Forces loyal to the Saudi-backed Yemeni president flash their arms at a road on the entrance to Abyan province as they take part in an operation to drive Al-Qaeda fighters out of the southern provincial capital, on April 23, 2016
Aden (AFP) - Yemeni forces backed by air power from a Saudi-led Arab coalition launched an operation Saturday to drive Al-Qaeda fighters out of a southern provincial capital, military officials said.
Forces loyal to President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi in Abyan province advanced toward Zinjibar and the neighbouring town of Jaar, the sources said.
Soldiers clashed with militants at Al-Kud, five kilometres (three miles) south of Zinjibar, while coalition Apache helicopters targeted militant positions in the area, they said.
Military and medical sources said 25 Al-Qaeda militants and four soldiers were killed.
Troops reached the government complex on the southern edges of Zinjibar and fighting raged around the compound, military sources said.
Residents said heavily-armed and masked fighters were deployed on the city's streets.
Government forces last week expelled militants of the jihadist network's local branch -- Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula -- from Huta, the provincial capital of Lahj, as part of a widespread operation to secure southern provinces.
Coalition-backed forces have driven militants out of Aden, the southern city declared by Hadi as the country's temporary capital after Shiite Huthi rebels stormed Sanaa in September 2014.
The Arab coalition began a military operation backing Hadi in March 2015 after rebels advanced on his refuge in Aden and forced him to flee to Riyadh.
But pro-Hadi forces managed over the summer to wrest back control of Aden and four other provinces with the support of coalition firepower.
Coalition forces have also backed pro-government forces against AQAP and Islamic State group militants who have taken advantage of the chaos to strengthen their grip on southern Yemen.
The latest fighting comes as representatives of the government and the Iran-backed rebels continue with UN-sponsored peace talks in Kuwait, which began on Thursday.
The negotiations are under pressure to firm up a fragile ceasefire in their conflict that went into effect on April 11.