Suspected Al-Qaeda gunmen simultaneously attacked two army positions in southern Yemen Wednesday, sparking clashes that killed an aide to the defence minister, nine other soldiers and 13 jihadists, the army said.
The attacks come five days after Defence Minister Mohamed Nasser Ahmad himself and two senior security officers survived an ambush as they returned from the south, where the army is pursuing a fortnight-long campaign to clear the area of Al-Qaeda elements.
"The toll of the clashes between the army and terrorists have left 10 soldiers dead, including a general, and 13 in Al-Qaeda ranks," a military officer said.
"The Yemeni air force is participating in the battles, bombing columns of Al-Qaeda vehicles trying to advance towards Azzan," the Shabwa provincial city the army said it retook last Thursday, the source said.
He said the situation there is now "under control."
The army losses included General Mohsen Saeed al-Ghazali, an aide to Defence Minister Ahmad, who was killed in one of the attacks that focused on army positions in Azzan and neighbouring Jul al-Rida, a military official said.
An officer on the ground told AFP troops have "repelled two simultaneous attacks by Al-Qaeda."
Residents in the area said several cars and homes were damaged in the exchange of fire, and that many families in Azzan have been fleeing the city due to the violence.
The army says it has inflicted heavy losses on Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), seen by the US as the network's deadliest franchise, since it launched the offensive against them on April 29.
The authorities in Sanaa have put security forces in the capital on alert for revenge attacks following the army's recapture of Azzan, with the United States also closing its embassy.
The interior ministry said this week that checkpoints were set up around the provinces of Sanaa, Ibb, Baida, Lahij and Marib to prevent the entry of jihadists fleeing the offensive focused on Shabwa and Abyan -- both in the south.
On Tuesday, the air force killed five Al-Qaeda suspects in a raid on a convoy carrying weapons and ammunition and a drone strike killed six Al-Qaeda suspects in Marib a day earlier.
AQAP took advantage of a 2011 uprising that forced veteran president Ali Abdullah Saleh from power to seize large swathes of southern and eastern Yemen.
The army recaptured several major towns in 2012 but has struggled to reassert control in rural areas, despite the backing of militiamen recruited among local tribes.