SAN'A, Yemen - Yemeni troops seized two al-Qaeda strongholds in the country's south Tuesday after a dayslong offensive that left dozens of troops and suspected extremists dead, the country's Defense Ministry said.

The troops, backed by pro-government tribesmen, swept through the strongholds in the Mahfad region, the ministry said. The area saw heavy air strikes in recent weeks on a suspected major al-Qaeda base that included training grounds and weapons storehouses, tucked deep into the rugged mountains between Abyan and Shabwa provinces.

Extremists bombed a government complex before they fled the center of the district at dawn, the ministry said, but it did not provide details.

Later in the day, the ministry said its forces had for the first time in years gained control of an al-Qaeda hideout in the district of Haban and Qarn al-Sawad in Shabwa's mountains. The takeover comes after days of bombardment and clashes. The number of casualties was not immediately known.

The ministry also said that forces killed three wanted al-Qaeda figures. One, nicknamed Picasso, was notorious for killing and mutilating his victims, usually those suspected to be informing police on extremists' whereabouts, the ministry said, without providing his real name.

Yemen has been struggling for years with al-Qaeda's branch here. During a yearlong uprising in 2011 that eventually overthrew longtime ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh, al-Qaeda seized several towns and districts in the south. They were driven out a year later by Yemeni forces backed by U.S. air strikes.