Six Yemeni soldiers and 22 Al-Qaeda militants died on Wednesday as the army pressed an offensive against bastions of the jihadist network in south Yemen into a 12th day, a security official and locals said.
Six soldiers died as government forces attempted to advance on the northeastern outskirts of Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan province which was overrun by Al-Qaeda militants a year ago, a military official said.
Nine soldiers were wounded, the official added, and a medic confirmed the toll.
"We are trying with utmost prudence to advance into Zinjibar," said the official.
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Twenty-two militants were killed in the clashes, according to a local source in Jaar, a nearby town where Al-Qaeda gunmen take their dead comrades for burial.
Army artillery on Wednesday also pounded Al-Qaeda strongholds in Jaar, local sources said.
On Monday, a suicide bomber killed 96 soldiers in a massive attack in the heart of Sanaa. The attack was claimed by Al-Qaeda, which said it was carried out to avenge the deaths caused by the "war on our people in Abyan."
Since the offensive began on May 12, 262 people have been killed, according to a tally compiled by AFP, including 180 Al-Qaeda fighters, 47 military personnel, 18 local militiamen and 17 civilians.
Residents and tribes in the area surrounding Jaar have formed armed militias, Popular Resistance Committees, to back the army, similar to those formed in other Abyan towns -- Loder and Mudia.
According to Western diplomats in Sanaa, US experts have been advising the Yemeni army in combat.