The Yemeni army launched an all-out offensive on Wednesday to recapture villages from Al-Qaeda groups in the southeastern province of Hadramawt, costing 10 lives, security and medical sources said.
Troops backed by tanks and helicopters launched a dawn operation in Ghayl Bawazir, about 30 kilometres (20 miles) east of the port city of Mukalla, a security official said.
Seven Al-Qaeda militants, two civilians and an army officer were killed in the offensive, the sources said.
An army spokesman in Hadramawt, quoted by the defence ministry’s news website 26sep.net, said that Ghaleb al-Mansoub, a commander in the 27th Mechanised Brigade, was killed during the operation.
Another security official had said earlier Wednesday that two army officers were killed in the offensive near Ghayl Bawazir that would continue until the “liberation” of the town and surrounding areas.
But the army spokesman reported only one dead officer and five wounded. Medical sources told AFP later that the second officer, admitted to hospital in Mukalla, was “clinically dead.”
Medics in Mukalla said two civilians were killed and five others wounded.
Seven Al-Qaeda militants were also killed and “many wounded”, according to the statement on 26sep.net.
The army “destroyed weapon caches and seized explosives and motorbikes used” by the insurgents to carry out attacks, the unnamed spokesman said, quoted by 26sep.net.
In the afternoon, “army units and security forces continued to hunt down the terrorists and comb farms and other areas in search of those who had escaped,” he added.
Witnesses said they saw military convoys heading in the direction of Ghayl Bawazir, which officials said had been seized by Al-Qaeda gunmen last month.
Army forces also targeted Al-Qaeda militants in the nearby town of Shihr and the village of Qara, a security official said.
A convoy of 40 armoured vehicles headed to Shihr while other troops laid siege to Qara, where large numbers of militants are believed to be based, he said.
In a letter addressing the army and published by the official Saba news agency, Yemeni President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi hailed the troops’ “victory” in Hadramawt.
“We congratulate you for your non-stop successes in preserving security and stability and your alertness and your steadfast stand against the forces of terror and destruction,” Hadi said.
“Our battle with terrorism today is firm and we must fight it no matter how costly the sacrifices.”
Al-Qaeda fighters have been regrouping since June 2012 in areas of Hadramawt after being driven out of the southern province of Abyan where they ruled major towns for about a year.
Residents of Ghayl Bawazir told AFP last month the jihadists had taken advantage of an absence of security forces in the area to deploy in strength and had distributed leaflets declaring their rule.
In areas of the south they seized in 2011, with a collapse of central government control during 11 months of protests that eventually forced veteran president Ali Abdullah Saleh from power, the militants enforced a strict version of Islamic law.
Punishments included public executions and amputations.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, which is based in Yemen, is considered by Washington as the most dangerous branch of the jihadist network.