More than 20 people have been killed in clashes in Yemen. The latest fighting came as the country's army had taken the offensive against al Qaeda-linked groups.
The fighting in the Gol al-Rayda and Azan districts of Shabwa province started early Wednesday morning and continued for hours, leaving 10 soldiers and 13 attackers dead. Military losses included General Mohsen Saeed al-Ghazali, an aide to Defense Minister Mohammed Nasser Ahmad, who just days ago survived an ambush while returning from an area in the south which the army has attempted to clear of al Qaeda elements.
Earlier this month, Yemen's army captured key districts in Abyan province. After that, many of the fighters, from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and its affiliate Ansar al-Sharia, fled to the mountains and turned to hit-and-run tactics against security forces and government facilities across the country.
Yemen faces separatist demands in the south and a rebel group in the north. The Azan clash comes amid an ongoing offensive by the army in Yemen's southern cities and towns that has led to the killing and capture of dozens of al Qaeda suspects over the past three weeks, according to the Defense Ministry.
The stability of Yemen - which shares a long border with Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter - has become an international concern. The United States has stepped up its aid and support for the government and military, including drone strikes, but also closed its embassy in Sanaa last week as a precaution against possible retaliatory attacks. US intelligence considers AQAP the most active al Qaeda branch in the world.
Last week, a gun battle near the presidential palace in Sanaa left four soldiers dead. On Sunday a suicide bomber rammed a car packed with explosives into a military police building in the coastal city of Mukalla, killing at least 10 soldiers and a civilian. The air force killed five Al-Qaeda suspects Tuesday in a raid on a convoy carrying weapons and ammunition, and a drone strike killed six al Qaeda suspects in Marib a day earlier.
mkg/mz (Reuters, AFP, AP)