SANAA, Yemen — Taking advantage of heavy fog, al-Qaida militants launched coordinated attacks on military barracks in a southern Yemen province on Friday, killing at least 38 troops and wounded dozens, a military official said.
The dawn attacks in Shabwa province, a known al-Qaida stronghold, surprised and caught the soldiers unprepared, said Maj. Mohammed Nasser.
Yemeni authorities have been leading a war against al-Qaida's local branch, also known as the al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, considered by Washington as one of the world's most dangerous terror groups.
In Friday's attacks, the militants first tried to storm barracks in three military encampments, in Maysaa, Kamp and al-Ain areas, Nasser told The Associated Press.
At the Kamp site, the attackers first overpowered the guards outside the barracks, then rammed a suicide car bomb into the camp. Most of the casualties among the troops took place in this attack.
By mid-morning, heavy clashes were still underway near the third location, the al-Ain military encampment, where militants had detonated a car bomb outside the barracks.
Nasser said eight militants had also died in the fighting so far and six soldiers and five military vehicles had been seized by the attackers.
Most of the soldiers from the Kamp barracks were in charge of guarding oil wells in the area.
The terror offshoot in Yemen, the Arab world's most impoverished country on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, has been behind a series of attacks on the military, as well as assassinations of security officers and government officials.
Friday's attacks in Shabwa — among the largest so far on the Yemeni military — came just days after authorities in the capital, Sanaa, warned of more al-Qaida attacks and suicide bombings.
The militants took advantage of the political unrest following the 2011 uprising against former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, to reinforce their presence in the country's mostly lawless south and step up attacks.
Backed by the U.S. military, Yemen's army was able to regain control of large parts of the south last year, but al-Qaida fighters continue to launch deadly attacks on Yemeni forces. In response, the U.S. has stepped up its drone war in the country.
Yemen's al-Qaida franchise has also been blamed for directing a string of unsuccessful bomb plots against Americans. Those included a foiled plan to down a U.S.-bound airliner using a new, sophisticated explosive to be hidden in the bomber's underwear, and a plot to send mail bombs on planes to the U.S. hidden in the toner cartridges of computer printers.