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U.S. helps Yemen in attacks against suspected al-Qaeda targets

By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 19, 2009; A09

The United States provided intelligence and other assistance to Yemeni forces in attacks Thursday against suspected al-Qaeda targets, according to officials from both countries.

Yemen's government announced Thursday that its air and ground forces had attacked three sites, killing 34 al-Qaeda "operatives" and arresting 16. News accounts said several civilians also had been killed.

U.S. officials refused to comment Friday on a report by ABC News that U.S. air-launched cruise missiles had been used in two of the attacks. The network said that the launches had been approved by the White House and that President Obama had called President Ali Abdullah Saleh to congratulate him on Yemen's efforts against al-Qaeda.

"We are not going to get into any details at this point," one official said in response to questions about the use of U.S. aircraft or missiles in the attacks, adding that Yemen and the United States "cooperate closely on counterterrorism."

In the past week, Yemeni news media have carried reports of unmanned aircraft conducting apparent surveillance operations near the city of Marib in central Yemen. Marib is also the location of a 2002 strike by a U.S. drone that killed the reputed head of al-Qaeda in Yemen, Abu Ali al-Harithi, who was suspected to have organized the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000. Local media accounts suggested that a U.S. attack might again be imminent, because the 2002 strike also was preceded by sightings of drone aircraft over the city.

In recent years, al-Qaeda has expanded in Yemen, prompting U.S. concerns that the country could become an important haven for the organization. Militants have attacked U.S. missionaries, foreign tourists and Yemeni security forces. Last year, they targeted the U.S. Embassy with a car bomb and rockets. The attack left 16 people dead, including six assailants.

Staff writer Joby Warrick contributed to this report.

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