Massive attack targets al-Qaida in Yemen

By: Matt McGovern Email
By: Matt McGovern Email
The official said the scale of the strikes against the al-Qaida affiliate is "massive and unprecedented," and at least 30 militants have been killed.

Yemeni forces collected the bodies and will perform DNA testing to determine the militants' identities, according to the official.

ABYAN / SHABWA, YEMEN(CNN) - An operation targeting al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is underway in Abyan and Shabwa, Yemen, a high-level Yemeni government official being briefed on the strikes told CNN on Monday.

The official said the scale of the strikes against the al-Qaida affiliate is "massive and unprecedented," and at least 30 militants have been killed.

The ongoing operation included a Sunday night ambush in which Yemeni special forces killed militants believed to be high-value targets in al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the official said.

Yemeni commandos exchanged gunfire with and killed militants who were in a vehicle on a highway in southern Yemen's Shabwa province.

Yemeni forces collected the bodies and will perform DNA testing to determine the militants' identities, according to the official.

Also Sunday, suspected U.S. drone strikes targeted al-Qaida fighters in Yemen for the second time in two days, killing at least a dozen, the government official said.

The predawn strikes targeted a mountain ridge in the southern province of Abyan, the official said. It's the same area where scores of followers of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula had gathered recently to hear from Nasir al-Wuhayshi, the head of the terrorist network's Yemeni branch and the global organization's "crown prince," the official said.

Some of the slain militants were Saudi citizens, two Yemeni government officials said Monday.

Yemen's state news agency SABA said three strikes targeted an al-Qaida training camp in the village of Wadi al Khila, about 450 kilometers (280 miles) south of the capital, Sanaa. The fighters were "preparing to launch attacks against Yemeni and foreign interests in the area," according to a statement from the country's Supreme Security Committee.

The high-level Yemeni government official said Sunday's raid was a joint U.S.-Yemeni operation. He would not confirm whether drones were used in the attack, but the United States is the only country known to have conducted drone strikes in Yemen. As a rule, U.S. officials don't comment on those strikes.

But the official said the area is so rugged and mountainous that Yemeni troops would have faced heavy losses in any ground assault. Al-Qaida operatives had fled to the area after a 2012 push by government troops, backed by the United States, he said.

The high-level official said it would take time to clarify the details of the weekend's strikes, whether the raids targeted camps, vehicles on the move or both, the full death toll among the militants, and whether there were any civilian casualties. A Saturday drone strike in a neighboring province killed at least 10 suspected al-Qaida militants, but also killed three civilian day laborers.

But other Yemeni officials, who asked to remain anonymous as they are not authorized to speak to the media, said there was growing frustration within the government about the lack of clarity and expressed concern that some of the information the military is reporting may be propaganda.

The United States first used armed drones to pick off an al-Qaida operative in Yemen in 2002. Strikes on suspected al-Qaida figures resumed in 2009, with more than 100 reported since then, according to the New America Foundation, a U.S.-based think tank that tracks the raids.

Those strikes have killed somewhere between 700 and 1,000 people, including at least 81 civilians, the foundation says.


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