AL MAKULLA, Yemen, April 25 (UPI) -- Yemeni forces backed by troops from the United Arab Emirates captured the al-Qaida-held city of Al Mukalla on Sunday and killed more than 800 fighters loyal to the Sunni militant group, Yemeni security officials said.
The coalition took part in the operation to "defeat the terrorist groups in Yemen," according to a statement issued by the official Saudi Press Agency.
The statement said the operation aimed to help the legitimate Yemeni government extend its influence and control over Mukalla and other Yemeni cities.
The coalition commander, Maj. Awad Salmeen, said the Yemeni and UAE troops have re-taken the local airport and an oil terminal, and that the city's seaport is close to being under control.
The troops advanced to the outskirts of the city of some 300,000 Sunday before mediation by Islamic clerics led to a withdrawal by al-Qaida fighters, who fled westward, according to the coalition
A barrage of coalition airstrikes on the targets over the weekend paved the way for the assault, the official said.
Yemen's conflict pits the Saudi-led coalition of mostly Sunni Arab states against the Houthi rebels, who adhere to the Zaidi offshoot of Shiite Islam. The Saudi coalition began its assault last March, seeking to push out the Houthis and restore President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to power.
The United Nations estimates that more than 6,200 people have died as a result of the conflict. Millions more have been forced to move from their homes, and the U.N. considers much of the country to be on the brink of famine.
Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama visited Gulf leaders in Saudi Arabia, urging them to increase the intensity of their operations against Sunni militancy.