Yemeni forces backed by Apache helicopters from a Saudi-led coalition wrested the city of Houta from al Qaeda fighters after a gun battle on Friday morning, a local military official said. Their recapture of Houta, the regional capital of Lahj province which has been held by the militants since last summer, is one of the embattled Yemeni government's most important inroads yet against al Qaeda forces who have taken advantage of more than a year of war to seize territory. Government troops began their attack at daybreak and succeeded after several hours of air strikes and heavy combat, the military official told Reuters. Until the attack on Houta, AQAP has suffered few territorial losses despite a stepped-up American campaign of air strikes and drone attacks on its bases.
Drone attacks killed eight men suspected of belonging to al Qaeda in southern Yemen on Saturday night, local residents said, as a U.S. campaign against the militant group goes on amid a wider civil war in the country. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has taken advantage of a war pitting the Iran-allied Houthis against forces loyal to exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to grab territory and operate more openly. The United States has kept up a drone campaign against the militants, although it evacuated the last of its military and intelligence personnel from Yemen in March last year. At least 50 al Qaeda militants were killed in a U.S. air strike on an al Qaeda training camp in the mountains of southern Yemen, medics and a local official said on March 22.