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Yemen pours troops into battle with al Qaeda

From Hakim Almasmari, for CNN
updated 1:29 AM EDT, Fri April 6, 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
  • New airstrikes kill 12 jihadists in Abyan province, Yemeni officials say
  • Government warplanes have been bombing al Qaeda positions all week
  • The raids will continue at least two more days, officials say

(CNN) -- Yemen has poured thousands of troops into a battle with al Qaeda fighters in two southern provinces amid new airstrikes that killed a dozen of the militants Thursday, security officials said.

Yemeni warplanes have been bombarding al Qaeda hideouts all week in a series of U.S.-supported airstrikes on the southern provinces of Lahj and Abyan. Three raids on Thursday killed 12 jihadists and destroyed large weapons caches near Jaar, in Abyan, with no losses among government forces, three security officials told CNN.

Defense Ministry officials said the strikes are expected to last two more days. Meanwhile, the government has put thousands of troops into the effort to flush out the al Qaeda fighters and tighten security in the surrounding areas, the officials said.

The Defense Ministry announced today that the militants are losing ground and casualties in their lines are high.

On Tuesday security officials said at least 38 militants had been killed in 48 hours of continuous airstrikes, three of which had unspecified U.S. involvement. The strikes forced them to evacuate some of their hideouts, but the jihadists remained in control of key towns linking both provinces at that time, the officials said.

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

Yemen's al Qaeda movement has expanded its control over parts of the country 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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