ADEN - At least 133 people were killed in 48 hours of clashes pitting Yemeni soldiers backed by tribesmen against Al-Qaeda militants, officials said on Tuesday, as the extremists vowed to retake a strategic town.

At least 124 people were killed in battles in the southern town of Loder in Abyan province, sparked when militants linked to Al-Qaeda raided an army barracks there on Monday.

“One hundred and twenty-four people were killed in two days” of clashes around the city of Loder which is besieged by Al-Qaeda, said a military official.

The toll, which was confirmed by tribal sources, comprised 102 Al-Qaeda militants - among them 12 Somalis and many Saudis - 14 soldiers, and eight tribesmen fighting alongside the army. Twenty-eight of the militants and two armed civilians were killed on Tuesday, while the rest died on Monday.

A government official in Loder said on Tuesday that Al-Qaeda militants have surrounded the area in preparation for the complete takeover of the town. “Al Qaeda has distributed statements throughout the town saying that it is determined to take control of Loder,” said the official who requested anonymity.

Al-Qaeda briefly seized Loder in August 2010 before being driven out by the army. A tribal source had said that the militants wanted to retake it because of its strategic location between Shabwa, Bayda and Lahij provinces where Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is also active.

Monday’s attack followed a series of air strikes that killed 24 suspected Al-Qaeda militants in their southern and eastern strongholds.

In a fresh Al-Qaeda assault on Tuesday, the militants killed nine soldiers in an attack on a makeshift military post on a desert road in the country’s mostly lawless eastern provinces, a security official said. “Al-Qaeda militants attacked a military position on the road between Hadramawt and Marib province,” the official said requesting anonymity, adding that “nine soldiers were killed” in the assault.

Al-Qaeda gunmen attacked the soldiers just after dawn with “automatic weapons,” the official added. The United States considers the Yemen-based AQAP to be the most deadly and active branch of the global terror network.

The so-called Partisans of Sharia have exploited a decline in central government control that accompanied Arab Spring-inspired protests that eventually forced president Ali Abdullah Saleh to cede power.

Attacks targeting security forces have intensified since Saleh’s successor, Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, took office in February and vowed to continue the fight against the extremists.

Last month, the Islamist insurgents - who have launched near daily attacks against Yemeni forces for the past two months - attacked troops in Zinjibar killing 185 soldiers.