WASHINGTON — The United States hailed Yemen on Saturday for retaking militant bastions in the south of the country from Al-Qaeda fighters.
Yemeni troops took control of the city of Shuqra on Friday, the last major stronghold of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Abyan province to fall to government forces, which launched an all-out offensive last month that has already resulted in the recapture of the towns of Jaar and Zinjibar.
The militants remain in control of the smaller town of Al-Mahfad.
"The United States commends the success of the Yemeni government, military, and people in re-taking important areas of southern Yemen, including the cities of Jaar and Zinjibar, from Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement.
Taking advantage of the weakening of central government control by an Arab Spring-inspired uprising last year, the militants had overrun most of Abyan, seizing Zinjibar, Jaar, Shuqra and several villages.
On May 12, the army began its offensive to recapture territory lost to the militants.
A total of 567 people have died in the campaign -- 429 Al-Qaeda militants, 78 soldiers, 26 militiamen and 34 civilians -- according to an AFP tally compiled from various sources.
"Al-Qaeda's presence in Abyan has had a devastating impact on the citizens there and prevented the delivery of critical humanitarian assistance desperately needed by the Yemeni people," Nuland said in extending Washington's "deepest" condolences to those who lost their lives.
Noting the efforts of Yemeni citizens who joined the military in fighting the militants, Nuland said "their bravery serves as a reminder that the Yemeni population rejects Al-Qaeda and the violence it promotes."
"As Yemeni security services continue to reclaim territory previously held by AQAP, we encourage the prompt restoration of civilian authority, humanitarian relief and essential public services across Yemen," she added.
"The United States remains committed to working with Yemen as it addresses the many challenges it faces -- in the security realm as well as political, economic and humanitarian affairs."
The spokeswoman said that Washington would continue to work with Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, who pledged to destroy Al-Qaeda when he took office in February, and the Yemeni people "in their efforts to rebuild their nation and ensure long-term stability, safety and security in Yemen."
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