Last year Al Qaeda and and its local affiliate in Yemen, Ansar al-Sharia, succeeded in doing something they had never been able to do before: They boldly seized control of territory in southern Yemen – without resistance from the Yemeni army — and declared several cities, including Ja’ar and Zinjibar, “Islamic Emirates.”

In last month’s report Al Qaeda in Yemen, award-winning reporter Ghaith Abdul-Ahad journeyed to Ja’ar and other Al Qaeda-controlled areas in the south to investigate how Ansar al-Sharia has been running whole towns and cities, and working to win the hearts and minds of the local population by administering scarce resources like water and electricity.

But today the Yemeni Defense Ministry announced that the Yemeni army, which intensified its U.S.-backed campaign in the south last month, has retaken both Zinjibar and Ja’ar, and driven the militants from the cities.

“I am now speaking from the local government headquarters in Zinjibar,” Major Gen. Salem Qatan, commander of the southern region, told Reuters. “The cities of Zinjibar and Jaar have been completely cleansed.”

A spokesperson for Ansar al-Shariah also confirmed to Reuters that the army had retaken control of Ja’ar, and residents reported that “militants had left behind flyers asking inhabitants to forgive them, asserting that they had not wanted to ’cause any harm to Ja’ar and its inhabitants.’”