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US-backed Yemen offensive ousts Al Qaeda from southern strongholds

Yemen has scored a major victory over Al Qaeda, retaking two cities that were militant strongholds in a US-backed offensive.

After weeks of fighting, the Yemeni military — helped by dozens of US troops stationed a nearby air base — retook the southern cities of Jaar and Zinjibar, the Defense Ministry said, according to Reuters.

The US considers Al Qaeda in Yemen to be the most dangerous offshoot of the terror network, according to the Associated Press, and its involvement in the Yemen conflict is aimed at securing stability in the wider oil-rich Gulf region.

Al Qaeda’s presence next door to Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, and in the Arab world’s most populous country, is added cause for concern, Reuters wrote.

The recapture of Zinjibar, capital of Abyan province, and Jaar, on a main road to the oil-exporting port of Aden, sparked spontaneous celebrations, the News service wrote.

“It is like seeing darkness being lifted from our lives after a year,” Jaar resident Naseem Salem reportedly said by telephone. 

Mohammed Albasha, spokesman for the Yemeni Embassy in Washington, went as far as to say the victory had “broken the strength of Al Qaeda,” the LA Times reported.

The fighting left at least 20 militants and four Yemeni government troops dead, Maj. Gen. Salem Ali Qaten was quoted as telling the state-run Saba news agency.

About 500 militants were dislodged from the key southern regions, leaving Al Qaeda scattered in smaller towns, valleys, desert and mountainous areas, which the AP was similar to the situation before the uprising that ousted former President Ali Abdullah Saleh in February 2011.

US officials said that current President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi was more cooperative in the fight against Islamist militancy, Reuters wrote.

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