The United States said it carried out more than 20 strikes in Yemen targeting al-Qaeda on Thursday, in the first major operations against the group since a botched US commando raid against the group left a number of civilians and a Navy SEAL dead.
The Pentagon said the strikes targeted al-Qaeda fighters, heavy weapons systems, equipment, infrastructure and the group’s fighting positions.
The raids, including drones and manned aircraft, were carried out in the Yemeni governorates of Abyan, al-Bayda and Shabwah.
The US military did not estimate the number of casualties in the strikes, but residents and local officials told news agencies that at least nine suspected al-Qaeda fighters were killed.
“The strikes will degrade the AQAP’s ability to coordinate external terror attacks and limit their ability to use territory seized from the legitimate government of Yemen as a safe space for terror plotting,” Navy Captain Jeff Davis said, using an acronym for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
The raids were conducted “in partnership” with the Yemeni government, and coordinated with President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, Davis said.
The operations come a month after the January 29 raid on al-Bayda that residents said killed 16 civilians as well as al-Qaeda fighters.
The operation, the first of its kind authorised by President Donald Trump, was hailed as a success by the White House and other US officials.
But critics questioned the value and effectiveness of the mission since it killed women and children as well as Navy SEAL Ryan Owens.
Owens’s father has described the mission as “stupid”, and declined to meet Trump.
Trump, the military’s commander-in-chief, has sought to pass blame for the death to “the generals” and stressed the raid yielded large amounts of vital intelligence.
The US periodically sends small teams of commandos into Yemen, primarily to gather intel, and in recent months has been increasing activity against AQAP.
AQAP has been a persistent concern to the US government since a 2009 attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day.
The group has taken advantage of a civil war pitting Houthi rebels against the Saudi-backed government to try to widen its control and influence in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula country, one of the poorest in the Middle East.
The conflict, which UN officials say has killed more than 10,000 people, has also forced the US to scale back its presence in Yemen, degrading US intelligence about the group, officials say.