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, coalition-backed Yemeni forces 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 Al-Qaeda fighters regrouped there following a similar offensive in neighbouring Shabwa province last month.
Security sources told AFP the jihadists had not put up much resistance but instead withdrew — a now familiar pattern for Al-Qaeda in Yemen. “Most of the organisation’s leaders fled … and headed towards the nearby Muhafid district,” the sources said, referring to an Al-Qaeda stronghold on the edge of Abyan province.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, 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.
The Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015, when Hadi fled into exile as the rebels threatened to overrun his last stronghold. Despite the support of the coalition’s firepower, the writ of Hadi’s government is still largely confined to the south and areas along the Saudi border.