A car bomb exploded Monday next to a military checkpoint in a central town where Yemeni government forces waged their first offensive targeting al-Qaida militants in the area, killing 11 soldiers, security and military officials said.
The officials said that the explosion rocked the town of Radda, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of the capital, Sanaa, when a suicide bomber blew up his car in an attack that bore the hallmarks of al-Qaida.
The bombing came on the same day that the military launched a wide offensive against al-Qaida in surrounding Bayda province, which has become a militant stronghold. Al-Qaida briefly seized Radda last year, giving them their closest ever foothold to the capital, where it is thought to be operating sleeper cells.
A military official said Monday that the first day of shelling left six dead - four from al-Qaida and two from the army. Four other soldiers were wounded.
Government forces have been deployed to Radda for several days, and tribal leaders had first asked the military to postpone the operation for 48 hours so they could try to persuade the militants to leave town. The military launched its assault after it appeared efforts toward a peaceful solution failed.
All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.
During Yemen's 2011 uprising, al-Qaida occupied large swaths of land and towns in the south before being driven out to mountainous areas by the new government. Since then the group has retaliated for its losses by waging a series of assassinations and bombings of military compounds.
U.S. drone attacks have targeted a large number of militants over the past year. Militants have fled to Radda, the home town of al-Qaida field commanders Qaid al-Dahab and Nabil al-Dahab, who sought refuge in nearby mountains.
Washington considers al-Qaida in Yemen the terror group's most dangerous branch. It has been linked to several attempted attacks on U.S. targets, including the foiled Christmas Day 2009 bombing of an airliner over Detroit and explosives-laden parcels intercepted aboard cargo flights a year later.