Aden: A U.S. drone strike and clashes between Yemeni troops and fighters of al-Qaeda killed at least 10 members of the militant group and a civilian in Yemen, officials and tribesmen said on Monday.

Five militants of al-Qaeda were killed when they were hit by a U.S. drone on Monday, a tribal source said.

“A U.S. drone struck a convoy carrying al-Qaeda’s leader in Bayda province, Qaed al-Dahab,” the tribal source said on condition of anonymity, adding that “Dahab survived but five of his guards were killed.”

The strike hit the militants as they were travelling in the area of Manaseh, east of the city of Radaa in central Yemen, he said.

Western diplomats say that U.S. experts are assisting the Yemeni army in their battle to destroy al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, considered by Washington to be the network’s deadliest and most active branch.

In an interview with ABC television’s “This Week,” U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta defended the use of drones as “the most precise weapons we have” in the campaign against the militant group.

His comments marked the first time the U.S. formally acknowledges the use of unmanned drones against al-Qaeda suspects in Yemen.

Five other al-Qaeda fighters and a civilian were killed in overnight clashes as Yemeni troops inched closer to capturing the city of Jaar, a bastion of the militant group in war-torn southern province of Abyan, a military official said.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a “mid-level commander” of the militant group, Abdul Rahman al-Musallami, was one of the five al-Qaeda operatives killed in the clashes.

A local official in Jaar confirmed this toll and said the bodies of the five militants were taken to the city for burial.

The military official said that Yemeni troops had advanced towards Jaar and were surrounding the city from three sides.

Yemeni troops advanced to “about three kilometres of Jaar,” and have “surrounded the city from the north, the east and the west,” he said.

He said the overnight assault on al-Qaeda positions in and around Jaar involved both ground troops and Yemeni air force. “We are tightening the noose around al-Qaeda,” he added.

The army also made strides in their advances on Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan that fell to the militants in May 2011, he said, but gave no further details.

Yemeni forces launched an all-out offensive on May 12 this year to capture Al-Qaeda controlled areas in Abyan.

Since the offensive began, at least 338 people have been killed, according to a tally compiled, including 247 al-Qaeda fighters, 55 military personnel, 18 local militiamen and 18 civilians.

(Agencies)

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