At least sixteen suspected Al-Qaeda operatives have been killed in Yemen in ongoing battles between the army and militants for control of the country’s mostly lawless southern and eastern regions, the ministry of defense said Monday.
Citing a local official from the embattled southern Abyan province, a militant stronghold, a ministry statement said the army fired a series of artillery shells on suspected Al-Qaeda positions near the city of Loder late on Sunday, killing 13 militants.
The unnamed official said the shelling forced the Islamist insurgents to retreat from their newly held positions around the strategic city, adding that armed civilians loyal to the army, known as the Popular Resistance Committees, aided the attack.
The deaths came a day after 17 Al-Qaeda suspects were killed in an air raid that struck one of their hideouts in Loder.
At least three other militants were killed elsewhere on Sunday, in an air strike on several vehicles travelling in a remote desert region in the country’s eastern Marib province, the defense ministry statement said.
It was unclear if these most recent strikes were carried out by the Yemeni air force or by U.S. drones. On Wednesday, the Washington Post said U.S. drones have carried out eight air strikes in Yemen in the past four months.
The Yemeni government denies U.S. drones carry out attacks within its borders and the United States has never formally acknowledged the use of drones against Al-Qaeda in Yemen, which Washington considers the most active and deadly branch of the global terror network.
Yemeni troops have for months been battling Al-Qaeda’s growing control over Abyan, most of which has fallen under the rule of the Islamist insurgents.