Yemeni government forces and their Emirati allies have taken back control of the country’s largest oil export terminal from al-Qaeda, security officials say, a day after routing the militants from their nearby stronghold.
The lightning advance is a shift in strategy for the Saudi-led coalition forces, which for over a year have focused their firepower on the Iran-allied Houthis who had seized the capital Sanaa and driven the government into exile.
The civil war has killed more than 6200 people, displaced more than 2.5 million people and caused a humanitarian catastrophe in one of the world’s poorest countries.
A fragile ceasefire between coalition forces and the Houthis has been in operation since April 10.
In 48 hours, the coalition deprived the Islamist militants of a lucrative mini-state they had built up over the course of a year, based around the southwestern port city of Mukalla.
About 80 per cent of Yemen’s modest oil reserves were exported in peacetime from the Ash Shihr terminal, 68 km eastwards along the coast from Mukalla, which has been shut since the war began and al-Qaeda seized the area.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) – seeking official recognition as a quasi-state as well as trying to get rich – tried last year to export the 2 million barrels of oil stored there with the approval of Yemen’s government, which refused.
In a separate incident, residents said that an unidentified warplane believed to belong to the Saudi-led coalition fired missiles at a car in the city of Azzan in Shabwa province killing at least eight suspected al-Qaeda militants travelling on the vehicle.
Azzan is part of a string of southern Yemen towns seized by al-Qaeda since last year as Hadi supporters and their Houthi enemies fought each other.
A statement by the mostly Gulf Arab coalition said on Monday its offensive had killed 800 al-Qaeda fighters and several leaders, though Mukalla residents said the number appeared unlikely and the group withdrew largely without a fight.