Yemeni forces retake military camp seized by Al Qaeda

Raid on base in Abyan province followed attacks by Houthi rebels and ISIS in Aden

Pro-government Yemeni forces in Abyan have been conducting sweeps to rid the southern province of Al Qaeda. AFP.

Yemeni forces have secured a southern military base that was overrun by Al Qaeda militants in an attack on Friday that killed 19 soldiers.

The militants held the Security Belt forces camp in Al Mahfed district of Abyan province for hours before it was retaken with the help of the Elite Forces from the neighbouring Shabwa province, officers told The National.

“Our forces along with the Security Belt forces in Abyan fully recaptured the military base in Al Khaiyala area in Al Mahfed after fierce confrontations with the terrorists," said Colonel Mohamed Salem Al Bouhar, a commander of the Elite Forces.

The Al Qaeda militants occupied the camp for four hours until the Elite Forces and jets from the Saudi-led military coalition intervened at 10am on Friday, Col Al Bouhar said.

"One of Al Qaeda militants was killed and another was captured in the fighting," Captain Salem Sal'an, a Security Belt commander, told The National

The Security Belt and Elite forces have been trained by the UAE, a leading member of the Saudi-led coalition supporting Yemen's government, and have been conducting raids against Al Qaeda in their respective areas since last year.

A security official who requested anonymity told The National that the attack on the Al Mahfed camp was launched by Al Qaeda sleeper cells in nearby villages. Nineteen members of the government force were killed in the early morning raid, which also targeted Security Belt checkpoints in the area, the official said.

The attack came a day after Yemeni security forces suffered heavy casualties in a missile attack on a training base in Aden and a suicide bombing claimed by ISIS at a police station in the port city. At least 45 people were killed in the missile attack, including a top commander, and at least another 10 in the bombing.

“The series of attacks launched by the Houthis, ISIL and Al Qaeda confirm the strong connection among the three parties and highlights the hidden ties among them," Col Al Bouhar said.

The United States condemned the attacks in a brief statement released by the State Department on Saturday.

"Attacks such as these by the Iranian-backed Houthis, ISIS, or Al Qaeda are unacceptable," the statement said. "It is critical that Yemenis work with UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths toward a political settlement that ends the conflict and brings peace, prosperity, and security to Yemen."

Separately, the Saudi-led coalition dismissed claims on Houthi media that the rebels had crossed the border and captured several Saudi military positions in recent days.

A coalition official quoted by the Saudi Press Agency said the rebels were suffering daily defeats and setbacks on different fronts and were falsely claiming victories to boost the morale of their fighters and supporters in areas under their control.

The coalition intervened in Yemen's war in early 2015, months after the Houthi rebels seized the capital, Sanaa, forcing the government to flee.

The coalition official ridiculed claims by the Iran-backed rebels to have taken control 15 military positions in Najran and Jizan in the past three days, whereas the Yemeni army, with the support of the coalition, was advancing tens of kilometres deep into the rebel strongholds in Saada and Hajjah provinces.

SPA quoted the source as saying such claims were the latest in a string a Houthi fabrications, "the most recent of which was an alleged targeting of a military position in Dammam".