(Reuters) – Yemeni government forces killed five al Qaeda militants and wounded dozens of others in south Yemen, the defense ministry said on Friday, in the fourth day of an offensive against Islamist insurgents.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has hampered the U.S.-allied state’s efforts to restore stability since a popular revolt in 2011 that forced out longtime autocrat Ali Abdullah Saleh but left widespread disorder that continues.
Yemeni troops launched their offensive into an expanse of south Yemen spanning 20,000 square km (7,700 square miles) – the size of the U.S. state of New Jersey – on Tuesday, backed by air force jets and hundreds of loyalist militiamen.
On Friday, troops killed five militants and destroyed three vehicles, one of which mounted with anti-aircraft machineguns, used by the insurgents in the southern province of Shabwa, a defense ministry website quoted a military source as saying.
The website, 26 September, said the military was chasing insurgents who had fled into mountains.
In nearby Abyan, the military launched an onslaught with tanks and rockets and backed by the air force on locations used by militants in the southern province, it said. It said there were “killed and wounded” insurgents but provided no figure.
Hundreds of people have died in bombings, suicide attacks and commando-style raids by al Qaeda against military and government facilities and foreign nationals.
Stability in Yemen, which shares a long border with the world’s top oil exporter Saudi Arabia, became of international concern in recent years after AQAP tried to carry out attacks abroad, including an attempt blow up a U.S.-bound airliner.
AQAP’s main base has been the mountainous al-Mahfad area in the state of Abyan where militants fled in 2012 after the army, with the help of U.S. drones, ousted them from towns they had seized during the chaotic uprising against then-president Saleh.
(Writing by Rania El Gamal; Editing by Mark Heinrich)