Yemen: Fighting in south kills 50 militants
SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemeni artillery and military aircraft backing pro-government tribesmen pounded al-Qaida fighters trying to battle their way into a strategic town in the country's south on Wednesday, while a suspected U.S. airstrike killed at least 12 militants, officials said.
The fighting near the town of Lawder started over the weekend when al-Qaida attacked an army post, sparking resistance from Yemeni troops and from armed residents.
The military claims that at least 165 militants have been killed in the past three days, including 38 on Wednesday, as al-Qaida continues a costly but determined assault aimed at expanding a swath of the south under their control. The officials said six civilians fighting alongside the army were also killed.
Another 12 militants were killed when a vehicle stolen by al-Qaida from an army post in recent days was hit by an airstrike. Residents said the vehicle took a direct hit, leaving it totally destroyed with bodies strewn nearby. They and the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
U.S. officials could not immediately be reached for comment. U.S. drones have targeted al-Qaida leaders in Yemen in the past.
The fighting is the latest in a series of bloody confrontations between government forces and al-Qaida-linked militants in southern Yemen, where the militants control a patchwork of towns taken mostly last year in the chaos that surrounded the popular uprising against longtime leader Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The Defense Ministry said in a statement that those killed Wednesday included two senior members of the militant network in the area. It identified them as Imad al-Manshaby and Ahmed Mohammed Taher. Other security officials said the dead also included Saudis, Somalis and a Pakistani. They did not specify how many were foreigners.
Often the fighting in the south has gone against the government, with demoralized and unprepared Yemeni army garrisons taking heavy losses from determined militant assaults.
In some cities like Lawder, the army has received critical help from residents who have become fed up with the government's inability to protect them and, in a country where most adult males possess weapons, have taken up arms to protect themselves.
There are an estimated 300 mostly young men armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades who have joined the government side in the fight. But they are running low on ammunition and food supplies, according to one of their leaders, Jihad Hafeez. Many of the town's residents have left the city to escape the fighting, he said.
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