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Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) confirmed on Saturday it had withdrawn from the southern Yemeni port of‎ Mukalla – a week after Yemeni government and Emirati soldiers seized the‎ city that was used by the Islamist militants to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.

Read More- Reuters

Image courtesy of AFP

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