Yemeni troops have captured rebel-held positions on the outskirts of the southern city of Jaar, a military official said on Tuesday, pushing ahead with a U.S.-backed offensive to remove Islamist militants from the country.
About six soldiers and 22 militants were killed, military and other officials said.
“We are tightening the noose on Al-Qaeda from all sides,” an official said, adding that the army was two kilometers (just over a mile) away from the edge of Jaar.
Qaeda-linked militants seized large swathes of territory in southern Yemen last year as then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh grappled with protesters demanding his overthrow. Saleh quit last November in favor of his deputy, Abd-Rabbu Hadi Mansour.
The governor of Abyan, Jamal al-Aqel, said the military was in full control of several southern towns that militants had tried to seize in the past, including Lawdar and Mudiyah, but that heavy fighting was still under way inside Zinjibar.
Four soldiers were wounded on Tuesday when Islamist militants ambushed government troops outside Zinjibar, a military official said. Months of fighting and shelling in and around the strategically important city have left it a ghost town, residents said.
“Most of the city is empty, the buildings are destroyed and most of the basic services like electricity are cut off,” one resident told Reuters by telephone.
Saudi Arabia has advised its citizens to stay away from Yemen, the official SPA news agency said on Tuesday. Last month, the deputy consul at the Saudi consulate in the southern port city of Aden was kidnapped by al-Qaeda militants, apparently wanting to exchange him for women prisoners and a ransom.
Yemeni forces launched an all-out offensive on May 12 aimed at reclaiming towns and cities in Abyan lost to al-Qaeda over the past year.
Since the offensive began, at least 353 people have been killed, according to a tally compiled by AFP, including 259 al-Qaeda fighters, 58 military personnel, 18 local militiamen and 18 civilians.