Ten soldiers and 13 al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula fighters were reported killed today in ongoing clashes between the Yemeni military and AQAP in Shabwa province in southern Yemen. AQAP carried out simultaneous attacks in Azzan and Gol al Rayda in southern Shabwa, two areas the terrorist organization seeks to recapture after losing control and withdrawing from them last weekend.
Yemeni security sources said that since AQAP withdrew from Azzan and Gol al Rayda four days ago, the militants have taken refuge in the Kour mountains, a rugged range straddling the border of Abyan, Shabwa, and Baydha provinces.
The battle for Azzan, a former AQAP stronghold, began with dawn strikes today conducted by the Yemeni air force targeting AQAP vehicles trying to enter Azzan from several different directions. According to military sources, tens of AQAP fighters participated in the fighting in Azzan but the Yemeni military was able to successfully repel the attack. Other sources reported that AQAP withdrew its forces from Azzan after taking control of the main police station in Azzan and seizing weapons from that facility.
AQAP launched a simultaneous attack on a military post in Gol al Rayda, the main military post for the Mayfa’a district in Shabwa, where the remainder of the casualties apparently occurred. Military sources claimed that the Yemeni army was able to repel this attack as well. Local residents in Azzan said some residential houses were damaged as a result of the fighting, and that hundreds of families in Azzan had begun to leave the area. Despite local worries, a Yemeni military officer told Al Madina that the situation in Shabwa is currently “under control.”
Arabic media sources reported that during the course of the fighting in Azzan, an adviser to the Yemeni Minister of Defense named Mohsen Hussein Sa’id, identified in other sources as Mohsen Sa’id al Ghazzali, was killed along with four other soldiers. Three soldiers were reported wounded and three AQAP militants were said to have been killed.
A Yemeni military source publicly denied accusations that an adviser to the Minister of Defense was killed in the fighting in Shabwa, and called on Yemeni media agencies to stop broadcasting what he described as “rumors.” The allegation comes less than a week after news outlets reported that the Yemeni Minister of Defense, Mohammad Nasser al Ahmed, who is leading the anti-AQAP offensive, narrowly survived an ambush in southern Yemen.
Reports of the number of casualties from the fighting in Azzan and Gol al Raydha were also inconclusive, with some sources claiming that only eight soldiers had died and others reporting that a total of 15 people were killed in clashes today. What is clear, however, is that today AQAP was unable to retake strategically significant territories in Shabwa despite a concerted military effort.