26 die as Yemen army fights for Qaeda stronghold

Clashes between Al-Qaeda gunmen and the army have left 26 people dead near the jihadists' stronghold of Jaar, and a drone killed two in a strike on a militant vehicle, military and tribal sources said.

"Eight soldiers were killed and 15 others were wounded" in fighting that included artillery and machinegun fire late on Friday on the outskirts of Jaar, in Yemen's south, a military official said.

A tribal source said "18 Al-Qaeda militants were killed" in the same clashes.

"The army now controls the western outskirts of Jaar," the official said .

Residents and tribes in the area surrounding Jaar have also begun to form armed militias to back the army, the same source said. "This will help us enter Jaar and cleanse it from Al-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 Lder, also in Abyan province.

Meanwhile, two Al-Qaeda militants were killed in a drone strike that targetted their vehicle in the province of Bayda, some 210 kilometres (130 miles) southeast of the capital Sanaa, a tribal source there said.

The attack took place Saturday noon, said the source, adding that the two men were a Yemeni and a Somalian.

Yemeni forces launched an offensive last week to capture Al-Qaeda controlled areas in the province of Abyan.

Apart from controlling Loder and Jaar, the group controls Zinjibar, capital of the province, and also Shaqra, located on the Gulf of Aden.

Since the offensive began one week ago, 195 people have been killed, according to a tally compiled by AFP, including 134 Al-Qaeda fighters, 31 military personnel and 17 civilians.

According to Western diplomats in Sanaa, US experts advise the Yemeni army in combat, but Washington does not recognise this participation, or the drone attacks against Al-Qaeda, although only US forces have such aircraft in the region.

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