Al-Qaeda militants killed 10 Yemeni soldiers in three simultaneous attacks Thursday on army positions in the central province of Bayda, a military official said.
Eight extremists were also killed in the assaults, which prompted further clashes with the army, a local official said.
"Al-Qaeda assailants carried out simultaneous attacks against three military positions in Rada" in Bayda, an extremist stronghold, the official told AFP.
Ten soldiers were killed and others wounded, and four soldiers captured, the military source said.
Among the attackers was one wearing an explosive belt who was killed by soldiers, according to the same official.
"Dozens of gunmen were involved in the Rada attacks," a local official told AFP, adding that the militants in Bayda had received reinforcements from the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Ansar al-Sharia group," who arrived from the southern Abyan province.
Yemen's air force intervened with air strikes on the area, army officials said.
Al-Qaeda supporters frequently target the 139th Brigade, stationed in Bayda since 2012 to battle radical Islamists there.
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Farther east, a drone crashed in the remote Maharah desert near the border with Oman Thursday, a local government official said, without providing further details.
The US military operates all unmanned aircraft over Yemen in support of Sanaa's campaign against Al-Qaeda and has killed dozens of militants in a sharply intensified campaign since last year.
In December, a drone attack killed 17 people, mostly civilians in a wedding motorcade in Rada, triggering condemnation of the United Sates and sparking protests in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula country.
The Yemeni government had insisted the strike targeted a car belonging to an Al-Qaeda leader.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has been blamed for most of the increasingly common hit-and-run strikes targeting military personnel.
The group rarely claims responsibility for attacks, but did claim a brazen daylight assault on the defence ministry in Sanaa that killed 56 people on December 5.
AQAP took advantage of a decline in central government control during Yemen's 2011 uprising to seize large swathes of territory across the south.
The militants were driven back in June 2012 by a military offensive and the group has been further weakened by drone strikes.
AQAP is considered by Washington to be the most dangerous affiliate of the Al-Qaeda network.