The fighting in the town of Azzan in Shabwa province comes amid an ongoing army offensive against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen's local branch of the terror group that the US considers the world's most dangerous.
Al-Qaida militants tried to retake the town in a dawn attack as government warplanes and naval forces bombed militants hiding in homes, officials said. Soldiers battled militants for hours in street-to-street clashes.
Maj Gen Ahmed Seif al-Yafie said that the fighting killed at least 30 al-Qaida militants, including six of the local leaders of the terror group. He did not offer casualty figures for government forces.
Yemeni security officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren't authorized to brief journalists, said the clashes killed at least 12 government troops. It wasn't immediately clear if there were civilian casualties.
Al-Yafie also said al-Qaida militants used child soldiers in the fighting, without elaborating.
The military warned residents by loudspeaker to either leave the town or not to provide shelter to militants during the fighting.
Mahmoud al-Ayashi, a resident who fled the town with his family, said that the bombardment from the two sides turned the town into an inferno.
"This town has seen so many battles before but this is the worst," he said. "I saw cars on fire, bodies in the streets, including those in military uniform."
The Defense Ministry said dozens of suspected militants have been killed or captured over the past three weeks. Yemeni troops and allied tribal fighters have seized a string of al-Qaida-held areas along a 100-kilometer stretch of highway snaking through the rugged desert mountains of the south, starting from the Mahfad region.
In an apparent retaliatory attack today, a senior intelligence official in the southern city of Mukalla was gunned down in front of his house in a drive-by shooting, officials said.


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