U.S. hits al Qaeda in Yemen with new wave of strikes | Reuters

By Mohammed Mukhashaf and Phil Stewart
| ADEN, Yemen/WASHINGTON

ADEN, Yemen/WASHINGTON The United States carried out another wave of strikes against al Qaeda in Yemen overnight, residents and U.S. officials said on Friday, in the latest sign of increasing U.S. military focus on a group whose strength has grown during Yemen's civil war.A day after U.S. forces initiated a campaign of air strikes in Yemen, estimated in the mid-twenties, the Pentagon confirmed several more strikes in Shabwah, Abyan and Al Bayda provinces on Friday. That would bring the two-day total to more than 30 strikes.Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis did not rule out further strikes."I don't want to telegraph future operations, but this is part of a plan to go after this very real threat and ensure they are defeated, and denied the opportunity to plan and carry out terrorist attacks from ungoverned spaces in Yemen," Davis told a Pentagon news briefing.Residents reported a U.S. assault in Wadi Yashbum village in the southern Shabwah province and said some of the strikes hit civilian homes, wounding an unknown number of civilians.About three hours later, residents in the Jabal Mugan area of neighbouring Abyan province also reported air strikes.

Residents also cited ground battles involving American soldiers and al Qaeda militants but the Pentagon formally denied any U.S. raids or combat on the ground."I know there have been reports of firefights, raids. There have not been any that U.S. forces have been involved in, not since the one you know about," Davis said.The United States carried out a raid in late January in Yemen against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) by U.S. commandos, an operation in which 14 militants and a Navy SEAL died, as well as civilians.

The White House and other senior U.S. officials have said the mission yielded valuable intelligence but critics questioned its value and effectiveness.Davis noted that al Qaeda, even more than Islamic State, had U.S. blood on its hands.In 2000, al Qaeda bombers steered a boat full of explosives into the side of the USS Cole, a U.S. Navy destroyer, while it refuelled in the Yemeni port of Aden, killing 17 U.S. sailors and wounding about three dozen others.

AQAP has been a persistent concern to the U.S. government since an attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day 2009 that was traced back to the militant group.It has exploited a civil war in which the Iran-aligned Houthi movement is fighting the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, which is backed by U.S.-aligned Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Arab allies.The war has killed more than 10,000 people and put millions of people, including half a million children under age 5, on the brink of starvation, U.N. officials say.The Saudi-led coalition, which benefits from U.S. military assistance, has focused most of its firepower against the Houthis and allied forces loyal to former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, but has also targeted some AQAP strongholds. (Writing by Katie Paul and Phil Stewart; Reporting by Mohammed Mukhashaf in Aden and Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali in Washington; Editing by Bill Trott and James Dalgleish)

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Published Date: Mar 04, 2017 12:16 am | Updated Date: Mar 04, 2017 12:16 am


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