At least 15 Yemeni soldiers and 14 militants have been killed in an attack by al Qaeda on a military post in the eastern region of Hadramawt, a security source said.
Although Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has controlled the southern Hadramawt city of Mukalla and surrounding areas since early this year, it has not staged attacks on army positions elsewhere in the province for months.
The attack began with a suicide bomber detonating an explosive in his car at the military post, between the towns of Shibam and al-Qatn, followed by an assault by 25-30 militants, the security source said. Clashes in the area were still going on, he said.
Unverified footage on social media that purported to show the attack included a large blast followed by a big plume of smoke, and the sound of gunshots and distant voices shouting.
Bombing and shooting attacks were commonly directed against the army and police across Hadramawt from 2011 until the country’s civil war heated up early this year with the start of a military campaign by a Saudi-led alliance.
Since then, AQAP has seized control of Mukalla and the coast of Hadramawt, but attacks inland receded. Like the Saudi-led coalition, AQAP’s main enemy in Yemen is the Houthi militia, and unconfirmed reports say AQAP has been closely involved in fighting alongside units backed by the Saudis.
However, AQAP is also an enemy of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, whose government Saudi Arabia wants to restore via its military campaign. Attacks claimed by Yemen’s Islamic State branch have in recent months targeted the Houthis, Hadi’s officials and Gulf forces.
The conflict has also split Yemen’s army. Many soldiers in Houthi-controlled areas near the capital, Sanaa, are loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is allied to the Houthis. However in Hadramawt the army is loyal to Hadi.
Hadramawt is located several hundred kilometres east of the main battlefronts in Yemen’s civil war, separated by a broad stretch of desert.