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Fighting escalates as the nation's young government battles with rising militant influence.
Yemeni forces said at least 38 militants were killed in a government assault while a suspected US airstrike reportedly killed another 12 as part of an intensified campaign to regain control of nation's south, said the Associated Press.
Islamic militants, taking advantage of the political upheaval in Yemen that saw the ousting of former longtime leader Ali Abdullah Saleh in February, have spent months securing their hold on strategic areas.
Their presence there is seen as a major test of the country's young government.
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Yemen's defense ministry issued a statement today saying top militants Imad al-Manshaby and Ahmed Mohammed Taher were among those killed in today's assault, said AP.
Pro-government tribesmen supported by army aircraft and supplies, fought their way into the key city of Lawder today, said AP. In the nearby town of Jebel Yasuf, locals told Reuters that at least 30 militants were killed in clashes.
Dozens of people have reportedly been killed in Lawder since Monday, local officials told Reuters, while tribal officials said some 27 insurgents were killed near the city's entrance today.
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The town of some 30,000 rose up against the encroaching al-Qaida presence there back in July, and a local leader there told AP that government forces were helped today by about 300 of the city's men, most of them young, who turned out armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.
The town connects the al-Qaida-held city of Zinjibar to eastern, largely insurgent-held provinces.
There was no official American response to the suspected US airstrike there, according to AP.