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Yemenis troops took two of al-Qaeda’s southern strongholds 12 June 2012 in an operation known as Golden Swords. The offensive, which began 12 May 2012, took over ninety percent of the provincial capital of Abyan, Zinjibar, and the city of Jaar. The troops also took the highway linking Jaar to the port of Aden, the area through which sixty percent of Yemen’s oil passes.
The Yemeni military was backed by dozens of US troops who remained in a command center at a nearby air base.
The Yemeni troops have been shelling the strongholds for about the past two months. The troops took Jaar in a surprise dawn attack, driving the al-Qaeda group out. The residents of the town celebrated the victory of the operation. One Jaar resident, Khaled Mohsen stated, “we thought it would take a year in order for the army to get rid of al-Qaeda, but we were surprised when they swept into the town in no time. I have been hearing constant exchange of gunfire all night, then suddenly everything was quiet. I looked from the windows, and I saw soldiers in uniform in the center of the town.”
The fighting in Zanjibar was much lighter than in Jaar since most of the city was already taken and many of the militants left for Jaar to defend that city.
Twenty militants and forty troops were killed in the fighting. The al-Qaeda militants fled from the town to the mountains and small towns in the region; most are now in the coastal town of Shaqra, the last remaining stronghold of al-Qaeda in the Abyan region. The group claims that they left the city to “spare bloodshed” and threatened to attack the capital of Sanaa in retaliation, according to CP24, a Canadian news agency. As they left Jaar the militants wrote “Al-Qaeda has withdrawn. Al-Qaeda was not defeated” on shutters and walls.
Al-Qaeda has been in possession of most of the southern province of Abyan for over a year. Although the Yemeni military has tried to take the region back, past attempts have failed because they are ill-equipped, badly trained, have no developed intelligence system, and there are still some conflicted loyalties to former President Saleh.
Newly elected President, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, has promised to purge Yemen of al-Qaeda; so far his efforts seem to be successful. According to Gamal al-Aqil, governor of the Abyan province, the Yemeni government has succeeded in dealing al-Qaeda “painful blows.”
The United States views al-Qaeda in Yemen as the greatest threat to its national security. They have been aiding the Yemeni government as it tries to overthrow the group. The United States has also sent many drone attacks to the area over the past several years, although many in Yemen oppose the strikes. According to the BBC around forty people, including Yemeni citizens, were killed in US drone strikes in 2009.
Although al-Qaeda seems to be on the run in Yemen, the government is still worried about sleeper cells that may remain elsewhere in Yemen. The group has also retaliated recently with a suicide bomber in Sanaa in response to the foiling of a bombing attack on a US airliner.