U.S. carries out strikes in Yemen targeting al Qaeda: U.S. officials

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 02, 2017 7:40 AM

WASHINGTON/ADEN, Yemen (Reuters) - The United States has carried out air strikes in Yemen targeting al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, two U.S. officials said on Thursday, in what could be one of the first operations since a January raid by U.S. commandos against the group.

The officials did not immediately provide further information. Residents and local officials in the coastal town of Shuqra in southern Yemen reported air strikes in an adjacent mountain area where hundreds of al Qaeda militants are believed to be based.

They said they heard loud explosions early on Thursday morning in al-Maraqisha, a rugged mountainous area where al Qaeda militants took refuge last year after they were driven out of Yemeni cities they had captured earlier.

There were no immediate details available on damages or casualties caused by the strikes.

Last month, residents reported foreign warships believed to belong to the U.S. Navy shelled the mountains, but a Pentagon spokesman denied that any U.S. ships were involved.

The January raid, the first of its kind authorized by Trump, was hailed as a success by the White House. Critics questioned the value of an operation which killed women and children, as well as several militants and a Navy SEAL.

The U.S. military was forced to withdraw a video by Islamist militants it initially released as evidence that the raid was a counter terrorism success. The video, showing a masked man encouraging people to build bombs, was old and already online.

President Donald Trump, citing information from his defense secretary, told Congress on Tuesday that the raid yielded valuable intelligence that would "lead to many more victories in the future."

A senior U.S. official said earlier that day the intelligence collected provided insight into AQAP's explosives manufacturing, targeting, training and recruitment practices.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, stressed that such insight was particularly important given the threat that AQAP has long posed.

AQAP boasts one of the world's most feared bomb makers, Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, and it has been a persistent concern to the U.S. government ever since a 2009 attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day.

The militant group has taken advantage of a civil war pitting the Iran-aligned Houthis against the Saudi-backed government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to try to widen its control and influence in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula country, one of the poorest in the Middle East.

The war, which had drawn in a Saudi-led Arab alliance against the Houthis, has killed more than 10,000 people, according to United Nations officials.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart in Washington, Mohammed Mukhashaf in Aden and Mohammed Ghobari in Cairo, writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Bill Trott and Dominic Evans)