Yemeni government forces have captured the main stronghold of the al-Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula (AQAP), officials have said.

Yemen's defence ministry said dozens of suspected AQAP fighters were killed after soldiers and allied tribal militias entered al-Mahfid, a town in Abyan province.

A local militia commander, Amin Qassem, told the Reuters news agency that AQAP fled under the pressure of government troops.

"The army and the Popular Committee members have completed control of al-Mahfid and we are now in the centre of the district. Al-Qaeda elements have fled to the mountains, but we will keep going after them," Qassem said.

Witnesses said the army had used heavy artillery to push into the town.

Yemeni forces have been pursuing AQAP fighters in a fresh military offensive launched eight days ago.

The offensive follows a series of air strikes, including US drones attacks against suspected AQAP areas, in which some 65 people have been killed.

The mountainous al-Mahfid area is home to 40,000 people and has been a stronghold of AQAP since 2012.

The group has been blamed for waging deadly attacks against security forces, foreigners and oil and gas facilities.

The campaign, which is backed by the US, is part of rolling operation againt the group's hideouts in Yemen.

Source: Agencies