SANAA, Yemen – Government troops killed 11 al-Qaida fighters in southern Yemen on Friday, as the army battled its way into the outskirts of a key town under the militants' control, military officials said.
Al-Qaida-linked fighters have taken over a swath of territory and several towns in the south over the past year, pushing out government forces and establishing their own rule. In recent weeks, the army has launched a concerted effort to uproot the militants from their strongholds — and is closely coordinating with a small contingent of U.S. troops who are helping guide the operations from inside Yemen.
On Friday, Yemeni troops moved in on Jaar in Abyan province, killing eight al-Qaida fighters in clashes about 10 kilometers (six miles) north of the town. Recapturing Jaar would better position the military to take back Zinjibar, the provincial capital that has been under al-Qaida control for more than a year.
Also in Abyan, a Yemeni warplane struck an al-Qaida checkpoint some 70 kilometers (45 miles) east of Zinjibar in an area known as Shoqra, killing three militants and wounding six, officials said.
The fighting in the south, particularly around Jaar, has displaced tens of thousands of civilians.
Town residents said that hundreds of families from the surrounding area flooded into the city on Friday to escape the clashes.
One civilian who fled to Jaar, Al-Muqbala Yasin, said by telephone that the military had bombed his hometown just outside of Jaar. He said that he saw al-Qaida militants burying their dead in what he called "mass graves" there.
Yemen's new president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who has vowed to tackle the threat from al-Qaida in the country.
As part of the fight, Hadi is restructuring the military and removing loyalists of ousted leader Ali Abdullah Saleh from key posts, though there are concerns that the former leader, who stepped down in February, is still obstructing reforms and trying to retain influence through his cronies.
On Friday, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets in more than 18 provinces, calling on Saleh loyalists to step aside and allow security officials appointed by Hadi to take up their posts.