Al-Qaeda militants killed eight Yemeni soldiers yesterday in an attack on a make-shift military post on a desert road in the country’s mostly lawless eastern provinces, a security official said.
“Al-Qaeda militants attacked a military position on the road between Hadramawt and Marib Province [in the east], killing eight soldiers,” the official said, requesting anonymity.
He said at least four other soldiers were wounded in the attack.
Al-Qaeda gunmen attacked the soldiers just after dawn with “automatic weapons,” the official said.
The attack is the latest in a deadly week of battles between Yemeni security forces and al-Qaeda-linked militants that have strengthened their presence in the country’s south and east in the wake of the year-long uprising that eventually toppled former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
On Monday, another al-Qaeda attack on a Yemeni army post in the south set off clashes that left 64 people dead and prompted local civilians to take up arms alongside the military to beat back the militants, said army officials and residents.
The dawn attack was one of the latest in a series of bloody battles in recent months that mark an escalation in al-Qaeda’s efforts to expand its control around a swath of land it seized last year. The group took advantage of the country’s political turmoil to overrun cities and towns in southern Yemen.
The militant movement appears to be on the offensive, assaulting and sometimes overrunning army positions, although it also suffers reverses.
The officials said this latest assault fell on an outpost in the town of Loder in Abyan Province, 250km southeast of Sana’a.
Residents and military officials said 40 militants were killed in the clashes. Additionally, 18 soldiers, including a colonel, were killed battling the militants, officials said. Six civilians allied with the army were also reported killed.
Yemen’s military in the south, poorly equipped and low on morale after a series of defeats, has not been able to fight the group and its supporters alone. In cities like Loder, residents have become fed up with the government’s inability to protect them and, in a country where tribes possess weapons, have taken up arms to protect themselves.
The military said it used artillery to pound al-Qaeda from a distance, but local civilians appear to have done much of the close-in fighting.
A leader of Loder’s civilian committee, Mohammed Aydroos, said he was wounded with a bullet to the shoulder, but vowed to continue the battle.
“The goal of al-Qaeda is to take over of our city, but our goal is keep them out,” Aydroos said.