YEMENI government troops trying to recapture areas held by Islamic militants have killed 12 suspected al-Qa'ida members in the troubled southern province of Abyan, the defence ministry said yesterday.
Hundreds of militants seized the provincial capital, Zinjibar, on May 27, taking advantage of a breakdown of authority resulting from the government's battle with armed tribesmen seeking to topple the autocratic leader of more than three decades.
Yemen's crisis has deepened further since President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has clung to power throughout months of protests against his rule, was wounded in a rocket attack on his compound nearly a week ago and flown to neighboring Saudi Arabia for urgent medical treatment.
Mr Saleh had surgery to remove shards of wood lodged in his chest after one of the rockets splintered a pulpit in a mosque where the president and top aides were praying.
On Thursday, Saudi and Yemeni officials in the Saudi capital of Riyadh said Mr Saleh's condition had stabilised enough to move him out of intensive care at the military hospital where he is being treated.
The officials also said Mr Saleh would have cosmetic surgery in the coming days after suffering burns.
The United States fears the power vacuum will give free rein to al-Qa'ida's branch in Yemen -- one of the terror network's most active franchises which has been responsible for two attempted terror attacks on US targets.
The militants were killed in gunbattles as government troops pressed towards Zinjibar. Three soldiers were also wounded.
The Yemeni government consistently claims the militants in the Abyan province are connected to al-Qa'ida.
But their true identity remains unclear because Yemen has numerous armed Islamic militants and not all are affiliated with the terror network.
The Obama administration has intensified the covert US war in Yemen, hitting militant suspects with armed drones and fighter jets.
American officials hope the strikes will help prevent militants from consolidating power.
The recent operations come after a nearly year-long 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.