Yemeni army units fighting alongside popular committees set up by citizens in the southern Yemeni town of Lawdar have continued to prevent Ansar al-Sharia, an al-Qaeda-affiliate, from seizing the city since attacks began on Monday (April 9th).
As of Thursday, at least 177 people -- of which 140 are al-Qaeda militants -- have been killed in the fighting around Lawdar and Mudia since Monday, according to AFP.
Two al-Qaeda leaders, field commander Imad al-Manshabi and Dardish Ahmed Mohammed Taher, were among the dead, Yemen's Defence Ministry announced Wednesday.
A number of al-Qaeda militants -- including Saudis, Somalis and Pakistanis -- were killed by army shelling in the Ain Zara region and in air strikes that targeted the militants' assembly point in Um Ain.
The ministry also reported Wednesday that forces from the 111th Infantry Brigade, along with popular committees, were able to expel al-Qaeda militants from Jabal Yusuf, near Lawdar, and destroy several posts the terrorists had set up on the Lawdar-Mukayras road which they were able to re-open. During these clashes, fifteen committee members were killed, including Mohamed Jaabal Sheikh, the director-general of Lawdar directorate.
"When the popular committees and the army joined forces in one trench against the terrorists they succeeded in preventing the [terrorists] from taking control of the city," Ahmed al-Rahwi, deputy governor of Abyan province, told Al-Shorfa. "This battle will break the back of al-Qaeda, which took advantage of the period of conflict to take over some areas."
Al-Rahwi praised the committees, which organised into field units and fought in shifts to prevent al-Qaeda militants from taking control of their city.
"We prevented al-Qaeda militants from entering Lawdar. In fact, we defeated them, took some of them prisoner, and seized three tanks and a military crew," Mohammed al-Saadi, the officer on duty in the Lawdar Directorate of Security, told Al-Shorfa.
He said the heavy weapons al-Qaeda used to bombard Lawdar had been seized in previous battles in Zinjibar, Jaar and other regions in Yemen and underscored the importance of cutting off al-Qaeda from its supply lines, which run from Jaar through Shaqra or Azzan in Shabwa province.
A Lawdar popular committee leader, Qais al-Khodr, told Al-Shorfa the committees will not allow the Jaar scenario to be repeated in their city.
"The popular committees are fighting to protect our lands and our possessions after seeing the tragedies of the displaced from neighbouring districts and how they suffer on a daily basis, with some of them [living] in schools and others out in the open. We will not allow a repeat of that," he said.
The committees are organized into three units, each comprising 12 groups, in order to protect the directorate from all directions with support from the army, al-Khodr said.
"The popular committees are fighting with personal weapons. The army supplied them with ammunition, but the quantities will not be sufficient should the battle continue for days to come," he said, calling on the Defence Ministry to supply the committees with enough ammunition to carry on their duties in defence of Lawdar.
Newly inaugurated President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi had vowed during his swearing-in ceremony on February 25th to eradicate al-Qaeda so the displaced could return home.