A Saudi pilot was killed in Yemen while providing air support for an operation against Al Qaeda militants, a Saudi-led coalition backing the government said on Thursday.
The Saudi Royal Air Force plane crashed in the southern province of Abyan on Wednesday night “due to a technical failure,” coalition spokesman Colonel Turki Al Maliki told the official Saudi Press Agency.
On the ground, Yemeni forces backed by the United Arab Emirates managed to drive Al Qaeda militants from Abyan’s Wadea district on Thursday, symbolic as the birthplace of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.
Abyan was a no-go zone for pro-government troops for months after Qaeda fighters regrouped there following a similar offensive in neighbouring Shabwa province last month.
Security sources told reporters that the militants had not put up much resistance but instead withdrew — a now familiar pattern for Qaeda in Yemen.
“Most of the organisation’s leaders fled … and headed towards the nearby Muhafid district,” the sources said, referring to a Qaeda stronghold on the edge of Abyan province.
Seven suspected Qaeda members were arrested during the Wadea operation which began on Wednesday, including an alleged explosives expert known as Abu Abdallah, according to the sources.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), seen by the United States as the network’s most dangerous branch, has exploited years of conflict between the government and Shiite rebels who control the capital to expand its presence.
Meanwhile, UN humanitarian coordinator Jamie McGoldrick said in Aden on Thursday that the United Nations is in the process of expanding its role in southern Yemen,
“We are bringing in more internationals to be based here and also to go to the provinces to support the humanitarian needs in those places,” McGoldrick told reporters at Aden airport.
The co-ordinator said he met Yemen’s prime minister to discuss the humanitarian situation and logistics during his visit to the city.
“We expressed the need for the ministries here and elsewhere to be functioning properly, for budgets to be given to them so they can do their work,” said McGoldrick.