Major General Ahmed Ali al Ashwal. Source: Yemen Now.
In a sign of things to come, Yemeni military chief Major General Ahmed Ali al Ashwal recently visited the 139th infantry brigade stationed in the city of Rada’a in Baydah province. During his June 6 visit, in which he was accompanied by the commander of the seventh military region, al Ashwal declared that “the war against al Qaeda is open and does not have borders of a specific region,” suggesting that the ongoing military campaign against al Qaeda might expand from its center in the southern provinces of Abyan and Shabwa.
Al Ashwal went on to say: “[al Qaeda] mercenaries will be chased wherever they are found until they are eliminated and the homeland is cleared of their evils.” Emphasizing the importance of full combat readiness to the infantrymen of the 139th brigade, al Ashwal charged them with teaching al Qaeda “a harsh lesson” and “uprooting terrorism and purifying the homeland” of the terrorist group.
These statements came amid an ongoing military reinforcement of Baydha province in recent days, as the Yemeni military apparently prepares to expand its southern offensive. A political source in Sana’a told the Arabic media on June 6 that Yemeni president Abd Rabbo Masour Hadi had issued a directive to the armed forces allowing for the expansion of the offensive into the central provinces of Baydha and Marib while maintaining forces on the ground in Abyan and Shabwa.
Today, during a visit to the Mahfad region in northeastern Abyan, Major General Mahmoud Ahmed Salem al Sabihi, commander of the fourth military region, reaffirmed the recent pronouncements. Sabihi said that the campaign against al Qaeda will continue until terrorism is wholly uprooted from Yemen, and explained that the military will bring the fight to the areas in which the terror group’s operatives are currently hiding.
Sabihi also clarified that the military will not simply be expanding to other provinces in Yemen. He said his Mahfad visit comes as part of an operational deployment plan to get boots on the ground in areas that had already been deemed cleared of AQAP militants. The current campaign against AQAP in Yemen began in late April with US drone strikes targeting an AQAP training camp in the mountainous Mahfad region.
Sabihi’s comments came the same day as a state funeral was held for 13 Yemeni soldiers killed in the two main conflicts taking place in the restive country, the clashes with the Shiite Houthis in the north and the battle against AQAP in the south. Today marks the third day in a row in which state funerals have been held in Yemen; 24 soldiers have been buried since June 7.
In related news, one Yemeni soldier was reported killed on June 7 as AQAP militants attacked a security checkpoint near al Qatn in the eastern province of Hadramout. On the heels of the attack, the Yemeni Interior Ministry announced that security forces had received intelligence information indicating that “al Qaeda elements will carry out attacks against government institutions in the province [Hadramout],” and said soldiers in the area were on alert. The official said the June 7 attack was carried out by AQAP militants in three different cars firing rifles and RPGs, and that the clashes at the checkpoint lasted for about an hour.