Saudi-led coalition claims recapture of key Yemen oil terminal from Al-Qaeda

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Yemeni forces backed by Arab coalition air strikes have reportedly led to their recapturing of the country’s largest oil port, Mina Al-Dhaba, from Al-Qaeda militants.

As the Saudi-led coalition boasted recapturing Mukalla, an Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) stronghold, sources on the ground confirmed to both Reuters and AFP that the forces also managed to take control of the city of Al Shihr and its oil terminal, the largest hub within the illegal jihadist oil smuggling empire.

Before the eruption of hostilities last year, roughly 80 percent of Yemen’s oil reserves were exported via the Al Shihr port. In an effort to resume the oil trade following the outbreak of fighting, according to earlier reports, the Al-Qaeda linked group even tried to receive permission from the Yemeni government to export crude oil on its behalf and collect a share of the profits.

“Al Qaeda sent a mediator to the government to get them agree to listen to this deal,” the tribal leader in southern Yemen told Reuters. “Their offer was they need the official documents from the government to sell crude oil, and they would get 25 percent of the profit, and 75 percent for the government.”

As the government refused to side with the jihadists, the extremist cell decided to use the port and conduct trade focusing more on internal market supply.

“You will find hundreds of oil trucks there smuggling fuel from one area to another where they are selling it,” Badr Basalmah, a former transport minister in Yemen’s government, told Reuters earlier this month.

“They sell the fuel to whoever buys it,” said Abdallah al-Nasi, governor of Shabwa province. “The government-run petrol stations buy from them and sell it on to the citizens.”

According to an investigation by Reuters earlier this month, AQAP earned some $2 million daily from goods and fuel trade in the port. In addition, the jihadists allegedly extorted $1.4 million from the national oil company after securing large parts of Arabian Sea coast in April that equated to some 600 km (373 miles).

Furthermore, the Al-Qaeda linked group also threatened a major oil transit route as Yemen borders the Bab el-Mandeb Strait. The strait which is only 18 miles wide at its narrowest point, serves as a strategic route for Persian Gulf countries’ natural resource shipments worldwide. AQAP control of the coast made tankers passing through the strait's two 2-mile-wide shipping channels, vulnerable to attacks. In 2014, the Strait handled almost 4.7 million barrels per day (BPD), according to the Energy Information Administration.

Previously, the Arab Coalition command announced that Yemeni troops allied with the Saudi-led coalition have killed more than 800 Al-Qaeda fighters in a joint military operation against the terror group in the assault on the southeastern city of Mukalla and its surroundings.

The Yemeni conflict has been ongoing between two factions claiming to constitute the Yemeni government since last year. In March 2015 the conflict escalated when Houthi forces controlling the capital Sana'a and allied with forces loyal to the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh have clashed with forces loyal to the government of Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, based in Aden.

A coalition led by Saudi Arabia launched military operations by using airstrikes to restore the exiled Yemeni government. According to the UN, from March 2015 to March 2016 over 6,500 people have been killed in Yemen including 3,218 civilians.

While a fragile UN- sponsored ceasefire between the Houthis and President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi's government has been in force since April 10, the fight against the AQAP and the Islamic State, who are still in control of the territory along stretches of the coast, continues.