Yemeni strikes kill at least 16 Qaeda militants

An April 30, 2012 file photo of Yemeni army soldiers firing artillery at al Qaeda militants' positions, near the southern Yemeni town of Loder.

(AP) SANAA, Yemen - Yemeni government forces pounded al Qaeda targets on Monday, killing at least 16 militants in the troubled south where the army is trying to uproot the terror group, military officials said.

In one attack, Yemeni warplanes struck an al Qaeda hideout about 70 kilometers from the southern city of Zinjibar, the provincial capital of Abyan. The bombardment killed at least 10 militants, the officials said.

The army also fired missiles at a moving vehicle on the outskirts of another southern town, Lawder, killing six militants inside it, they said. The town was controlled by al Qaeda last year until its residents drove out the militants, who have since been trying to stage a comeback. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Monday's raids came a day after government bombings of al Qaeda positions across the south killed at least 30 militants.

The attacks are part of the Yemeni military's broader campaign against al Qaeda-linked fighters. The militants have seized towns and territory across southern Yemen over the past year, taking advantage of a security vacuum linked to the country's political turmoil that pushed longtime authoritarian leader Ali Abdullah Saleh from power.

The front lines are concentrated around Zinjibar and another Abyan town, Jaar, where al Qaeda has held sway since March 2011. If the military were to reclaim the two strongholds, it would deal a severe blow to the militants, leaving them scattered in remote mountain areas away from urban centers.

In Jaar, militants sought refuge from Sunday's intense bombardment, hunkering down inside government buildings in the town center. Warplanes dropped leaflets urging residents not to let the militants hide inside their homes.

The intensifying war against al Qaeda in Yemen — which the U.S. says is one of the terror network's most active — is a top priority for Saleh's successor and former deputy, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

Hadi took office in February in a U.S.-backed power transfer deal and has since ramped up the fight against al Qaeda.

On Sunday, the White House's top counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, met with Hadi in the capital Sanaa. Hadi's office said the Yemeni leader briefed Brennan on the army's progress against al Qaeda in the south.

Brennan, who also met with the head of Yemen's military, reiterated Washington's strong commitment to Hadi's efforts to stabilize the country, and said the Yemeni leader is making "historical decisions during these critical times in modern day Yemen," according to a statement released by the Yemeni Embassy in Washington.

Also Monday, other Yemeni officials said an oil pipeline in Marib province was blown up about 100 miles east of Sanaa. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity for the same reason as the military officials, said they suspected al Qaeda militants were behind the attack.

Successive attacks on oil pipelines have led Yemen's state-run oil firm Safer to shut down production of nearly 50,000 barrels of crude a day.