies Aqap a foothold

The retaking of the port city by Yemeni and Emirati troops is vital for the coalition

Forces loyal to the Saudi-backed Yemeni president patrol a street in the southern city of Lahj during an operation to drive Al-Qaeda fighters out of the southern provinces (AFP / SALEH AL-OBEIDI)
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No one should be in any doubt how tough the mission in Yemen is. Certainly, those who have fought there, those who have been injured and the families of those who gave their lives are well aware of how difficult the mission to restore Yemen’s legitimate government is.

Some of those who know it best were honoured on Monday at the Sea Palace in Abu Dhabi, even as some of their colleagues scored a significant blow in Yemen. In the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commaner of the Armed Forces, met some of those wounded and heard about their service.

Meanwhile, the port city of Mukalla was freed from the grip of Al Qaeda in the Arabia Peninsula (Aqap) by about 2,000 Yemeni and coalition troops. Yemeni soldiers and armoured vehicles pushed into the city over the weekend. It has been Al Qaeda’s stronghold in Yemen for much of the past year.

In Mukalla, Aqap sought to do what ISIL has done in parts of Syria and Iraq – they imposed harsh interpretations of Islamic law, destroyed tombs of revered figures and made tens of millions of dollars from forced taxation. Mukalla is home to Yemen’s largest oil export terminal and the terrorist group had attempted to export oil to make money.

The retaking of Mukalla is a serious blow to Aqap and represents an important victory for the coalition in Yemen. By denying militants a gathering place, the coalition is ensuring that the group cannot gather, train or plot attacks. Aqap is now on the run once again.

This latest move, coupled with the diplomatic track currently under way in Kuwait, shows the importance of both words and actions. The UAE is part of the coalition because it matters to both the UAE and Yemen, and the region as a whole. Restoring stability to Yemen means security for the GCC.

As important as it is to pursue a diplomatic track in Kuwait with the Houthis, it is also important to act against Aqap. There can be no negotiation with terror groups – and the Middle East has seen with ISIL how quickly a small group can spread, gain territory and launch attacks. Neither the Yemenis nor the UAE can allow that to happen.