ADEN (Yemen) - Yemeni warplanes and ground troops launched a dawn assault on Wednesday on Al-Qaeda positions in the restive southern Abyan province, killing 10 fighters, local officials said.
Seven fighters were killed inside Jaar when hit by artillery shells fired by troops from west of the city, a local official said on condition of anonymity.
Under the control of Al-Qaeda since May 2011, Jaar has been the focus of an offensive by the army aimed at driving the Islamists out of the city.
Twelve fighters were also wounded in Wednesday's assault on Jaar, the official added.
Three other fighters were killed when army warplanes struck an Al-Qaeda communications centre in the city of Shaqra, another local official said, adding that six jihadists were also injured in the raid.
The latest casualties came a day after Al-Qaeda fighters killed three soldiers in an assault on an army convoy ferrying supplies to troops in the war-torn Abyan province.
Yemeni forces launched an all-out offensive on May 12 aimed at reclaiming towns and cities in Abyan lost to Al-Qaeda over the past year.
Western diplomats say that US experts are assisting the Yemeni army in their battle to destroy Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, considered by Washington to be the network's deadliest and most active branch.
In an interview with ABC television's "This Week," US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta defended the use of drones as "the most precise weapons we have" in the campaign against the militant group.
His comments marked the first time the US formally acknowledges the use of unmanned drones against Al-Qaeda suspects in Yemen.
Jaar residents said food supplies were running short and many were unable to flee the city because of heavy shelling.
"The house next to ours was destroyed by shells and we're worried the same will happen to us," a Jaar resident said, without giving his name.
A group of religious scholars met Hadi on Tuesday, urging him to stop confronting militants in the south, to reject any kind of foreign intervention in Yemen, referring to the United States' increasing involvement, and to implement sharia, Islamic law, properly.
The governor of Abyan, Jamal al-Aqel, said the military was in full control of several southern towns that militants had tried to seize in the past, including Lawdar and Mudiyah, but that heavy fighting was still under way inside Zinjibar.
Four soldiers were wounded on Tuesday when Islamist militants ambushed government troops outside Zinjibar, a military official said. Months of fighting and shelling in and around the strategically important city have left it a ghost town, residents said.
"Most of the city is empty, the buildings are destroyed and most of the basic services like electricity are cut off," one resident said.
Yemeni forces launched an all-out offensive on May 12 this year to capture Al-Qaeda controlled areas in Abyan.
Since the offensive began, at least 338 people have been killed, including 247 Al-Qaeda fighters, 55 military personnel, 18 local militiamen and 18 civilians.