Hadramout21) thenational)

Yemeni forces in the Hadhramaut governorate launched on Wednesday an operation to seek out Al Qaeda pockets in the Yabuth district, west of Al Mukala city, Captain Hisham Al Jaberi of the Second Military Zone told The National.

The operation, dubbed Iron Fist and led by pro-government forces backed by the UAE, aims to secure the isolated mountainous areas of Yabuth, where members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) are thought to be hiding.

“Troops from the Second Military Zone were deployed on Wednesday in many sites in the district of Yabuth, over the mountainous hills and formed new checkpoints along the routes that link the district to other districts,” said Cap. Al Jaberi, adding that so far there had been no clashes between the armed forces and AQAP.

“So far our forces have spread to most of the swathes in the Yabuth area, but the terrorists apparently escaped the area, so we will keep tracking them collaboratively with the Elite Forces in Shabwa,” he said.

Yabuth is thought to be AQAP’s last stronghold in Yemen.

“The terrorist members of Al Qaeda who survived the previous military campaigns escaped to this area because it is mountainous and located on the borders between Hadhramaut and Shabwa so they keep shuttling between the two provinces” said Lt. Mohammed Al Zubairi, the media officer of the Barasheed brigade, also taking part in the operation.

In March, 12 members of the Yemeni Elite Forces were killed during an AQAP ambush west of Al Mukala. Sources at the time confirmed the AQAP fighters had penetrated the area from Yabuth.

On Sunday six suspected Al Qaeda militants were killed in a drone strike in central Yemen, local security officials and residents said.

The strike hit a suspected Al Qaeda site in Al Bayda province, killing two people believed to be local leaders of the group along with four other militants, the officials said.

US forces have repeatedly launched drone and air strikes against AQAP.

The group has taken advantage of a nearly four year-old war between the Iranian-aligned Houthi movement and the Yemeni army to try to strengthen its position in the impoverished country.