ADEN  - Air raids, including by US drones, and clashes in Yemen have killed at least 17 Qaeda militants and a civilian, officials and tribesmen said on Monday.Five militants of Qaeda were killed when they were hit by a US drone on Monday, a tribal source told AFP. “A US drone struck a convoy carrying Qaeda’s leader in Bayda province, Qaed al-Dahab,” the tribal source said on condition of anonymity, adding that “Dahab survived but five of his guards were killed.”The strike hit the militants as they were travelling in the area of Manaseh, east of the city of Radaa in central Yemen, he said. Seven other militants, including the local military chief in Hadramawt, Saleh Abdul Khaleq, were killed in an air raid conducted by Yemeni warplanes in the eastern province, a security official said.The raid struck the group as they met in a “deserted coastal area” some 60 kilometres (35 miles) west of the city of Mukalla, the official told AFP. Western diplomats say that US experts are assisting the Yemeni army in their battle to destroy Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, considered by Washington to be the network’s deadliest and most active branch. In an interview with ABC television’s “This Week,” US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta defended the use of drones as “the most precise weapons we have” in the campaign against the militant group.His comments marked the first time the US formally acknowledges the use of unmanned drones against Qaeda suspects in Yemen.Five other Qaeda fighters and a civilian were killed in overnight clashes as Yemeni troops inched closer to capturing the city of Jaar, a bastion of the militant group in war-torn southern province of Abyan, a military official said. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a “mid-level commander” of the militant group, Abdul Rahman al-Musallami, was one of the five Qaeda operatives killed in the clashes. A local official in Jaar confirmed this toll and said the bodies of the five militants were taken to the city for burial.The military official said that Yemeni troops had advanced towards Jaar and were surrounding the city from three sides. Yemeni troops advanced to “about three kilometres of Jaar,” and have “surrounded the city from the north, the east and the west,” he said.He said the overnight assault on Qaeda positions in and around Jaar involved both ground troops and Yemeni air force. “We are tightening the noose around Qaeda,” he added.The army also made strides in their advances on Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan that fell to the militants in May 2011, he said, but gave no further details.Yemeni forces launched an all-out offensive on May 12 this year to capture Qaeda controlled areas in Abyan.Since the offensive began, at least 338 people have been killed, according to a tally compiled by AFP, including 247 Qaeda fighters, 55 military personnel, 18 local militiamen and 18 civilians.