Airstrikes kill 3 militants in south Yemen town

June 13, 2011 - 6:28 AM
Mideast Yemen

Armed tribesmen, loyal to Sheik Sadeq al-Ahmar, the head of the powerful Hashid tribe, guard a street around al-Ahmar's house in Sanaa, Yemen, Sunday, June 12, 2011. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Airstrikes targeting Muslim militants in control of a southern Yemeni town killed three of the extremists on Monday, military and medical officials said.

Four months of massive anti-government protests across Yemen have weakened the central government, and the capture of two southern towns by militants thought to include al-Qaida members has raised concern that the organization could take advantage of the chaos.

The Yemeni officials said the airstrikes struck Jaar, one of two militant-held towns in the province of Abyan. The other town is Abyan's capital, Zinjibar.

President Ali Saleh, Yemen's leader of nearly 33 years, is in Saudi Arabia for treatment from wounds suffered in a rocket attack that targeted his compound in Sanaa, Yemen's capital. His forces are squaring up against tribesman loyal to a one-time ally who defected to the protesters' side in March.

The two sides fought fierce battles with artillery, mortars and rockets in Sanaa earlier this month. A fragile cease-fire is holding the peace in the capital.

The upheaval of the past months has left Saleh too preoccupied to focus on the fight against al-Qaida, and the United States has stepped up covert operations in Yemen with airstrikes and drone attacks targeting members of the terror network.

The recent U.S. operations come after a nearly yearlong pause in American airstrikes, which were halted amid concerns that poor intelligence had led to bungled missions and civilian deaths that were undercutting the goals of the secret campaign.

In Taiz, Yemen's second-largest city, military officials said gunmen destroyed two tanks and six vehicles belonging to the presidential guard, an elite force loyal to Saleh and led by his son and one-time heir apparent Ahmed. The tanks and vehicles were destroyed during fighting in the early hours of Monday.

The officials in Abyan and Taiz spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.