Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
 / Updated 
By Courtney Kube

For the first time, the Pentagon on Friday acknowledged publicly that the U.S. military is operating on the ground in Yemen.

Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said that a small number of American military personnel are in Yemen "providing limited support" to the Yemeni government and Arab coalition battling al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

Related: Al Qaeda Makes a Comeback in ISIS's Shadow

The U.S. military forces are providing intelligence, maritime support, airborne intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance, aerial refueling, and medical aid to the Emirate, Yemeni and Arab coalition forces battling AQAP there.

The USS Boxer Amphibious Ready Group is operating off the coast and providing the medical support. The ARG includes the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, the USS Boxer, the USS Gravely and the USS Gonzalez.

In this handout photo provided by the U.S. Navy, the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer transits the East Sea on March 8, 2016.Handout / Getty Images

Davis said that this is a new deployment but declined to provide how many U.S. forces are on the ground there now or where they are operating.

A senior defense official said that it is a very small number of troops and the majority are U.S. military special operations forces.

Related: U.S. Has Killed Seven Possible Bin Laden Successors

Davis added that this deployment is in response to the growth of AQAP in Yemen and cited four recent counterterror strikes that the U.S. has conducted against the group, killing 10 AQAP operatives and wounding others.

He said that these strikes are separate and apart from the coalition operations that the U.S. is now supporting on the ground there. The fight against al Qaeda continues globally, he added.