SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Pro-government forces attacked al-Qaida militants in southern Yemen on Tuesday, killing 15 jihadis but losing 11 of their own troops, security officials said.
The fighting began when troops backed by a Saudi-led coalition attacked an al-Qaida stronghold in the Marakasha mountains in Abyan province, east of the southern city of Aden.
The area has long been a militant haven, attracting fighters in the 1990s returning from Afghanistan after fighting the Soviets. Al-Qaida later said in a statement circulated online that it had "ambushed" the troops and fought them off, the U.S.-based SITE Intelligence Group said.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to reporters, said more than 60 military vehicles were involved in the operation, firing automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades before they were repulsed.
Yemen has been in the grip of a civil war since 2014, when Shiite Houthi rebels and allied forces swept down from the north and captured the capital, Sanaa. A Saudi-led coalition has been helping government forces battle the rebels for nearly two years.
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, long seen by Washington as among the most dangerous branches of the global terror network, has exploited the chaos, seizing territory in southern and eastern Yemen.
President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the coalition have failed to bring stability to the southern territories that his government controls. Aden, Yemen's second largest city and onetime commercial hub, was intended to be a model for Hadi's rule, but has grown increasingly chaotic in recent months, with multiple armed groups competing for influence in the area.