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Yemen airstrikes kill dozens of al Qaeda fighters, officials say

From Hakim Almasmari, for CNN
updated 6:29 PM EDT, Tue April 3, 2012
Suspected al Qaeda militants man a checkpoint in the southern Yemeni province of Shabwa on Tuesday.
Suspected al Qaeda militants man a checkpoint in the southern Yemeni province of Shabwa on Tuesday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Yemen's air force has been pounding al Qaeda hideouts in the country's south
  • U.S. forces have assisted in at least three of the raids, a Yemeni official says
  • The jihadist network has expanded its reach in southern Yemen in the past year

Sanaa, Yemen (CNN) -- Yemen's air force has killed dozens of al Qaeda fighters in a series of U.S.-supported airstrikes in the country's south, Yemeni officials said Tuesday.

At least 38 suspected al Qaeda militants were killed in continuous raids on jihadist hideouts in Yemen's southern provinces of Lahj and Abyan, three security officials told CNN. But the militants still control key towns linking both provinces despite 48 hours of nonstop bombardment, the officials said.

Aden, the country's business capital and major port, neighbors Lahj province and has been a target for al Qaeda attacks since January.

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"The government does not want Lahj to turn into a launching pad for al Qaeda attacks. Aden will be in danger if the government does not react with force," one official in the province told CNN.

The official said the United States has taken part in three of the airstrikes, but said Yemen's air force is leading the operation. He did not detail the type of support provided.

"The U.S. is involved in a number of the latest attacks, but that does not mean our air force is not in control of the raids occurring," the official said.

A second official said that strikes against al Qaeda will continue throughout the week and that militants have evacuated a number of posts.

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The offensive comes after militants killed dozens of troops and seized large quantities of weapons when they raided a military zone earlier this week. Numerous other Yemeni soldiers are still being held hostage by militants since the attacks, two officials confirmed.

Al Qaeda fighters have expanded their control over parts of Yemen in the past year, leading politicians to consider the option of dialogue with the militant network.

Sheikh Sadeq Ahmar, head of the country's most powerful Hashed tribe, said Monday that he supports talks with the jihadists. And in March, Ali Obaid, the spokesman for the country's highest security authority, told CNN that Yemen's military committee welcomed dialogue with al Qaeda if they accept specific terms, lay down their arms and hand over territory under their control.

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