Yemeni officials say government troops have recaptured two al-Qaida strongholds in the country's south after a month-long offensive against the militant group, which seized the areas more than a year ago.
Officials said Tuesday that Yemeni troops and their tribal allies took full control of Abyan's provincial capital, Zinjibar, and the town of Jaar to the north. They said government forces also re-opened a major highway linking Abyan with the southern port of Aden.
Yemeni officials said troops drove into Jaar early Tuesday after a battle that killed 20 militants and four soldiers. Residents celebrated the soldiers' arrival by firing weapons into the air. Hours later, officials said the troops completed the takeover of Zinjibar.
Al-Qaida militants seized parts of Abyan last year while the government was pre-occupied with fighting a pro-democracy uprising against then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh. His successor Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi launched a U.S.-backed military offensive last month to recapture those areas.
Brookings Doha Center conflict resolution expert Ibrahim Sharqieh told VOA the fall of the al-Qaida strongholds represents a major victory for Mr. Hadi, who took office in February.
Speaking by phone from Qatar, he said he expects Yemeni troops to advance on another city, Shuqra, in the coming days.
"If the army is able to take this city back, then we should be talking about al-Qaida disappearing from major cities in Abyan," he said.
Sharqieh said one factor contributing to al-Qaida's downfall in the region is that local communities turned against the group.
"They have showed whether it is in the first city of Lawdar or now in Jaar or Zinjibar that the local militia, local communities collaborated highly with the Yemeni army and they fought alongside [it] to expel al-Qaida fighters from their cities," he said. "This has been truly a key factor for their success," he said.
The Brookings expert said President Hadi's ability to take control of army divisions from allies of his predecessor also helped the Yemeni military's fight against al-Qaida.
Saleh's critics had long accused him of holding back the military from defeating al-Qaida in order to fuel instability in the country and justify a continuation of his three-decade long autocratic rule.
Article by Michael Lipin, VOA News