Yemen: UAE-backed forces launch military operation to track down Al Qaeda

The newly installed forces will play a significant role in the fight against terrorist groups in Shabwa, Abyan and Hadramawt

Yemeni tribesmen from the Popular Resistance Committees, loyal to the Saudi-backed Saudi president, stop cars at a makeshift security checkpoint along a desert road in the Beihan district in Shabwa province on December 18, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / ABDULLAH AL-QADRY

Elite troops supported by Emirati forces have begun a campaign to track down Al Qaeda militants in mountain hideouts in the Shabwa province of southern Yemen.

The campaign, called White Mountains, complements a mission in which troops were sent to the three Shabwa districts of Nesab, Markha and Khourah in April 2018.

"Fierce clashes flared between our forces and Al Qaeda militants in the district of Khoura, lasting for about three hours," Col Mohammed Al Bouhar, commander of the Shabwa force, told The National.

"It ended as our forces took control over their main base in the area that was used as training base."

There were no casualties reported but the extremists from the base fled towards the province of Al Bayda, Col Al Bouhar said.

He said his troops would be permanently based in the western region of Shabwa because Al Qaeda has major strongholds in Al Bayda, across the border.

"Most of the terrorists equip themselves in Al Bayda and break into Shabwa to carry out their terrorist actions against our forces and civilians,” Col Al Bouhar said.

The UAE has highly equipped forces in the southern region of Yemen, which was liberated from the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in 2015.

They were sent to crack down on terrorist groups, mainly Al Qaeda, which have benefited from the chaos of Yemen's civil war.

The conflict began when the Houthis took over the capital Sanaa, forcing out the internationally recognised government of President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi, and took control of large areas of Yemen at the end of 2014.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other allies intervened on behalf of the legitimate government and have been there for four years.

Col Al Bouhar said that the province of Shabwa was 80 per cent free of the terrorist groups, the last of which would be cleared from the Bayhan district soon.