Despite a Yemeni military offensive that began nearly one year ago and is backed by US drones, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is still able to seize and control territory. On Friday, AQAP took control of several villages outside of Hadramout’s provincial capital of Mukallah. From AFP:
Fighters loyal to Al-Qaeda have seized control of villages near the Yemeni port city of Mukallah in an apparent bid to take over swathes of the southeastern province of Hadramout, the Interior Ministry and residents said yesterday.
The ministry condemned what it said was a “terrorist plot to proclaim an Islamic emirate in the Ghayl Bawazir area” near Mukallah, the provincial capital. It said the uprising in Hadramout would suffer the “same fate as that in Abyan,” a province just east of the main southern port of Aden, where Al Qaeda loyalists held the major towns from 2011-12 before being expelled by the army.
Residents of Ghayl Bawazir told AFP that the jihadists had taken advantage of an absence of security forces from the area to deploy in strength and had already distributed leaflets declaring their rule.
AQAP began the takeover of several large cities and towns in Abyan and Shabwa provinces in the spring of 2011 in the same manner. AQAP controlled large areas of the province of Abyan, including Zinjibar, the provincial capital, and ruled for more than one year before Yemeni forces drove the terror group out. AQAP took losses in the fighting but preserved most of its forces and moved to other areas of Yemen.
AQAP has been active in Hadramout over the past several months. Just this weekend, AQAP assassinated a Yemeni special forces captain in Al Qatar, while a policeman and a civilian were killed in an IED attack in Al Shihr. Five weeks ago, AQAP assassinated a Yemeni intelligence officer as he traveled to his home in Mukallah.
The US conducted seven drone strikes against AQAP fighters and operatives in Hadramout in 2012, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal. There have been no strikes in the province recorded so far this year.