Yemeni forces began on Wednesday an all-out offensive against Al-Qaeda groups that recently seized villages in the southeastern province of Hadramawt, officials and witnesses said.
Troops backed by tanks and helicopters launched a dawn operation in Ghayl Bawazir, some 30 kilometres (19 miles) east of the port city of Mukalla, a security official said.
Witnesses said they saw military convoys heading in the direction of the area, which officials said was seized by Al-Qaeda gunmen last month.
Seven wounded soldiers were evacuated to a hospital in Mukalla, a medical source said.
Al-Qaeda fighters have been regrouping since June 2012 in areas of Hadramawt after being driven out of the southern province of Abyan where they ruled major towns for about a year.
Residents of Ghayl Bawazir told AFP last month the jihadists had taken advantage of an absence of security forces from the area to deploy in strength and had already distributed leaflets declaring their rule.
In areas of the south they seized in 2011, taking advantage of a collapse of central government control during 11 months of protests that eventually forced veteran president Ali Abdullah Saleh from power, the militants enforced a strict version of Islamic law.
Punishments included public executions and amputations.
A soldier stands on the top of a military vehicle at a checkpoint on March 16, 2013 in the Yemeni capital Sanaa. Yemeni forces began on Wednesday an all-out offensive against Al-Qaeda groups that recently seized villages in the southeastern province of Hadramawt, officials and witnesses said.