Seven Yemeni soldiers were killed and six others wounded on Saturday in clashes with suspected al Qaeda forces in the southern province of Abyan, a military officer said.
The fighting took place near Dofes, a village south of the provincial capital of Zinjibar that has been occupied by extremist elements since the end of May, the source said.
“al Qaeda fighters hidden in a wooded mountainous area opened fire on army units heading from Dofes to Zinjibar to try to rejoin the 25th Mechanised Brigade,” which is encircled by the Islamists, the source said.
“Seven of our soldiers were killed and six others wounded in clashes which continued for several hours,” he added.
At least one attacker was killed, according to a source at the Al-Razi hospital in Jaar, another Abyan village controlled by al Qaeda.
“We received the body of an al Qaeda fighter killed in the fighting near Dofes,” the hospital source told AFP, identifying the victim as Omar al-Marqab from the northern al Jawf province.
On Tuesday, seven soldiers, including an officer, were killed and 30 others wounded in a suspected al Qaeda attack on the Dofes-based Brigade 201 camp, according to a report obtained by AFP from an army officer.
Reprisal raids that followed killed dozens of suspected militants from the Islamist network, according to local and medical sources. An official in the region reported 35 al Qaeda loyalists killed.
Air strikes on Wednesday and Thursday targeted two al Qaeda positions south of Zinjibar, held by militants linked to al Qaeda, killing 14 suspected members of the network, according to tribal and local sources.
Earlier, they had said the strikes could have been carried out by US drones. Local resident’s claim US drones regularly fly over the region.
Yemeni authorities deny any direct US participation in their fight against al Qaeda, but on June 14, Leon Panetta, the CIA director, said his country was carrying out anti-terrorism operations in Yemen.
Since late May, fighters linked to al Qaeda took control of several Abyan towns, taking advantage of the weakening of central authority that followed a wave of popular protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh. He has been recovering in Saudi Arabia for more than two months from bomb blast wounds.