US launches more airstrikes targeting al-Qaida in Yemen
WASHINGTON — The United States conducted about 20 airstrikes against al-Qaida militants in Yemen in recent days, continuing its increased bombing campaign against the terrorist group that has taken advantage of a civil war to increase its influence in the region.
The United States has now conducted more than 70 airstrikes against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula since the end of February, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said Monday. He did not provide specific information about the latest round of air attacks in Yemen such as precisely where or when they occurred or how many militants they killed.
The strikes were largely carried out by drones and targeted fighters, infrastructure, fighting positions and equipment, Davis said.
“We continue to target [al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula] in Yemen,” he said. “This is done in the interest of disrupting this terror organization that presents a very significant threat to the United States.”
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is al-Qaida’s second largest affiliate and largely considered the most dangerous, according to U.S. defense officials who recently briefed reporters about the group on the condition of anonymity.
The organization rose to prominence in 2009 and has taken advantage of the 2-year-old civil war between Yemen’s Saudi-backed government forces and Iranian-backed Houthi rebels to carve out territory to train its fighters.
It claimed responsibility for the 2009 Christmas Day attempted underwear bombing of a commercial airliner in Detroit and later for the 2015 attack on French satirist newspaper Charlie Hebdo that killed 12 in Paris.
It boasts some 4,000 militants in Abyan, Bayda and Shabwah governances in the center of southern Yemen, according to the defense officials.
The majority of U.S. airstrikes in recent months against the group have occurred in those provinces and the Pentagon has said dozens of terrorists have been killed.
The uptick in airstrikes has come in the months following a controversial U.S. raid in January, which was blamed for civilian casualties and led to the death of a Navy SEAL. Six other American servicemembers were wounded in the Jan. 28 operations in Bayda and a military aircraft was destroyed.
No U.S. troops have conducted ground combat operations in Yemen since that raid, Davis said Monday.
Some American servicemembers remain in the country, but they are there to support United Arab Emirates forces fighting the Houthis as part of the Saudi Arabian-led coalition, he said.
In recent weeks, the Pentagon has weighed providing more assistance to the fight against the Houthis such as increasing its intelligence sharing with the coalition and conducting refueling operations. Davis said U.S. military operations in Yemen had not changed as of Monday.