By Fatik al-Rodaini
SANA'A, April 12, 2012- At least 8 al-Qaeda militants were killed on Thursday in air strikes conducted by the Yemeni forces in Yemen's southern province of Abyan where swaths of towns are controlled by the militant group, Ansar al-Sharia.
Sources said that at least six fighters were killed in an air strike near the southern town of Lawdar, while another strike hit an army tank that had been captured by the militants on Monday, killing everyone inside it.
Residents and officials reported that two other air strikes were on posts held by militants there. Two others militants were killed in continued clashes for the fourth day between Yemeni government soldiers backed by tribesmen and militants.
The clashes took place in Abyan province, where dozens of people have been killed since Monday, raising the death toll from four days of clashes to at least 177.
Yemen's Defense Ministry website stated on Wednesday that two al-Qaeda senior members were killed during the clashes. "Dardish Ahmed Mohammed Taher and Imad al-Manshaby, a field leader, and ten other elements were killed,'' the website said.
The ministry clamed on its website that it had destroyed a number of checkpoints set up by militants on a main road linking Lawdar to the neighboring province of Al-Bayda, re-opening the route.
On Wednesday at dawn, in the town of Rada in Bayda province, militants beheaded a woman on allegations that she practiced witchcraft. The head of the 35-year old woman was later found hanging on a wall of a cemetery in the city as a warning but her body remains missing. On Tuesday at least eight soldiers were killed and four others wounded during an attack at an army checkpoint by armed men believed to be al-Qaeda militants in Yemen’s eastern province of Mareb.
According to analysts, al-Qaeda in Yemen is considered a serious and growing threat for Yemeni government and for the United States.
President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi vowed to fight al Qaeda and its affiliates when he took office earlier this year after his predecessor quit under pressure from anti-government protesters and foreign powers anxious to halt a slide into mayhem.
Militants have since stepped up their operations against the army, carrying out a string of deadly attacks that have cast a long shadow over the country's first month's post-Ali Abdullah Saleh.
In return, the Yemeni air force has launched air strikes on suspected militant strongholds and the United States has joined in with drones.
The United States and Saudi Arabia - both targets of al Qaeda's Yemen-based wing - fear Yemen is becoming a major front in its campaign against the militant network, which has been dealt a number of blows over the past year, not least the killing of its founder and leader Osama bin Laden.