ADEN | Sat Sep 10, 2011
(Reuters) - Yemen's army has managed to relieve a brigade that had been trapped on its base for four months by militants thought to belong to al Qaeda's Arabian Peninsula wing, a military official said on Saturday.
The 25th brigade was besieged in May, when Islamist fighters emboldened by months of upheaval in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula state took over the coastal city of Zinjibar, just a few kilometres away from the barracks.
The official said provisions were delivered to the brigade and the army had entered Zinjibar to reinforce efforts to drive out militants, many of whom had already fled towards Jaar, another town they have taken over in the southern province of Abyan.
"We are pursuing limited pockets of militants, but the real battle will be to purify the town of Jaar," said General Mohammad al-Somali.
The army mounted an offensive against militants in Abyan two months ago but has so far failed to deal a decisive blow, despite regular reports of militant deaths.
Three militants were killed in clashes in and around Zinjibar and four soldiers were injured on Saturday, the official said.
The United States and Saudi Arabia fear lawlessness in Yemen's south will give al Qaeda's local branch more room to launch attacks in the region and beyond.
Opponents of President Ali Abdullah Saleh accuse him of exaggerating the threat of al Qaeda and even encouraging militancy to scare Washington and Riyadh into backing him.
He is clinging onto power despite international pressure on him to quit and months of protests against his 33-year rule.