AT LEAST 38 people have been killed after fighters from an al-Qaeda-linked group attacked a Yemeni military camp near the southern city of Lawdar, residents and local officials said.
The fighting erupted when militants from Ansar al-Sharia (“Partisans of Sharia”) launched a dawn attack yesterday on the camp in Abyan province, about 75 miles from Aden.
The group seized control of a significant amount of territory in Abyan during the turmoil that led to the replacement of president Ali Abdullah Saleh by his deputy, a deal that Saudi Arabia and Washington hoped would prevent al-Qaeda from getting a foothold near key oil shipping routes.
The conflict with Islamists in the south is only one of several challenges facing the new president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who took office vowing to fight al-Qaeda, only to have more than 100 soldiers killed in a series of attacks in his first days in power.
Some 18 fighters were killed in yesterday’s clash with the army and another five when warplanes bombed a checkpoint they were holding. Nine soldiers and six tribesmen fighting alongside them were also killed.
A military official said the army drove the fighters away from the area around the camp. The militants said in a statement that none of their fighters was killed in the clash, and threatened to attack Lawdar.
A local official said tribal militiamen joined the fighting alongside the military, and that at least ten soldiers and tribesmen were wounded.
Washington, which has pursued a campaign of assassination by drone and missile against alleged al-Qaeda targets in Yemen, wants Mr Hadi to reunify a military that split between Saleh’s foes and allies last year, and focus it on counter-terrorism.