- Official: Yemen's military is conducting an "unprecedented" operation against al Qaeda
- "Decisive battles" are said to be underway
- The official says Yemen could use more help from "our Saudi and American friends"
Twelve suspected al Qaeda militants were killed Thursday, said a high-level Yemeni government official who is being briefed on his nation's ongoing counterterrorism operations.
The official characterized the operation as "open warfare between the Yemeni military and al Qaeda."
"It's a very tough fight," said the official. "So far, dozens of Yemeni soldiers have been killed or wounded and dozens of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) members have been killed or wounded."
This is all part of a crackdown resulting in the deaths of more than 60 suspected al Qaeda militants in Yemen from April 19 to 21, Yemeni officials have said.
Operations have included attacks by Yemeni commandos and suspected U.S. drone strikes, according to a Yemeni official.
The high-level Yemeni government official said Thursday that "decisive battles" are ongoing, with troops "conducting ground operations still in the toughest areas." He called the operation "unprecedented."
"They are pushing through and establishing security parameters in Baida and Hadramout and around Shabwa and Abyan, but this is still a tough battle," this official said. "If you go in like this, all the way, and don't make it through, that could be devastating."
While the official noted the operations were going better than expected in Abyan, with the Yemeni army advancing there, he acknowledged that things in Shabwa "aren't going as well."
"It seems like the AQAP militants were ready for the operations," said the official. "Resistance has been stronger and casualties among Yemeni military have been higher. Reinforcements are on their way."
The official said the country could use even more support from its from its allies, specifically bringing up "our Saudi and American friends."
U.S. special operations troops have played a role in the offensive, in part by flying Yemeni forces to a remote, mountainous spot in southern Yemen. But no Americans took part in combat, a U.S. official has said.