SANAA, Yemen -- About 50 Yemeni soldiers are missing after battling Islamic militants in the south of the country, a military official said Saturday.
The soldiers have been missing since Thursday, following fierce clashes with the Al Qaeda-linked group Ansar al-Sharia in the southern city of Zinjibar, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters. On Thursday, 15 soldiers and eight Islamic militants were killed in fighting in Zinjibar.
The official said he had no further information on the fate of the missing soldiers.
Government forces are battling Al Qaeda's most dangerous wing in southern Yemen at a time when the weakened regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh faces an array of opponents.
Government forces do not appear to have the will to fight the Islamists, raising fears that Al Qaeda is making significant gains.
Recent advances made by the militants in the nearly lawless south are a clear attempt to exploit the power vacuum and turmoil caused by a popular uprising against Saleh that began in February.
The revolt gained momentum when a coterie of the president's close aides, military commanders and Cabinet ministers joined the protesters.
Government troops and warplanes have so far targeted only two southern cities, Zinjibar and Jaar, in Abyan province.
Yemen's president, meanwhile, remains in Saudi Arabia, where he is being treated for injuries sustained in a June 3 attack on his palace in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa. Saleh suffered serious burns and other wounds and has only very limited access to the outside world, a Riyadh-based Yemeni official said Saturday.
Only relatives and Saleh's top adviser have been permitted to visit him, the official said.