Al Qaeda’s Yemen branch remains a powerful force and poses a growing risk to merchant ships in vital waterways nearby despite efforts by Yemeni government forces and their allies to push back the group, a top officer in an international naval force said.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) confirmed on Saturday it had withdrawn from the southern Yemeni port of Mukalla – a week after Yemeni government and Emirati soldiers seized the city that was used by the Islamist militants to amass a fortune.
Captain William Nault, Chief of Staff with the multi-national Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), told Reuters the gains by government forces were “heartening” and a “setback” for AQAP, but added the group still had capabilities due to the ongoing civil war.
”AQAP has taken advantage of that chaos and moved into the void. In doing so they have gotten stronger,” said Nault of CMF, whose mission includes counter-piracy and counter-terrorism in the region.
AQAP has exploited conflict between Yemeni government loyalists backed by a Gulf Arab coalition and Houthi rebels allied to Iran and has sought to carve out a quasi state.
The group still controls the Arabian Sea towns of Zinjibar and Shaqra, about 400 km (250 miles) southwest of Mukalla.
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