Two raids on Al-Qaeda in Yemen, at least one of them reportedly by a US drone, killed 30 people Wednesday, an official said, as the jihadists came under new pressure a day after losing two key strongholds.
The raids targeted Al-Qaeda fighters fleeing the southern region of Abyan where the army scored its first major victory against the jihadists on Tuesday, retaking the town of Jaar and the provincial capital Zinjibar, more than a year after they fell under militant control.
“Thirty terrorists were killed and dozens of others were wounded in two air strikes” in the mostly lawless southeastern province of Shabwa, General Ahmed al-Maqdashi, the region’s commander, said in a statement published on the defence ministry website.
The general said the first strike hit a house and car in the town of Azzan where, according to a local official, nine militants were killed.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the attack was carried out by a “US drone” and hit a house where “Al-Qaeda militants were meeting.”
A medical official confirmed the toll.
A second strike hit an Al-Qaeda position on the outskirts of Azzan, according to General Maqdashi, who did not specify if a US drone or the Yemeni air force was behind the raids.
Several hundred Al-Qaeda militants are believed to have fled to Azzan in the hours before the fall of Jaar and Zinjibar.
A military official told AFP Wednesday that the latest strikes targeted “militants who fled Abyan” to Shabwa.
Al-Qaeda gunmen were also believed to have fled to the town of Shuqra, east of the newly recaptured towns where, according to one official, fierce clashes raged on Wednesday between troops and jihadists.
“Al-Qaeda is still resisting and there are battles in and around the city,” where much of Al-Qaeda’s leadership is thought to be hiding, the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
He said the army has “surrounded the town from three sides.”
In Azzan, a resident said dozens of people had fled since the early morning drone strike.
“The explosions were very strong… they shook the whole town,” said the resident who also spoke on condition of anonymity.
Western diplomats say US experts have been assisting the Yemeni army in their fight to oust Al-Qaeda from Yemen’s lawless south and east.
In recent weeks, the United States has also escalated its drone strikes against the jihadist network.
Taking advantage of the weakening of central government control by an Arab Spring-inspired uprising last year, the militants, had overrun most of Abyan, taking full control of Zinjibar, as well as Jaar, Shuqra and several villages.
Tuesday’s military victories came just hours before the UN Security Council unanimously passed a resolution threatening sanctions against groups seen as undermining Yemen’s political transition.
The main targets of Resolution 2051 are the family and supporters of ousted strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh, although they were not named in the text, diplomats said.
Saleh has been accused by his opponents of intentionally allowing Al-Qaeda to take hold of large swathes of the south and east and of meddling in the new government’s affairs.
The resolution also expressed support for President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, who pledged to destroy Al-Qaeda when he was sworn in as Saleh’s successor in February.
On May 12, the new president ordered an all-out offensive to recapture the territory lost to the jihadists.
A total of 515 people have died in the campaign — 394 Al-Qaeda militants, 76 soldiers, 26 militiamen and 19 civilians, according to an AFP tally compiled from various sources.