800 jihadists in Yemen killed, key city captured - Arab Coalition

A fighter jet of the UAE armed forces taking off from an air force base before raids against Shiite Huthi rebels in Yemen © HO
Yemeni troops allied with the Saudi-led coalition claim to have killed more than 800 Al-Qaeda fighters in a joint military operation against the terror group in Yemen. They also report taking a large southeastern coastal city of Mukalla.

The Yemeni offensive, supported by Saudi and UAE airstrike, is part of a wider campaign targeting jihadists, who exploited the 13-month war between Houthi rebels and forces loyal to ousted Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.

Initially, Hadi turned to Saudi Arabia for help in seizing back power in Yemen, but recently the coalition turned its attention to the rising jihadist threat, which comes from Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).

"The operation resulted... in the deaths of more than 800 Al-Qaeda members and some of their leaders, while some others fled," said the Arab Coalition command in a statement cited by the Saudi news agency SPA.

The death toll could not be immediately verified independently. No report of civilian casualties was given by the Saudis.

It comes amid UN-brokered peace talks in Kuwait and a ceasefire established earlier in April. The AQIP forces are not party to the truce.

Mukalla, which has an estimated population of 200,000, and the Mina al-Dhaba oil terminal in Shehr further east were captured in the first hours of the operation. The Yemeni Army reportedly entered the city unopposed Sunday after the local residents had asked AQIP members to retreat so it would not be destroyed by the army.

"We entered the city center [of Al Mukalla] and were met by no resistance from Al-Qaeda militants who withdrew west towards the vast desert in Hadramawt and Shabwa provinces,” said an army officer, as cited by AFP.

Earlier on Sunday, Hadi loyalists reportedly seized Riyan Airport and an army brigade headquarters on Mukalla's outskirts.

Saudi-backed forces have also driven militants from Aden, the port city declared by Hadi as Yemen's temporary capital after the Houthis took control of Sanaa in September 2014.

Last week, government forces expelled AQIP from Huta, the provincial capital of Lahj.