SANAA, Yemen >> Al-Qaida-linked militants staged a pre-dawn surprise attack Sunday on an army base in southern Yemen, killing seven soldiers, military officials said.
The militants sprayed the sleeping soldiers with bullets leaving their bodies severely disfigured, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.
The attack on the area of Shibam in the southeastern Hadramout province was the latest in a series of deadly setbacks suffered by army garrison posts in the south that highlight the vulnerability of a Yemeni military demoralized and split in its loyalties by a year of upheaval.
On Saturday, an al-Qaida-led attack left at least 30 dead on both sides in Lahj province, also in the south. Officials say most of the militants have retreated up a nearby mountain, but that a number continue to battle in the town of al-Rahha.
And in February, al-Qaida claimed credit for a daring assault that on a base that left nearly 200 soldiers dead. The fighters riddled tents where soldiers were sleeping near the town of Zinjibar with gunfire, then paraded dozens of captured soldiers through a nearby town.
During a year of turmoil that eventually forced longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh out of office, al-Qaida-linked militants seized control of towns and territory in the lawless south as the government focused its efforts on protecting the regime in the capital.
Saleh’s replacement, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, has made fighting al-Qaida one of his top priorities, but many Yemenis accuse the ousted president, whose loyalists are still influential in the military, of undercutting security operations. Some units have mutinied against Saleh appointees, adding to the army’s morale problems.
The U.S. considers the Yemen branch of al-Qaida one of the militant movement’s most dangerous offshoots. U.S. aircraft have targeted leaders of the branch. Yemeni officials said a suspected U.S. drone strike hit Shabwa province on Friday, killing three militants and a civilian.