The dawn attack demonstrates how al-Qaeda's branch in Yemen has exploited the political and security turmoil following the country's yearlong uprising, managing to take control of large swaths of land in the south and staging increasingly bold attacks on the military.
The officials said the militants attacked an army position in the town of Lawder in Abyan province, where al-Qaeda fighters are active. The town is some 250 kilometers southeast of the capital of Sanaa.
Residents and military officials said 24 militants were killed in the clashes. Additionally, 14 soldiers, including a colonel, were killed battling the militants today, officials said.
Jihad Hafeez, a member of a local anti-al-Qaeda group in Lawder, said six of his men were killed and eight wounded as they tried to push the militants out of their city. The group is comprised of civilians, mainly from anti-al-Qaeda tribes, who oppose the group.
Hafeez said locals have set up check points in and around Lawder to keep the militants out. He said they were able to push al-Qaeda fighters out of the city by the afternoon.
Al-Qaeda was once present in Lawder, but in July residents drove them out. A few months later al-Qaeda was blamed for planting a roadside bomb that killed two civilians there, and, as today's attack demonstrates, they continue to try to regain their foothold.