Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has been the chief beneficiary of the Saudi war against Yemen’s Houthis so far, as it has distracted the Houthis from fighting against them, and freed up AQAP forces to amass huge gains in the southeast.
Having taking the city of Mukalla earlier this month, freeing over 300 prisoners, AQAP has now consolidated its position through the rest of the immediate vicinity, capturing the major provincial airport as well as a valuable oil terminal.
There was a brief clash with what remained of Yemen’s military in the region, and they are now in full retreat, with AQAP securing the sites as well as another air defense base.
Local tribes say they are in contact with AQAP and trying to get them to hand the airport over to them so it can remain open. It’s unclear what AQAP’s actual intentions are with the airport, but it does seem to have been relatively low priority in their targets around Mukalla.
Earlier this month Saudi Arabia began attacking the Shi’ite Houthis in Yemen. This was nominally to restore the “legitimate” government of former President Hadi, who resigned in January. Though the Saudis have air-dropped arms to Hadi’s remaining loyalists, they appear too few to make serious inroads in the country, and the war on the Houthis is instead benefiting AQAP as the only other major power in the country.