Aden: Al Qaida in Yemen has taken over three southern towns just days after a deadly US special operations raid targeting its commanders, a security official and tribal sources said Friday.

The terrorist advance into the Abyan province towns of Loder, Shaqra and Ahwar came as the White House defended Sunday’s raid on an Al Qaida compound as a “success”, even though multiple civilians and a Navy SEAL were killed.

Abyan has long been an Al Qaida stronghold and it was only through a major offensive backed by a Saudi-led coalition last summer that the government was able to drive its fighters out of the province’s main towns.

The terrorists’ entry into Loder and Shaqra on Thursday evening was helped by a pullout by government forces angry over the late payment of their wages, a security official told AFP.

“Our forces are also angry that they have not been provided with the weapons and other equipment to confront the terrorists, who have been stepping up their armed attacks,” the official said.

Al Qaida fighters set up roadblocks around the towns and blew up two security service buildings. Saudi-led aircraft carried out two strikes on terrorist positions in Loder overnight, the official added.

Tribal sources said there were fears that the terrorists would now move on the provincial capital Zinjibar.

Zinjibar lies just 50 kilometres from Yemen’s second city Aden where the government is based.

Al Qaida has taken advantage of nearly two years of fighting between government forces and rebels who control the capital Sana’a to entrench its presence in the south.

Washington has kept up its long-running drone war against the terrorists but that has done little to dent their influence.

Sunday’s raid on an Al Qaida compound in Baida province was the first such operation of Donald Trump’s presidency.

On Wednesday, the Pentagon acknowledged that several non-combatants, including children, had apparently been killed.

A Yemeni provincial official said eight women and eight children died.

The International Crisis Group think tank warned on Thursday that operations like the Baida raid risked fanning hostility towards the United States among civilians, providing fertile ground for recruitment by Al Qaida.