Aden: Four Yemeni soldiers and five suspected Al Qaida militants were killed in two separate attacks on Friday in southern restive regions, military and local sources said.

In the first attack, a suicide bomber rammed his explosive-laden car into an army position in Mahfad, in Abyan province, a military official said.

“He was a suicide bomber from Al Qaida,” said the official, who asked not to be named. He said six soldiers were also wounded in the attack.

A medical source at Ataq public hospital confirmed the deaths.

Meanwhile, a drone strike killed five suspected Al Qaida militants at Saeed junction, east of the city of Ataq, in nearby Shabwa province, a local source said.

The pilotless aircraft fired a missile at the group as they were gathered under a tree, the source said.

The United States is the only country operating drones over Yemen, but US officials rarely acknowledge the covert programme.

On Thursday, the Yemeni army killed four “Al Qaida members” in an attack in Habban, also in Shabwa, the defence ministry said.

The army launched an all-out offensive against Al Qaida in Shabwa and neighbouring Abyan in a bid to expel its forces from smaller towns and villages that escaped a previous sweep in 2012.

It said 500 Al Qaida militants were killed in the operation, while 40 soldiers were killed and 100 others wounded

Troops and militia have entered a series of towns, but analysts say their advances could be the result of a tactical retreat by the militants in coordination with local tribes.

Taking advantage of a collapse of central authority during a 2011 uprising that forced veteran strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh from power, Al Qaida seized large swathes of the south and east.

They remain deeply entrenched in Hadramaut province further east, where they have carried out a series of spectacular attacks in recent months.