AHMED AL-HAJ, Associated Press
SANAA, Yemen (AP) — U.S. jets carried out dozens of airstrikes on al-Qaida targets in Yemen overnight and in the past 48 hours in one of the lengthiest, sustained operations inside this conflict-torn Arab country, Yemeni officials and residents said Friday.
According to the officials, the strikes focused on a triangle-shaped mountainous region where three Yemeni provinces meet: Bayda, Shabwa, and Abyan. Casualty figures have been slow to emerge but officials said seven alleged al-Qaida militants were killed in the strikes on Thursday.
A senior Yemeni official described the strikes as “open-ended” and said they raised questions about the objectives of such an operation.
Residents in Shabwa said the strikes hit the town of Wadi Yabsham, where Saad Atef, the No. 2 figure in Yemen’s al-Qaida branch, is living.
The residents and officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to talk to journalists.
Sadek al-Jaouf, a Bayada tribal leader, told The Associated Press that houses were bombed in Yakla district — the site of a U.S. special operations’ raid two months ago in which a Navy SEAL was killed, six American soldiers were wounded and a U.S. military aircraft suffered a hard landing and had to be destroyed.
In the ground operation, a total of 25 Yemenis were killed, including 10 children, drawing criticism by international rights groups and calls for an inquiry.
Al-Jaouf added that the top tribal figure, Abdel-Elah al-Dhahab, whose brothers were accused of links to al-Qaida and were killed in the January raid, survived the latest strikes.
On Thursday, Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said the latest strikes were aimed at degrading the group’s ability to “coordinate external terror attacks” and to limit its use of Yemen as a “safe space for terror plotting.”
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, as the Yemen affiliate is known, has long been seen as the global network’s most dangerous branch, and has been implicated in a number of attempted attacks on the U.S. homeland.
The group has recently exploited the chaos of Yemen’s civil war, which pits Shiite Houthi rebels and allied army units against a Saudi-led coalition battling to restore the internationally recognized government.
Associated Press Writer Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.
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