According to local security officials in Shabwa province, the Yemeni military carried out an airstrike today on a weapons convoy belonging to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Yemeni military warplanes targeted an AQAP convoy of three trucks that was transporting weapons and ammunition from southeastern Shabwa province, the location of raging battles between Yemeni military forces and AQAP since last April, to Marib province in central Yemen.
The airstrike hit the trucks near Bihan in Shabwa as they traveled along the road between Shabwa to Marib, killing five AQAP fighters. An Associated Press report put the casualty figure at eight, saying that three drivers were killed along with the AQAP fighters.
Eyewitnesses confirmed that the three AQAP trucks were destroyed by the airstrike and also reported that a Yemeni military helicopter landed at the site shortly after the strike. A local tribesman who was found sifting through the rubble, in an apparent search for weapons, was arrested by Yemeni authorities.
Today’s airstrike underscores the difficulty of reporting such incidents in Yemen. In the past, US military and intelligence officials have said that the Yemeni military is not capable of launching precision strikes against moving vehicles. It is unclear whether today’s strike was carried out with assistance by the US military. It is also not known to what extent the US has been providing Yemen with military and intelligence support throughout the Yemeni offensive against AQAP, which was launched following several US drone strikes on AQAP strongholds in late April.
The Yemeni military has made notable progress in recent days in its efforts to drive out AQAP fighters from the southern provinces of Shabwa and Abyan. Yesterday, the Yemeni Ministry of Defense announced that its forces were clearing the Mahfad region, a mountainous area in northeast Abyan province that has served as an AQAP stronghold since 2011. The Ministry of Defense website claimed that the military uncovered prisons, shelters, and underground facilities in Mahfad that were previously used by AQAP in the region.
An official from the Yemeni Interior Ministry told the Arabic press today that AQAP extremists are starting to flee the battlefields in Shabwa, Abyan, and Baydha and hiding out in Ibb, Marib, Lahj, and Sana’a. The police chief in the southwestern province of Taiz confirmed this development today and said that AQAP fighters are moving into the countryside of Taiz province, especially the districts of Shar’ab al Salaam, al Salu, al Muwasit, and Jabal Habashi.
Yemeni soldiers in Mahfad (Source: Nashwan News)
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