9 Killed as Yemen Army, 'Qaida' Clash near Capital

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Yemen's military and al-Qaida suspects who fled an army offensive in the south clashed in a district near the capital Sunday, killing six troops and three jihadists, security and tribal sources said.

And two overnight drone strikes targeted al-Qaida suspects in Wasl, a village in Arhab, 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Sanaa, tribal sources in the area said.

The United States is the only country operating drones over Yemen, but U.S. officials rarely acknowledge the covert program.

Militants fled the drone strikes to a village in the same area, Ozer, where Yemeni troops launched a ground attack, according to the sources.

A security official said Yemeni anti-terrorism forces killed three al-Qaida militants and arrested four others.

The tribal sources told Agence France Presse that six members of Yemen's special forces also died in the fighting.

Troops arrested 12 al-Qaida suspects -- eight Saudis and four Yemenis, according to the sources.

The army has sealed off Arhab, they added.

The sources said the suspects had fought in late 2011 in Syria, where foreign militants have joined an armed revolt against the regime.

The militants returned to Yemen and were in al-Qaida's southern bastions of Shabwa and Abyan before an army offensive launched on April 29 drove them out to Arhab, they said.

The army says it inflicted heavy losses on al-Qaida in the offensive.

But analysts say the gains may have been the result of a tactical retreat by al-Qaida in coordination with powerful tribes.

Washington regards the jihadists' Yemen franchise -- al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula -- as its most dangerous and has stepped up drone attacks against AQAP leaders.

Late on Saturday, Yemeni warplanes raided the home of a suspected jihadist in Arhab who had also returned from Syria, the local sources said.

They reported casualties, without giving figures, and said the house was damaged and two cars were destroyed.

Al-Qaida exploited the 2011 uprising in Yemen that led to the ouster of veteran autocratic president Ali Abdullah Saleh to seize large swathes of the south and east.

The army recaptured several major towns in 2012 but has struggled to reassert control in rural areas despite recruiting militia allies among local tribes.

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