The Yemeni Ministry of Defence announced Monday (June 20th) that Yemeni air forces killed 20 al-Qaeda fighters during clashes Monday in the southern city of Zinjibar and surrounding areas.
According to a ministry statement released on its website, the armed forces "continued to strike the nests and pockets of al-Qaeda terrorists in Abyan province, inflicting heavy losses in violent clashes".
Government officials said the combat operations, which have been raging for almost a month, are aimed at ridding Abyan province and its capital Zinjibar of terrorists who are seeking to declare an Islamic emirate in the region.
Ahmed Ghaleb al-Rahwi, under-secretary of Abyan province, said fighting continued on Tuesday in Zinjibar and Jaar, adding that Yemeni air forces bombarded suspected al-Qaeda positions in Al-Kod and other hideouts in Zinjibar on Monday.
The government victory followed another operation in Zinjibar Saturday that killed 15 terrorists. The militants were in the process of planting mines in unoccupied areas from which they anticipated the army would launch its attacks. "The army attacked with artillery and killed everyone there," al-Rahwi said, adding that 17 other militants were also killed during fighting on Sunday.
Al-Rahwi said the militants failed to gain total control of the city when the 25th Mechanised Brigade, which refused to cede power after some government facilities were seized temporarily by al-Qaeda fighters, flushed the terrorists out of Zinjibar and into open fields. The army gained the upper hand in the battle as the militants were forced to engage government troops in direct combat.
"The army has imposed a crescent shaped blockade on the terrorists with the 25th Mechanised Brigade in the east, battalions of the 201st Brigade in the south, and the 119th Mechanised Brigade in the west, inflicting heavy losses on them," al-Rahwi added.
Security forces have also been stationed at Dofes as well as near the entrances to Kod and Al-Mutla districts outside of Zinjibar.
Yemeni forces suffered 26 casualties during Sunday's fighting, with five soldiers killed and 21 others wounded, including three injured on Monday. An estimated 100 soldiers have been killed since the fighting began in May, according to news reports.
Terrorist elements also tried to gain control of nearby Lahij province on June 8th by launching attacks on the general security building and the central bank, killing three soldiers. However, the militants fled after the army confronted them.
According to al-Rahwi, the al-Qaeda forces are comprised of Saudis, Pakistanis, Egyptians, Jordanians and Syrians, including a Syrian doctor treating the wounded. The Yemenis among them are natives of Jawf, Marib, Sanaa and Hodeidah.
He said that their goal was to declare an Islamic emirate upon seizing the neighbouring provinces of Lahij and Aden. However, the militants' failed takeover attempt in Lahij, in addition to the recent rout in Zinjibar, has foiled their overall plan, al-Rahwi said.
Despite government efforts, the deteriorating security situation in Yemen remains palpable for people who fled to neighbouring areas, as they face a shortage of services and food.
"The displaced are experiencing difficult health and living conditions due to the lack of the supplies," said Fadl al-Shabibi, director of the SABA agency in Abyan province and one who left for Aden.
As a result of the recent battles, "corpses can be seen rotting in some parts of the city, sparking a mass exodus of the population of Zinjibar out of fear for their safety and apprehension about renewed fighting and clashes", said Adam Ali, a Yemeni soldier.
Ali told Al-Shorfa that the fighting taking place in Kod and Dofes is to ensure military supplies and troop reinforcements reach Abyan and shift the advantage towards government forces.
"The steady reinforcements that got through are what turned [the recent] confrontations in favour of the army," Ali said.