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U.S. Airstrikes Target Al Qaeda in Yemen

WASHINGTON — The United States conducted airstrikes overnight on Thursday against several targets suspected of belonging to Al Qaeda across south-central Yemen, according to American and Yemeni military officials, the first American attacks in the country since an ill-fated Special Operations raid in January.

The coordinated series of attacks against Qaeda militants occurred in three Yemeni provinces that have been suspected of being the site of terrorist activity — Abyan, Shabwa and Baydha — according to the Pentagon.

It was not immediately clear if the strikes were conducted against targets that were identified using information collected from the January raid that left one member of the Navy’s SEAL Team 6 dead and three others wounded, and that killed about two dozen civilians.

American counterterrorism officials say the Qaeda wing in Yemen is one of the deadliest in the world and poses the most immediate threat to the American homeland. The terrorist organization based there has tried unsuccessfully to carry out three airliner attacks over the United States.

Yet analysts cautioned that information about the group and its plots was substantially curtailed when American advisers withdrew from Yemen in March 2015, after Houthi rebels ousted the government of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, the United States’ main counterterrorism partner, from Sana, the capital.

Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said on Thursday that more than 20 strikes were “conducted in partnership with the government of Yemen and were coordinated with President Hadi.” He said the attacks targeted Qaeda militants, equipment and infrastructure.

The mention that the strikes were done in partnership with Mr. Hadi’s government is notable because he had withdrawn permission for the United States to conduct Special Operations ground missions, a decision prompted by anger at the civilian casualties incurred in the January raid.

Computers and cellphones seized during that raid offered clues about attacks Al Qaeda could carry out in the future, including insights into new types of hidden explosives the group is making and new training tactics for militants, American officials said.

But it is still unclear how much the information advances the military’s knowledge of the plans and future operations of Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen, and some intelligence and congressional officials have questioned how significant the information analyzed so far really is.

“There are obvious contradictions about the relative value of intelligence,” said Senator Kamala Harris, a California Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, who added in an interview this week that she would be seeking more explanations from intelligence officials.

According to a Yemeni military official, the airstrikes in the Abyan mountains began around 3:30 a.m. Thursday local time.

Local news media in Yemen also reported that at least three people suspected of being Qaeda members were killed in the country’s southeastern province of Shabwa. Residents near the scene in the Saeid region in Shabwa said the airstrike destroyed a house used by Qaeda operatives.

The death of the SEAL team member — Senior Chief Petty Officer William Owens, known as Ryan — on Jan. 29, in the first Special Operations raid approved by President Trump, came after a chain of miscues and misjudgments that plunged the elite forces into a ferocious 50-minute firefight with Qaeda militants in a mountainous village in central Yemen. Three other Americans were wounded and a $ 75 million aircraft was deliberately destroyed.

A month later, the mission remains under intense scrutiny, with questions unabated over the casualties among Americans and Yemeni civilians, how Mr. Trump and his aides approved the raid over a dinner meeting at the White House five days into his presidency, and the value of the information collected from the raid.

Source: NYT > World

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