Pro-government Yemen forces pressing on after Mukalla capture

Yemeni pro-government forces stand guard at the entrance to Abyan province during an operation against Al-Qaeda fighters on April 23, 2016 (AFP Photo/SALEH AL-OBEIDI)

Mukalla (Yemen) (AFP) - Yemeni pro-government forces on Thursday pressed an offensive against Al-Qaeda in the country's south after capturing the port city of Mukalla and pushing out the jihadists, a commander said.

"Operations are continuing to clear Mukalla of Al-Qaeda members who have stayed behind," said Mussalam al-Rashidi, an Emirati general serving with a Saudi-led coalition that backed the offensive.

He told reporters in the city that pro-government forces were pursuing jihadists, many of whom have fled towards Shabwa province near Hadramawt province where Mukalla is located.

A local official said Thursday that four presumed Al-Qaeda members were killed in a drone strike in the Shabwa region of Markha.

Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group have taken advantage of more than a year of fighting between pro-government forces and insurgents in Yemen.

Recapturing Mukalla was part of a wider counter-offensive against the Sunni extremists launched by pro-government forces last month after a year in which they had focused their firepower on Shiite Huthi rebels who control the capital.

Mukalla, which had been held by Al-Qaeda for over a year, was recaptured on Wednesday after fierce fighting in which at least 27 Yemeni soldiers died, military officials and medics said.

The UN says more than 6,400 people have been killed and almost 2.8 million displaced since the Saudi-led campaign began last year in support of the Yemeni government.