Two Yemeni soldiers were killed and three others were injured on Sunday morning when Al-Qaeda militants attacked their outpost in the southern province of Shabwa, local officials and media reports said.
This was Al-Qaeda’s bloodiest strike on government troops in the south in months.
Shabwa Defense Forces said that Al-Qaeda attacked a military outpost in Al-Musenah region of Shabwa with heavy machine guns and other weapons, triggering clashes that left two soldiers dead and three others wounded.
Local media reported that Al-Qaeda militants retreated to the mountainous region of Al-Musenah shortly after carrying out the attack.
Since September, when pro-independence southern troops initiated military operations within the militants’ long-standing hideouts in Shabwa and Abyan, Al-Qaeda has employed insurgent tactics, primarily the planting of landmines and improvised explosive devices, in its efforts to confront government troops.
Due to a paucity of manpower and firepower, as well as infighting between different factions of Al-Qaeda, according to experts, militants have avoided engaging in direct combat with southern forces or attacking their bases.
Yemeni counterterrorism expert Saeed Obeid Al-Jemhi told Arab News that Al-Qaeda’s most recent deadly attack in Shabwa was intended to send a message that the group is still powerful and able to inflict damage on its opponents, as well as to persuade reluctant and potential new members who believed the organization was on the decline.
“The assault is violent and horrific. Al-Qaeda is floundering and is searching for any potential weak points that could have a significant impact,” Al-Jemhi said.
This time, the militants took advantage of extensive public anger following the assassination of a religious figure in Shabwa and the dispute between factions in the province to launch an attack.
“They want to resurrect memories of the past when the organization emerged with strong operations and perhaps persuade some of the young men who have lost interest in joining them since the organization has become weak, as well as to demonstrate that there is still strong leadership.”
During the last ten months, local military and security forces have boasted of making military achievements in their war against Al-Qaeda by driving it out of Omaran Valley in Abyan, as well as other harsh and isolated locations in Shabwa.
Observers argue that Al-Qaeda’s attack in Shabwa and the increasing number of casualties among southern forces contradict reports of military successes against the militants.
“There have been certain successes that should not be overlooked. But there are also exaggerations. There are operations (for Al-Qaeda) that occurred in previously cleared regions,” Al-Jemhi said.
“The war against Al-Qaeda in Yemen is still in its infancy, and there are exaggerations to persuade outsiders and the region that they have won,” he added.