Accelerating Yemen campaign, US conducts flurry of strikes targeting al-Qaeda

The United States conducted a series of air strikes on al-Qaeda targets in Yemen on Thursday, the Pentagon said, in another sign of the Trump administration’s expanding counterterrorism campaign there.

Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement that the air attacks targeted “militants, equipment and infrastructure” associated with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in three Yemeni governorates: Abyan, Bayda and Shabwah.

A defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss information that has not officially been made public, said there was a total of 25 strikes by manned and unmanned aircraft, far more attacks in a single night than the U.S. has conducted in recent history.

While Pentagon officials denied Yemeni reports that the U.S. military conducted a ground raid in conjunction with the strikes, U.S. forces were on the ground in the same period, another possible indication of an accelerated offensive in Yemen. Those forces, however, did not conduct any raids, U.S. officials said.

“We have U.S. Special Operations forces that go in and out of Yemen to assist our partner forces in fighting al-Qaeda,” Davis said. He declined to comment on specific activities overnight.

U.S. officials see AQAP, which has already tried to attack the United States directly, as one of the most dangerous militant threats they face. For months, the U.S. military has been eager to secure approval for steps that would restore an on-the-ground intelligence and a counterterrorism program that was largely shut down amid mounting instability in 2015.

The military has also been seeking other authorities for operations in Yemen, including the ability to conduct sustained airstrikes in parts of Yemen and to take part in raids with elite forces from the United Arab Emirates that are assigned to Yemen.

The defense official said that the military had been granted temporary authority to conduct intensified air operations against AQAP in some areas of Yemen. The granting of that authority for what is known in government jargon as an “area of active hostility” typically enables the military to launch strikes without a more lengthy approval process managed by the White House. It is similar to the authority the U.S. military was granted for the Libyan city of Sirte, where it conducted a multi-month air campaign against the Islamic State last year.

The official declined to say how long that temporary authority would last. If granted for an extended period, it could permit more-intensive strikes, such as those that occurred Thursday, over a sustained period.

Military officials said it was not immediately clear how many people were injured or killed in Thursday’s airstrikes, but local news media reported that “hundreds” of militants were slain.

Read more: The Washington Post.

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