Clashes between the army and Al-Qaeda militants on the outskirts of the Islamist stronghold of Jaar in southern Yemen left 18 people dead overnight, military and tribal sources said on Sunday.
"Violent clashes on Jaar's western outskirts between the army and Al-Qaeda are continuing," a military official said.
Tribal sources said 13 jihadists were killed overnight, while witnesses said 18 vehicles loaded with Al-Qaeda militants were brought in from Azzan in the eastern Shabwa province to back their comrades in the town of Jaar.
Five local militiamen fighting alongside the army were also killed and four wounded, the military official said, without giving army casualties.
Residents and tribes in the area surrounding Jaar have formed armed militias, Popular Resistance Committees, to back the army, similar to those formed in other Abyan towns -- Loder and Mudia.
Troops on Thursday managed to take full control of Loder, which militants have been trying to seize for months.
"The army will also take control of Jaar in the coming days," another military official said. "We want to control Jaar, a major Al-Qaeda stronghold, before Zinjibar," capital of Abyan province and which militants overran last year.
Yemeni forces launched an offensive on May 12 to capture Al-Qaeda controlled areas in Abyan, where most town had under the jihadists' control apart from Loder and Mudia.
Since the offensive began, 213 people have been killed, according to a tally compiled by AFP, including 147 Al-Qaeda fighters, 31 military personnel, 18 local militiamen and 17 civilians.
According to Western diplomats in Sanaa, US experts have been advising the Yemeni army in combat.