Jun 03, 2012, 08.42 PM | Source: Reuters
YEMEN-CLASHES:Troops, insurgents battle in centre of southern Yemen city
Officials and residents also said troops killed five Islamist fighters in clashes near the western edge of Jaar, another insurgent-controlled town in Abyan province about 30 km (20 miles) from Zinjibar.
The army launched the offensive last month aimed at retaking southern towns seized by Islamists during an uprising against Yemen's long-time leader Ali Abdullah Saleh that saw the military split into warring factions last year.
The United States, which helped engineer Saleh's replacement by his deputy in February, is backing the offensive and has stepped up its campaign of drone strike assassinations of alleged al Qaeda members it says plot attacks from Yemen.
It has also sent dozens of military trainers and stepped up aid to a country it sees as being in the frontline of its war on anti-American Islamist militants.
The loss of Zinjibar would be a strategic blow to the insurgents and bolster the morale of the army, which managed to seize parts of the city outskirts last week.
In Sunday's fighting, troops killed six insurgents and wounded several others in the centre of Zinjibar after the militants attacked a position the army set up after moving into the town, a military official said. Two soldiers were killed.
Local officials and residents said troops killed five Islamist fighters near the western edge of Jaar, also held by a group calling itself Ansar al-Sharia.
Both towns fell under the control of the group last year, when some of Saleh's forces in the region were directed against mass protests calling for an end to his 33-year rule.
Ansar al-Sharia has an undefined relationship with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which has plotted abortive attacks abroad from Yemen, including one that U.S. officials said targeted an airliner before it was thwarted in April.
Both have claimed responsibility for attacks on Yemeni military targets, including a suicide bombing last month that killed around 100 soldiers in the capital Sanaa.
The United States wants President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to reunify a military that split between Saleh's foes and allies, including his son and nephew, and focus it against AQAP.
Separately, the deputy governor and local commander of Central Security, which has a counter-terrorism brief, survived an assassination attempt by gunmen who attacked their car in the southern Dhaleh province, officials said.
(Reporting by Mohammed Mukhashaf; Writing by Joseph Logan; Editing by Angus MacSwan)