A U.S. drone strike killed as many as seven suspected al-Qaeda militants Saturday as Yemen army troops backed by the air force started an offensive on cities held by the terrorists in southern and eastern provinces.
Al-Masdar, an independent, local news website, said the strikes targeted vehicles carrying militants in a region between Marib and Shabwa provinces. The Associated Press put the death toll at six, while China’s Xinhua news agency reported seven killed.
Yemeni army forces moved against cities in the southern province of Abyan where al-Qaeda claims control, said a military official involved in the action speaking anonymously because he isn’t authorized to speak to the media. Eight army soldiers, including an officer, along with 20 al-Qaeda militants were killed in clashes there, Al Masdar reported.
The army is trying to recapture the province’s capital, Zinjibar, from militants who it seized in May 2011. The official said by phone that army troops have made some progress on their attack on the city, which he said was also shelled from the sea. The army has also launched an assault the neighboring city of Jaar, he said.
Esam Mohammed, a resident of Jaar, said by telephone that three militants and a civilian were killed Saturday in an air strike on the city. Air force fighters dropped leaflets urging civilians to vacate the militants’ gathering places.
Brigadier General Mohammed Naser Ahmed, the Yemeni defense minister, had been visiting army troops on the front line and said yesterday the army was preparing a plan to “clean Abyan” of terrorist elements, according to the state Saba news agency.
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