A drone strike in south Yemen has killed at least five suspected al-Qaeda fighters, the latest in an intensified aerial campaign in the country, a tribal chief has said.

The unmanned plane targeted a gathering of fighters in the town of al-Mahfad on Sunday, in Abyan province, where al-Qaeda remains active despite being driven out from several cities in a 2012 army offensive, the source said.

The strike comes a day after a similar attack in central Baida province, which killed 10 al-Qaeda suspects and three civilians, according to an official toll released late on Saturday.

An earlier report of Saturday's strike had said that 15 fighters had been killed.

Yemen is among a handful of countries where the United States acknowledges using drones, but it does not comment on the practice.

The US has defended the drone campaign, which allows it to target al-Qaeda without the use of ground forces in lawless areas where authorities cannot, or will not, act against the group.

The drone programme has come under criticism from human rights activists concerned over civilian casualties.

Yemen has been fighting al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) - regarded by Washington as one of the most lethal wings of the group - but AQAP still manages to carry out significant attacks against security forces in the country.

Stability in Yemen is a top priority for the US because of the country's location next to oil exporting giant Saudi Arabia.

Riyadh also watches AQAP with concern since the branch was founded by citizens of both countries and has sworn to bring down its ruling al-Saud family.

Source: Agencies