Al-Qaeda Militants Killed in Push to Free Yemen City

People inspect damage at a site hit by Saudi-led airstrikes Sunday in the Al-Qaeda-held port of Mukalla city in southern Yemen Reuters

Warplanes pounded the Al-Qaeda-held port city of Mukalla on Sunday and killed 30 militants, residents said, as a Gulf Arab military coalition ramped up an offensive to wrest swathes of southern Yemen from the fighters' grip.

In the past year, Al-Qaeda gradually took control of an almost 370-mile band of Arabian Sea coastline and built a rich mini-state centered in Mukalla sustained largely by customs revenue from the port.

Sunday's air strikes on Al-Qaeda were carried out in coordination with a ground offensive in militant-controlled territory further west, a Yemeni military official said.

The push is being led by the United Arab Emirates, (UAE) which has been training and arming local recruits for months, according to southern Yemeni tribal and political sources.

"The liberation of Mukalla from the hands of the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization has begun," governor Ahmed Saeed Bin Breik said in a statement.

Local officials said dozens of armored vehicles and hundreds of troops are gathered in Ramah, around 44 miles north of Mukalla in preparation for a ground push.

The UAE is part of a mostly Gulf Arab coalition which intervened in Yemen's civil war in March 2015 to support the internationally recognized government after it was forced into exile by the armed Houthi group, an ally of Iran.

Sunday's air strikes come as Yemen's government meets with the Houthis in Kuwait to try to find a solution to the conflict.

Around 6,200 people have died in the war, which has focused mostly around the country's Houthi-controlled center and north, while a security vacuum spread in the south.

The United States has for years used drone strikes in Yemen to target Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the global jihadist group's local wing, which has plotted to place bombs on international airliners and claimed credit for the Charlie Hebdo magazine attack last year.

The Houthis control the capital Sanaa in the north while the Saudi-backed Yemeni government has tried to re-establish itself in the southern port city of Aden. Only in the last month has its fledgling army begun to make gains against the militants and organize to take back lost territory.