Over the weekend, the Saudi coalition, primarily troops from the United Arab Emirates, advanced into the port city of al-Mukallah, capturing it from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). At the time, the report was that there was comparatively little fighting, and AQAP basically pulled out.
That narrative changed today, with a statement from the Saudi leadership claiming that more than 800 AQAP fighters were killed in the “first hours” of the military operation, and that the rest fled. It’s never been clear how big AQAP is, or how many fighters they had in Mukallah.
Mukallah is the largest city AQAP held, but only one of several in Yemen, and with indications of an outflow of fighters into Hadrawmut Province, it’s hard to imagine 800 people got killed in a few hours, let alone in a way that locals interpreted as “little fighting.”
AQAP seized Mukallah from the Shi’ite Houthis during the initial Saudi invasion of Yemen, when the Houthis had to withdraw most of their troops to defend against the Saudis. This is the first significant effort by either side to recover the city in the past year. Saudi officials also reported an oil terminal next to Mukallah was captured.