Yemeni military rejects air strike claim


SANAA/ADEN – The government and a military source has denied reports by two local security officials that the Yemeni air force mistakenly struck a military site in south Yemen, killing more than a dozen soldiers.

“We are not sure of the number yet but some 18 or 20 soldiers were killed, the plane hit a small military site in Abyan,” a security official said from the flashpoint Abyan province. “They meant to target an al-Qaeda hideout.”

However a defence ministry source has denied “the false news that Yemeni soldiers were killed in an accidental Yemeni plane strike”.

Yemen’s army is fighting to regain territory lost to suspected al-Qaeda operatives during months of political upheaval that have weakened central government control over parts of the country, notably Abyan.

A military source in the area said there was some confusion over what happened in several sites of fighting in Abyan yesterday. He said there had been several air strikes and al-Qaeda attacks and said the soldiers’ deaths were not caused by a botched strike but a militant ambush on an army site.

Abyan’s capital Zinjibar was “liberated” from Islamist fighters by government troops last month, but clashes continue to flare there. Local officials said nine soldiers were killed when militants ambushed government forces in the east of the city yesterday. Another 23 were injured.

In Zinjibar, four more soldiers died in combat and 15 militants were killed in air strikes yesterday, local officials and residents said.

Since popular protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh paralysed impoverished Yemen earlier this year, international powers have feared growing lawlessness might embolden al-Qaeda’s local wing and imperil shipping routes via the Red Sea. – (Reuters)