Yemen's military hit suspected al-Qaeda hideouts on Thursday, killing at least 30 militants and targeting a gathering of top leaders in a remote mountain valley, officials said.

The pre-dawn strikes were carried out with the help of U.S. intelligence.

Yemeni warplanes hit what officials called a gathering of senior al-Qaeda figures in Rafd, a remote mountain valley in eastern Shabwa  province with sparsely populated tribal villages that are often little more than a collection of tents.

Shabwa is one of three provinces where al-Qaeda is believed to have been increasingly gaining refuge among tribes discontented with the government.

The top leader of al-Qaeda's branch in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, Naser Abdel-Karim al-Wahishi, and his deputy, Saeed al-Shihri, were believed to be in Rafd, Yemen's Supreme Security Committee said in a statement.

But Yemeni officials said they could not confirm for certain whether the two were there or if they were injured in the strikes.

Yemen's deputy defence minister, Rashad al-Alaimy, told parliament Thursday that three important leadership members were killed, but he did not identify them.

He said the strikes were carried out "using intelligence aid from Saudi Arabia and the United States of America in our fight against terrorism."

The newly aggressive Yemeni campaign against al-Qaeda is being boosted by a heavy dose of American aid, a reflection of U.S. fears that the terror network could turn the fragmented, unstable nation into an Afghanistan-like refuge in a highly strategic location on the border with oil-rich U.S.-ally Saudi Arabia.

The Pentagon recently confirmed it is has poured nearly $70 million US in military aid into Yemen this year, compared to none in 2008.

With files from The Associated Press