Clashes between the army and Al-Qaeda militants on the outskirts of the Islamist stronghold of Jaar in southern Yemen left 18 people dead overnight, military and tribal sources said on Sunday, after 26 people were killed near the same town on Saturday,
“Violent clashes on Jaar’s western outskirts between the army and Al-Qaeda are continuing,” a military official said.
Tribal sources said 13 jihadists were killed overnight, while witnesses said 18 vehicles loaded with Al-Qaeda militants were brought in from Azzan in the eastern Shabwa province to back their comrades in the town of Jaar.
Five local militiamen fighting alongside the army were also killed and four wounded, the military official said, without giving army casualties.
Residents and tribes in the area surrounding Jaar have formed armed militias, Popular Resistance Committees, to back the army, similar to those formed in other Abyan towns -- Loder and Mudia.
Troops on Thursday managed to take full control of Loder, which militants have been trying to seize for months.
“The army will also take control of Jaar in the coming days,” another military official said. “We want to control Jaar, a major Al-Qaeda stronghold, before Zinjibar,” capital of Abyan province and which militants overran last year.
On Saturday, clashes between al-Qaeda gunmen and the army killed 26 people also near Jaar, while a drone killed two in a strike on a militant vehicle, military and tribal sources said.
Yemeni forces launched an offensive on May 12 to capture al-Qaeda controlled areas in Abyan, where most town had under the jihadists’ control apart from Loder and Mudia.
Residents and tribes in the area surrounding Jaar have also begun to form armed militias to back the army, a tribal source told AFP news agency. “This will help us enter Jaar and cleanse it from Qaeda.”
He reported sporadic fighting on Saturday as the air force raided al-Qaeda positions in the town.
On Friday, local and military sources said that troops advanced toward Jaar, a day after they took control of the city of Louder, also in Abyan province.
Since the offensive began, 213 people have been killed, according to a tally compiled by AFP, including 147 Al-Qaeda fighters, 31 military personnel, 18 local militiamen and 17 civilians.
According to Western diplomats in Sana’a, U.S. experts have been advising the Yemeni army in combat.
Insurgents in the south of the impoverished Arab country exploited months of unrest during mass protests last year against then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh to seize large swathes of territory.
A growing Islamist insurgency in Yemen is of serious concern to the United States and oil exporter Saudi Arabia, which both fear political infighting could give Qaeda’s regional wing a foothold near oil shipping routes through the Red Sea.
Apart from controlling Louder and Jaar, the group controls Zinjibar, capital of the province, and also Shaqra, located on the Gulf of Aden.