AQAP fighters storm Yemen Army base in east

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula launched a coordinated attack today against a military base in the eastern city of Mukallah, the capital of Hadramout province. A platoon-sized element of AQAP fighters dressed in uniforms belonging to the Interior Ministry’s paramilitary Central Security Organization attacked the based and seized it. Several military personnel were killed, and the Yemeni military has dispatched special forces troops to retake the base. From Reuters:

The official said dozens of militants stormed the headquarters of the Yemeni army’s Second Division in the city of al-Mukalla and had captured some military personnel. At least six people were wounded.

“They caused confusion because soldiers at the base thought they were being attacked by members of the Central Security apparatus,” the official said.

He said special forces personnel had been flown from Sanaa to Mukalla ahead of an expected operation to retake the base.

A resident said he heard several explosions and that the army had cordoned off the area leading to the military base. He said the army had asked residents of more than 50 houses in the vicinity of the base to evacuate their homes.

Today’s attack in Mukallah takes place just 10 days after AQAP launched multiple complex assaults on Yemeni military bases in Abyan province. During the coordinated attacks, 56 Yemeni security personnel and eight AQAP fighters were killed [see LWJ report, AQAP launches multiple suicide assaults in southern Yemen].

AQAP remains both a local and an international threat, despite a Yemeni military operation accompanied by increased US drone strikes that began last year to oust AQAP from major cities and towns in southern Yemen. AQAP retreated in the face of the concerted offensive. Nasir al Wuhayshi, who serves as AQAP’s emir as well as al Qaeda’s general manager, noted in letters to the emir of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb that although AQAP lost 500 fighters, the fighting was worth it despite the cost, and that AQAP was able to preserve its top leadership cadre while essentially fighting a rearguard action.

AQAP has regrouped and established itself in several areas throughout the country. On Sept. 25, Naba News reported that AQAP declared a new emirate in Habban district in Shabwa province [a translation of the article is provided below]:

Local sources have indicated that masked elements of al Qaeda Organization — who were aboard a pickup and were carrying weapons — circulated publications in which they demanded all the governorate’s executive offices to be cleared. The sources also said that these elements demanded the people to implement the Islamic Shari’ah and turn Habban District into an Islamic emirate where the Islamic sharia is implemented.

The sources told Al-Yaman al-Yawm TV channel that “the residents and employees have immediately informed the authorities and security services which did not react with the reports because the al Qaeda elements spread and wander in Habban District and its neighboring districts without any reaction from the local authorities.”

Despite losing control of major cities in Abyan and Shabwa province, AQAP is still strong in rural areas of Yemen and is more than capable of both attacking the Yemeni military and plotting against the West. Communications earlier this year between al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri and Wuhayshi led the US to shut down more than 20 diplomatic facilities across Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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