At least 17 killed as army and militants clash in southern Yemen

Al Qaeda loyalists in the town of Jaar, in Yemen's southern Abyan province, on Jan.  25, 2012.</p>

Al Qaeda loyalists in the town of Jaar, in Yemen's southern Abyan province, on Jan. 25, 2012.

Clashes between government troops and Al Qaeda militants in Yemen’s restive southern region have left at least 17 people dead.

Military officials told the Associated Press that fighting broke out early Sunday as the army and aligned tribal fighters launched a two-pronged attack on the Islamist stronghold of Jaar in Abyan province, which has been under the control of the militants since last year. Yemeni warplanes also bombed targets on the outskirts of the town.

The dead reportedly included eight militants, eight government soldiers, and five tribal fighters. Tribal sources put the death toll at 18, saying 13 of the casualties were jihadists and telling the Agence France Presse that Al Qaeda militants had been transported from Azzan in eastern Shabwa province to Jaar to support the Islamists.

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Insurgents have exploited a security vacuum, created last year after mass protests erupted against then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh, to seize vast swathes of territory in Yemen’s southern region.

According to Reuters, the US has stepped up drones attacks in Yemen since President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi took office in February, and the Pentagon announced earlier this month that it had resumed sending military trainers to the country.

Just over a week ago Yemeni forces launched an offensive to recapture Al Qaeda-controlled towns in Abyan, and 213 people have since been killed in the violence. 

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