At least two militants and two soldiers died in an al Qaeda assault on an army base in southern Yemen early on Monday, officials and residents said, in another sign of unraveling security.
The assault on the base in Mahfad in Abyan province was a setback for the country’s splintered military which, alongside local militiamen, had largely expelled Al Qaeda from the area’s towns in 2013.
Local sources told Reuters the battle was ongoing and army reinforcements backed by dozens of the armed “popular committees” had come to the soldiers’ aid.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), one of the most active arms of the global militant group, has grown more powerful since “Arab Spring” uprisings rocked Yemen in 2011 and led to splits in its military.
Divisions deepened when Shi’ite Muslim Houthi rebels seized the capital Sanaa in the north with the apparent blessing of some army units in September, causing president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and Defence Minister General Mahmoud al-Subaihi to flee and set up a rival administration in the southern port city of Aden.
The United States and Yemen’s oil-rich northern neighbour Saudi Arabia fear the chaos will increase the danger of AQAP attacks against them and will strengthen the role of Iran, an ally of the Houthis.