Yemen army attacks Islamist stronghold, dozens dead
ADEN, Yemen (Reuters) - Yemeni warplanes and troops bombarded the Islamist militant stronghold of Jaar on Monday, officials and witnesses said, part of a U.S.-backed offensive in a country Washington sees as a front line in its war against al Qaeda.
At least 44 soldiers and militants were killed as the army launched its most serious assault on Jaar to date and also attacked positions near Shaqra, a coastal town on a major shipping route, and other areas, a Yemeni military official told Reuters.
Yemen is battling to retake towns and territory in the southern province of Abyan that were seized by militants linked to al Qaeda last year during a popular uprising against President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Washington, which helped engineer Saleh's replacement by his deputy, is supporting the campaign and has increased drone strikes on suspected al Qaeda members it believes may be plotting attacks from Yemen.
It has also sent dozens of military trainers and increased aid to Yemen where it wants President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to reunify the military and focus it against al Qaeda.
"The military has just started an assault from three different fronts in an attempt to enter Jaar," a military official said, adding armed tribesmen were supporting the troops.
The army fought militants overnight into Monday morning, driving them out of small villages and killing at least 28 fighters and six soldiers, the official said.
The official said he did not expect the army to enter the town on Monday because the feared the militants might have booby-trapped most of the surrounding roads.
Residents told Reuters the army used warplanes and artillery to attack the town centre. Continued...