U.S. Launches Airstrikes in Yemen

Image: Guard sits on the rubble of the house of Brigadier Fouad al-Emad, an army commander loyal to the Houthis, after air strikes destroyed it in Sanaa, Yemen
A guard sits on the rubble of the house of Brigadier Fouad al-Emad, an army commander loyal to the Houthis, after air strikes destroyed it in Sanaa, Yemen on June 15, 2015.Khaled Abdullah / Reuters

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By Ken Dilanian, Courtney Kube and William M. Arkin

The U.S. has conducted a series of airstrikes in Yemen against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Pentagon announced.

More than 20 strikes launched Thursday targeted AQAP militants, equipment and infrastructure in the Yemeni governorates of Abyan, Al Bayda and Shabwah, according to a statement by Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis.

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A Pentagon official said the strikes were conducted by both drones and manned aircraft, and were not the direct result of information from January's SEAL raid, which also took place in Al Bayda. The official said information from the raid may have corroborated the targeting information, but the targets themselves were already known.

Thursday’s strikes are the latest in a series of missions targeting AQAP in Yemen, planning for which was developed over many weeks, and which included the January 29 raid, according to a defense official.

A senior military intelligence source said the strikes were also part of "new directives" to aggressively pursue the Dhahab and Qayfa clans. A second senior intelligence source said the expansion and acceleration of strikes directed by the White House was a demonstration of a "gloves off" approach to defeating AQAP and the aggressive follow-up suggested by President Trump in his speech to Congress Tuesday.

The strikes were conducted in partnership with the Yemeni government, Davis said.

He added that 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. Targets of the strikes included militants, equipment, infrastructure, heavy weapons systems and fighting positions."

AQAP was the target of the January raid by Navy SEALs that killed a U.S. service member and several children. That raid was proposed by the military as part of a series of stepped-up actions against the terror group, current and former U.S. officials said.

Separately, al Qaeda confirmed Thursday that the terror group's deputy leader Abu al-Khayr, second in command to Ayman al Zawahiri, was killed in a drone strike in Syria over the weekend. A U.S. drone strike in Pakistan killed two people Thursday, according to villagers and government officials.